The Old Prieur Street Project: Using Art As a Tool in the Transformation of a Community

In 2015 Willie Birch purchased a large property on Old Prieur Street, in the upper Seventh Ward of New Orleans. The property includes 4 small double and single shotgun houses, all built by the same owner in the 1930’s, who lived there with his family (the property was purchased from the son) and 2 vacant lots. Following his longstanding desire to share his success by giving back to the community, Birch has envisioned the property as a long-term artistic project to serve the community in multiple ways. Enlisting the help of many local artists and friends, including artists Ron Bechet, Robin Levey, Louise Mouton-Johnson, Jennifer Odem and Rajko Radovanovitch, film makers William Sabourin and Antonia Zennaro, curator Allison. M. Glenn, and many others including residents, Birch has embarked on an ambitious program of recording the histories of the neighborhood, both in the form of recordings and film (see “Hope to Told Ya” in the film section); a new series of portraits and landscape works, presented at the New Orleans Museum of Art (See review of “Changing Course: Reflecting on New Orleans Histories”) on occasion of the New Orleans Tricentennial, whose presentation included a panel at the museum with residents from the community; and a community garden built out on one of the vacant lots. The community garden, apart from serving the community —it is open to all— and beautifying the neighborhood with several of the collaborating artists’ works, it has been the site of several student projects, including projects performed by students from Isidore Newman School as well as students from the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP). It has received support from different sources, including the Platforms Fund, a regranting program of local organizations Antenna and Ashé Cultural Arts Center to provide support for artist driven projects in and around New Orleans with the support of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.