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Artists Vie For Grant to Install Water Art in Lafitte Greenway

On Monday (3.23), three teams of civic designers will compete for a $25,000 grant to install a watery piece of public art on the Lafitte Greenway.


The competition is part of the 5th Annual Water Challenge, “a daylong event focused on highlighting market-based, entrepreneurial solutions to our region’s water crisis.”  Organizers hope that the winning installation will be a positive step towards finding those solutions by creating conversation about the role of water in New Orleans. The $25,000 grant will be awarded based on an audience vote at the event.


The finalists, who submitted proposals based on the theme “Living with Water,” are Jennifer Blanchard (Contraflow), Michel Varisco (Turning), and Amy Stelly & Darryl Reeves (Drop in the Bowl). A limited reveal has been given to the general public, while full pitches are being reserved for Monday’s event.


Jennifer Blanchard  is working with a team of local artists, landscape designers, and environmental scientists. For Contraflow, she’s proposed a series of “Louisiana Native Totems” arranged throughout rain gardens and terraced communities of native plants. The totems, a product of fellow potter, Peggy Bishop, are the whimsical ceramic features that presently adorn street signs and other fixtures near the Cabrini foot bridge in the Bayou St. John neighborhood. “The totems that we would create for this project would be of native fish, birds, other reptiles, amphibians, and mammals of Louisiana,” said Blanchard, who is a botanist-turned-potter here in New Orleans. They will highlight the changing migration patterns of animals and people alike in the face of rising seas and eroding wetlands.


Turning is a kinetic sculpture proposed by Michel Varisco. In the past, Varisco has used large scale photographs and video to explore the Mississippi River Delta and its gradual deterioration. 


The sculpture, she said, will use “symbols, lights, sounds, motion and shape - in a talisman of sorts” and will also focus on our history with the River.


“By looking into Louisiana's origin symbol, the wild Mississippi River, and how we altered it and learned many lessons as a result, I hope to evoke an innovative and brave spirit in moving towards the inescapable questions of our future with water,” she said.


Amy Stelly has teamed up with sculptor Darryl Reeves for her Drop in the Bowl proposal, which envisions a stainless steel sculpture embedded in the landscape. The design, which she will reveal on Monday, will be “iconic and simple,” and emblematic of New Orleanians’ relationship with water.  She originally wanted to include a water feature in her plan, but she worried for its future maintenance. Stelly is an urban planner with a background in art history.


Darryl Reeves, according to the Encyclopedia of Louisiana, is a master blacksmith who is trained in the tradition of 18th and 19th century African-American ironworkers. He has rehabilitated the ironwork gates of the Presbytere (thought to be the work of slave artisans) and forged identical gates for the Cabildo, among many other projects. He plans to guide Stelly through the Drop in the Bowl project if it wins the grant.


“The projects were selected by a selection committee made up of Propeller, Arts Council New Orleans, and other external water and design experts based on community impact, visual impact, originality/creativity, and capacity to raise awareness and communication challenges New Orleans faces living with water,” said Propeller’s Communications Manager, Catherine Gans, in an email.  


The grant is sponsored by the City of New Orleans’ Percent for Art Program, which began in 1986 and has commissioned or purchased more than 350 works of art throughout the city.  The program is administered by the Arts Council of New Orleans and funded by a designated 1% of eligible municipal capital bonds.


Interested parties must register online at in order to attend the design competition which runs from 10:15AM - 12:00PM at The Chicory on Fulton Street, Monday, March 23, 2015.

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