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Arts & Culture

New Orleans Public Art Tour, Part 2: Murals

“Before I Die I want to… make peace.” What do you want to do before you die? This was the concept for an interactive public art project created by Candy Chang and is one of the many examples of large scale, wall-based art throughout New Orleans. Take a chance to explore the different kinds of creative murals across town with our five favorites.

"Before I Die," photo by Emily Ramirez Hernandez
“Before I Die” (photo: Emily Ramirez Hernandez)

5 New Orleans Murals to See

“Before I Die”

Chang, an artist living in New Orleans, experiments with utilizing public space to inspire people to think and act. She first created the “Before I Die” wall using chalkboard paint with rows of the words “Before I Die I want to______________” on the side of an abandoned house on the corner of Burgundy and Marigny Streets in 2011. With pieces of chalk handy, the wall invited passersby to add an item from their bucket list. Today, the original “Before I Die” wall has been painted over, and the blighted house where it was located has been renovated, but in 2013 Chang partnered with the Ogden Museum of Southern Art to design another. The museum’s exterior wall facing St. Joseph Street offers the same experience to passersby and is on view until February 2015. “Before I Die” is now a global public art project with more than 525 walls in more than 75 countries and in more than 35 languages.

Global Mosaic Project

In the Clouet Gardens pocket park tucked away in Bywater stands the “You Are Here” mosaic wall. Artist Laurel True of Global Mosaic Project designed the mosaic, which she and almost 50 community members and neighborhood visitors brought to life earlier this year. The mural, which True describes as “a cosmic map depicting a stylized river and garden,” includes some of the distinctive mosaic eyes that make appearances in much of her work. The eyes in “You Are Here” were contributed by artists from the Mirebalais Mosaic Collective in Haiti, which True trained in the years after the 2010 earthquake. Two mosaic benches sit facing the mural, providing a space to examine it.

Oretha Castle Haley
A mural along Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard (Photo: Rebecca Todd)

Ashé Cultural Arts Center Mural

Ashé Cultural Arts Center’s exterior features a mural pulsing with images of the arts, culture and cityscape of New Orleans’ Central City neighborhood. The mural features local arts icons including Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson and cultural traditions such as brass bands and Mardi Gras Indians. It also highlights a connection to Africa with the inclusion of African ceremonial masks. The mural, sponsored by the city, was coordinated by Douglas Redd and created by local artists including Jamar Pierre, Terrance Osborne, Lidya Araya, Lionel Miltone, and Shakor and Ivan Watkins.

"Restore the Oaks." Photo by Emily Ramirez Hernandez
“Restore the Oaks” (photo: Emily Ramirez Hernandez)

Restore the Oaks

The elevated Interstate 10 corridor that runs along North Claiborne Avenue divides a neighborhood where oak trees once lined the neutral ground. Built in the 1960s, the artery is blamed for the decline of the thriving African American business district, Tremé.

In 2002, various city agencies and nongovernmental organizations, including the New Orleans African American Museum, collaborated on a mural project aimed to serve as a reminder for the culture that was marginalized and the grand oaks that were lost. Today, dozens of pillars that support the interstate stand depicting oak trees, cultural icons, and traditions of the neighborhood. Drive along North Claiborne on the surface level street from St. Bernard Avenue to Orleans Avenue to view this outdoor art gallery and learn about a not-so-distant past.

New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal

New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal, which opened in 1954, houses the 2,166 square-foot mural painted between 1951 and 1954 by Conrad Albrizio with assistance from James Fisher. The mural’s four panels depict 400 years of Louisiana history: the Age of Exploration, the Age of Colonization, the Age of Struggle, and the Modern Age. Within these panels, Albrizio painted the good, the bad, and the ugly including scenes of European dominance over Native Americans, the period of slavery, establishment by the Ursuline nuns of schools and hospitals, the Louisiana Purchase, the Civil War, and the industrial age. The murals, which had been heavily damaged by years of humidity, cigarette smoke, and water damage were restored in 2005 by the City of New Orleans right before Hurricane Katrina. They were luckily spared damage although they are still a lesser known treasure of the city.

Emily Ramírez Hernández is the child of New Orleans natives whose families have been in the city for generations. Emily's earliest memories of New Orleans include joyful car rides over bumpy streets, eating dripping roast beef po-boys at Domilise's, and catching bouncy balls during Mardi Gras parades with cousins. An urban planner by day and freelance writer by night, when she is off the clock she enjoys biking around town, belly dancing, and catching nerdlesque shows.

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