The one thing that people always ask when they come in to the studio or find out I live in New Orleans is” How did you do?” or “What happened to you with Katrina?” That touchstone seems to be a conversation starter for a good number of people. My standard answer has been, “We had a hurricane, but not a flood on this side of the river” meaning that we had some damage, but not the horrific scenes that were continuously depicted on the news networks. Ten years later, I think that I may change my answer. The damage goes much deeper than the physical damage that the storm brought. A whole culture that is distinctive within this country was on the threshold of extinction. A way of life was close to oblivion. It has to affect everyone who lived through that trying time, and after denying it, I admit that it has changed me too.
As the 10th anniversary of hurricane Katrina looms closely on the horizon, we have been inundated with stories in all media about those fateful days, weeks, and months. It is not easy reliving all of those moments and I’m sure that my friends who lost everything are having a much harder time than I am.
The good news is that we have lived through the 10 year period which all of the “experts” said would be the most important time in our history. These 10 years were going to steer which direction that the city would turn. Well, after living through these past 10 years here, I can say that it has been both good and bad. We all were told that we had to accept the “new normal” that came with rebuilding. I am a very optimistic person, and I see a lot of great things happening in New Orleans. The most obvious thing is that since the days after the flood, people have volunteered to come and help with the rebuilding effort. Thousands and thousands of people have put in countless hours of work in our community. Ten years later, there is still work to do and volunteers are still coming here to help. Some of them have even made the move to stay here and contribute from within the city. It shows me the amazing spirit of love and caring that we have for each other.
There have been many milestones that people have cited in their articles and programs. Everyone is throwing statistics and numbers around about billions of dollars for a new levee system, more restaurants now than before the storm, the gutting and rebuilding of the public school system, the boom of “Hollywood South”, the revitalization of the Superdome and the Convention Center that were a symbol of government ineptitude and public struggles during the storm, increases in tourist travel and dollars spent locally, etc. We have made progress through these years, but there is much more to do. Crime is a huge problem, it always was, and sadly, it may always be one. There are still vast areas of property that are still uninhabitable. Our population has not recovered, but there is an influx of under-40 year olds who hopefully will embrace and enhance (not replace) the richness that New Orleans has to offer.
On a personal note, since the storm, our kids have both graduated from college and are starting lives of their own. Thankfully, the studio is still making pieces that are selling at 250 or so galleries and stores across the country, and it has become a “destination” for tourists to come to and see us creating our “magic”. I am still with my partner, wife, and best friend, Brenda, and we are trying to spend more time close to home and not traveling to a lot of shows. Our “Blow Your Own” events have blossomed into a series that people across the Gulf Coast (and a few tourists!) have embraced and made successful.
As you can see, it is a “new normal”. Some is good and some is bad, but hopefully always moving forward. I took a short walk to get some lunch the other day, and the scenes directly after the storm came flashing back to me. I stopped and had to collect my thoughts. It was then, as I stood there, that the sounds of birds singing, children playing at recess, the smell of the flowers and trees, the sounds of traffic and people going about their daily business, all slowly began to replace the sad memories. It gave me hope for the future and whatever lies ahead of us. We are strong, we are resilient!