In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we formed Transforma to expand opportunities for artists to use their creativity in the rebuilding of New Orleans. As practitioners within the field, we had seen art and culture become increasingly commercialized, limiting the opportunities for artists to work in public or socially engaged practices. To counter this trend, Transforma strategically supported such practices with direct financial assistance, technical assistance, and networking opportunities. Generally it encouraged a greater emphasis on the role of artists, the arts, and culture in addressing the social and political needs that confront our society.

Although Transforma focused on the post-Katrina landscape, we would like to acknowledge the innumerable cities and communities throughout this country with shared legacies of disaster— whether social, physical, economic, or environmental (like the current oil-related disaster in the Gulf Coast). We hope that this website, the print publication, and the past five years of work in New Orleans, will encourage engagement in, and discourse about, art, creativity, and community.

Transforma was committed to supporting and validating public and socially engaged art practices, which are often overlooked by art critics and rarely considered by those in other fields. Given that such work is often process oriented and that the physical products themselves are often ephemeral, effective documentation is difficult. We created a framework in which two investigators, working independently, had the opportunity to research, investigate, and write about Transforma from their individual perspectives.

The two essays presented are the result of this process. One, written by Aimee Chang, manager of public programs at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin, looks at Transforma through the lens of art history and pedagogy. The other, by Maria Rosario Jackson, senior research associate at the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Center at the Urban Institute, considers the initiative within the context of community development and urban planning.

In the initial phase of Transforma, three pilot projects were chosen to receive seed support in the form of financial and infrastructural assistance. Each exemplifies a distinct model for engaging in social artistic practice: collaboration among artists, community-based organizations, and universities (Home, New Orleans?); an artist-initiated project (Operation Paydirt/ Fundred Dollar Bill Project); and a community-initiated project (Plessy Park). The projects are varied in scale, scope, and duration and are representative of a combination of local, national, and international creative practitioners, including artists, architects, activists, and others. Transforma has supported each project in a unique manner and on an individual time frame.

Home, New Orleans? (HNO?) is a community-based, arts-focused network of artists, neighbors, organizers, schools, and universities that brings together diverse constituencies in long-term collaborations to create positive change in New Orleans. HNO? Supports activities that move local participation forward in strengthening, revitalizing, and rebuilding community. Community-based arts organizations located in four distinct New Orleans neighborhoods- Central City, Lakeview, and the Seventh and Ninth wards- serve as the loci for the neighborhood projects. HNO? engages local universities through an interuniversity course, Building Community through the Arts, in which professors from Dillard, Tulane, and Xavier universities teach students from multiple departments within those institutions.

The project was initiated by conceptual artist Mel Chin. In researching the impact of the storm and the preexisting conditions in New Orleans, Chin discovered that New Orleans was the city with the second-highest levels of lead contamination in the United States. The presence of polluted soil and the absence of capital to respond to the situation motivated the creation of this dual-layered project. The Paydirt/Fundred project seeks to facilitate the complete transformation of New Orleans into a city with lead-safe soil through the delivery of a scientific solution to lead contamination while calling for action through a nationwide drawing project designed to engage young people.

The project was initiated by community activist Reggie Lawson of the Crescent City Peace Alliance, artist Ron Bechet, and others to acknowledge the site on which Homer Plessy was arrested on June 7, 1892. Lawson decided to organize an event to bring together the various stakeholders, including New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) and Students at the Center (SAC). The team invited Suzanne Lacy and the MFA Public Practice program at Otis College of Art and Design to participate in Plessy Day 2008. The day included personal testimonies of segregation, a procession through the Bywater neighborhood and ended with an interactive installation at the Plessy site, where eight temporary chalkboards served as the foci.

View a video clip of Plessy Day 2008, provided by Otis MFA Public Practice program.

The Creative Recovery Mini-Grant program supported work produced at the intersection of art, social justice, and recovery in New Orleans. It fueled the recovery process with the energy of the local creative community by supporting the vibrant activity on the ground level. Mini-grants provided direct project support for the work of independent artists, unincorporated groups, gathering spaces, publications, and collectives active during the rebuilding of New Orleans. In each round the applications were reviewed by a different panel made up of individuals with professional backgrounds in art history, community organizing, education, community development, urban planning, urban agriculture, real estate, and housing rights.

Jackie Sumell

Nine Times 10th Anniversary Poster Project
Abram Himelstein

O.C. Haley Community Garden
Kathia Duran

Our Lives in Story
Eve Abrams

Sankofa Marketplace
Rashida Ferdinand

Cornerstone of the Month
Bethany Rogers

Living Newspaper
Aminisha Ferdinand

New World Wailing Wall
Cynthia Scott

Puppet Arts at Colton School
Nina Nichols

Streetcar Serenade
Raymond "Moose" Jackson

2110 Royal Stories
Joanna Russo

Documentary with Iberville Boys/Girls Club
Lily Keber

Field Guide from a Work in Progress
Tristan Thompson

Jazz Hip Hop Orchestra
Angelamia Bachemin

Junebug Jabbo Jones
Royce Osborn

Louisiana Drumline Camp
Terence L. Higgins

Mardi Gras Indian History and Bead Sewing
Ed Buckner

Open Window Project
Ariella Cohen

Our Prayers for the City
Vanessa Adams

Recycled Glass Arts & Jewelry
Yasmin Bowers

7th Ward Artist Residency
Maria Hinds

Sign Up
Rondell Crier

Emilie Taylor

Stretching Sky Arts Laboratory
Hao-Peng Liao

What My Neighborhood Means To Me
Ariya Martin

Wordplay New Orleans
Valerie McMillan

Transforma hosted digital and physical forums to establish a space for artists, community members, and residents of New Orleans to share their projects, ideas, troubles, and solutions. The original website was developed as a social-networking site for people involved or interested in community-based projects. Although the site is now inactive, the content is available in an archived form.

The convenings, which were held in various neighborhoods throughout New Orleans, were open to the public and intended to engage active members of the local and national communities in critical conversations. The combined physical and virtual forums encouraged project development and creative collaboration among artists and communities alike.

The following institutions and organizations
donated spaces for convenings:

Antenna Gallery
Ashé Cultural Arts Center
Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans
Creative Alliance of New Orleans
Neighborhood Story Project
New Orleans Center for Creative Arts
The Porch- 7th Ward Cultural Organization
Seventh Ward Neighborhood Center
St. Roch Community Church
Tulane University
Waggonner & Ball Architects
Winingder family
Xavier University

Art in Rebuilding Community:
The Transforma Project in
New Orleans

August 2007
Community Arts Network

Jan Cohen Cruz

New Orleans' Art Scene Recovers

August 2008
Houston Chronicle

Douglas Britt

Plessy and Ferguson unveil plaque today marking their ancestors' actions

February 2009
Times Picayune

Katy Reckdahl

Transforma's Hard Work in the Big Easy

April 2010
Next American City

Jeremy Rosenberg

Biennial Rising: Prospect.1
New Orleans and the Post-Disaster Arts Movement

May 2009
A Thesis Presented to the
Roski School of Fine Arts, USC

Sue Bell Yank

Art and Its Cultural

October 2009

Joshua Decter

Jessica Cusick
Sam Durant
Rick Lowe
Robert Ruello

Jess Garz
Given that Transforma's creation and evolution were organic processes, a traditionally linear documentation method did not effectively capture the spirit of the initiative. Rather, the team chose a more informal method of telling the story: a conversation. In February 2010 Tom Finkelpearl, director of the Queens Museum, moderated a structured (but not too structured) conversation with Transforma's founders and staff. In February 2009 the Transforma team was invited to lead a two-day workshop, Art and Community Engagement, at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, California. Interactive and hands-on, the seminar covered concept development, process, and implementation using Transforma as a case study. The embedded video provides an edited view of the weekend workshop.

Watch another video of the workshop at the Hammer here.

We would like to take this opportunity to specially thank the major funders who generously supported this experimental initiative in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and our reliable partner, the National Performance Network, for providing infrastructural support for the past five years.

We would also like to thank our staff person, Jess Garz, for her extraordinary enthusiasm, energy, and devotion to the people of New Orleans and to this initiative and publication. Finally, we offer a personal ode of gratitude to everyone who dedicated time and effort to Transforma.

American Center Foundation

The Annenberg Foundation

The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts

Ford Foudation

The Joan Mitchell Foundation

Nathan Cummings Foundation

National Performance Network

National Endowment for the Arts

Open Society Foundations

Quixote Foundation, Inc.

Antenna Gallery  |
Ashé Cultural Arts Center  |
Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans  |
C4 Tech  |
Creative Alliance of New Orleans  |
Hammer Museum  |
Neighborhood Story Project  |
New Orleans Center for Creative Arts  |
Next American City  |
Otis College of Art and Design  |
Partners for Livable Communities  |
The Porch- 7th Ward Cultural Organization  |
Seventh Ward Neighborhood Center  |
St. Roch Community Church  |
Students at the Center  |
Tulane University  |
Waggonner & Ball Architects  |
Xavier University  |

Aimee Chang
Essay Writing

Maria Rosario Jackson
Essay Writing

Tom Finkelpearl
Interview moderation & editing

Erik Kiesewetter | EBSL
Art direction & design

Karen Jacobson
Stephanie Atkins
Caron Atlas
Emily Axelrod
Candida Ayala
Alaine Azcona
Julie Bargmann
John Barnes
Carol Bebelle
Ron Bechet
Fiona Blackshaw
Katherine Bray
Stanlyn Breve
Simeon Bruner
Christopher Burton
Joe Butler
Rachel Carrico
Aimee Chang
Mel Chin
Marie Cieri
Jan Cohen-Cruz
Alec De Leon
Kathie deNobriga
Timothy Dorsey
Janet Owen Driggs
Laverne Dunn
Aubrey Edwards
Shawn Escoffery
Phoebe Ferguson
Tom Finkelpearl
Robert Frankel
M. Claudia Garofalo
Jan Gilbert
Robin Gilliam
Johanna Gilligan
Anne Gisleson
Ashley Hunt
Maria Rosario Jackson
Ian Johnson
Jackson Knowles
Amy Koritz
Suzanne Lacy
Drew Lang
Miranda Lash
Leslie Lawrence
Reggie Lawson
Mary LeClere
Robin Levy
Diana Lind
L. Kelley Lindquist
Bill Mague
Andy Manoushagian
Bridget Marquis
Don Marshall
Daniel J. Martinez
Keith Weldon Medley
Wesley V. Montgomery
Ofunne Obiamiwe
Mary Jane Parker
James Perry
Ann Philbin
Keith Plessy
Linda Pollack
Asia Rainey
Kathy Randels
Paul Richard
Pam Roberts
Jules Rochielle
Jeremy Rosenberg
Mary Rubin
Eric Schwarz
Mathew Schwarzman
Rami Sharkey
Nick Slie
Mark Stern
Jim Stockard
Tory Tepp
Nato Thompson
Elizabeth Underwood
Consuelo Velasco
Rob Verchick
Kyle Wedberg
MK Wegmann
Therese Wegmann
Jerald White
Diana Winingder
Amanda Wiles
June Wilson
Sue Bell Yank
Sally Young
Mimi Zarsky

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