Jackson Square, Prints, Marrus, and Loki’s Return

Apr 16, 2007 by

Greetings everyone (and Rachel), we are mostly moved and now have working internet access at the new place. Things will be hectic and my writing semi-sporadic over the next few weeks as we roll into my Jazz Fest production schedule. Look for more news soon about a Defend New Orleans event we are setting up at The Republic for May 31st as well as more of the usual invective.
Now between moving and some new contracts I have not been able to turn my evil microscope on recent events here in the city. That makes it very helpful when Marrus decides to get all fired up. Ladies, gentlemen, and other, allow me to present her latest guest post:
My response to…
Doug McCash’s article, “Art on the Fence”, in the April 13, 2007 issue of the Times-Picayune.

The battle over prints on the fence at Jackson Square continues to rage between idealists who want everything frozen as they remember from their childhoods, and realists who understand that this is, ultimately, a business that must adapt to changing perceptions.

Telling an artist to survive by solely selling originals is akin to asking a musician to only make a living playing live. Sure, the artists would love to sell three thousand dollar paintings every day, but it just doesn’t happen. A single artwork can take several months to create, particularly if it is complex or has a challenging subject matter, and these works can not be sold for a low price point if the creator is going to continue eating. Of course, the same tired image could be hacked out in conveyor belt fashion, but that effectively turns creatives into human factories, killing new ideas and stifling all experimentation and growth.

Not everyone is comfortable creating on the Square. These people are artists, not performers. Many work best in a private environment, surrounded by music and reference books, free from the jostling of small children, the unwanted attention of drunks, and the risk of smearing a wet canvas in transportation. As to young artists learning from the older ones, the “artist’s colony” is a group the same as any other. They don’t live in large communes smoking opium and having orgiastic fingerpainting parties. (Well, most don’t.) Everyone lives in separate spaces in disparate fashions. Some artists are more than willing to teach others skills or techniques, but ultimately, this is a business. Artists come from all over to sell their work on the Square, and if they’re not talented or have no business sense, they don’t make a living, and they don’t survive.

It is unrealistic to expect the recreation of a hundred year old anachronism when these artists must make a modern living. If the City Council wants the Square to look like a quaint, nostalgic memory, then the artists should be compensated in a similar fashion to the performers who re-enact historical time periods. Are prints on the Square any less romantic than acrobats performing to Justin Timberlake on boomboxes? Just like the rest of New Orleans, Jackson Square artists live in the achingly real world of mold remediation, contractor woes, and massive checks to Entergy. Yes, artists love what they do, but they also live on what they love. Disallowing prints of their own work cripples livelihoods and negates the very notion of free enterprise.

The artists must cater to many different types of people, and not only the upper echelons. While there should continue to be original work displayed, few can drop several hundred or thousand dollars on these pieces. Should our visitors be denied a print of a painting they may never be able to afford?

Artists on Jackson Square have been beloved by this City and tourists for generations, but please, please remember that this is their livelihood, and for most, their ONLY livelihood. Many of them have been asked “Do you actually do this for living?” The answer is a resounding YES. These are real people, up at five in the morning, lugging boxes & canvasses to the Quarter, and displaying their heart’s work for the inspection of strangers. The art is subjected to wind and rain, beer spills and thievery. Some techniques used are so delicate that being subjected to daily bright light and humidity damages the artwork forever.

There is a happy medium here. Let the free market do what it will. Let the artists, as the business owners they are, sell prints of their own work. Curtailing this simple act is unconstitutional, unfair, and ultimately, damaging to the very people who bring such interest to the Square itself.

And ultimately, can the City afford to waste financial resources ignoring the court’s wishes in matters as basic as freedom of speech?

-Marrus, Marrus Art

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