Friday, February 12, 2010

NOLA Art House a.k.a. Tree House

I heard about the intended eviction of the folks at the Tree House yesterday and couldn't understand why it hit me so personally, so viscerally. An email exchange started on a list I'm on, and out came this:

I have missing outlet covers. Guess I better fix them.

I am clearly getting too old. This whole thing reminds me of, no I'm not kidding, 1969. I was 16. A bunch of us found a fabulous huge old house and the oldest of us (21) rented it, signed the lease and paid the deposits with the money we had pooled. There were ten of us, and believe me it was a house big enough for all of us. We lived there for a year and a half, gorgeous leaded bevelled windows, sweeping staircase. We all had jobs. We even had a milkman. Yes we partied, yes our music was loud. I think there were a couple cars among us, but they mostly fit into the driveway. We did our own repairs (one of us was a carpenter), we mowed the lawn, and yeah we did have some rowdy parties happening now and then, certainly not every night. We were mostly artists and musicians with day jobs. Oh yeah, and we were kids.

One day a knock came on the door. Thinking it was the milkman, we opened it. It was a building code guy telling us we had to leave. That according to codes, you couldn't have more than two unrelated or unmarried people in a dwelling. We tried to fight it, but were told "community standards" were being outraged by unmarried couples living together, etc. The community was trying to enforce its moral standards through use of codes.

We managed to get all of our stuff out in the seven days they gave us, and found new places to live, although pooling our money for food and rent had been a lifesaver and the new separateness was very hard for us to manage. What always baffled me was that while we were young, and a couple of us, me included were indeed minors, we weren't on the street, we weren't in homeless shelters, we weren't hooking on a corner and not a one of us was on welfare, food stamps or any other kind of assistance. Wait, I take that back. One guy was on unemployment after Pier One let him go.

This heavy handedness sticks in my craw on a visceral level. Go after crack houses not artist coops or squats full of kids. I'm also really sick of the word hipster. With each use it's sounding more and more like hippie being spat out of the old folks' love it or leave it mouths.

BTW, that gorgeous house was demolished a few years later after the lovely old fella who rented it to us passed on and his son sold it to a developer. Where it was is now a giant grey stone building full of very expensive co-op apartments and condos.

I don't expect a response. Just venting. I'm wondering at what age and/or property ownership level we get to that we suddenly start muttering "Damn kids!" under our breath. I'd rather go after the purveyors of death in our streets, gun dealers selling guns to 14 yr olds, etc. than some wacky artist kids who got a little too loud and drunk a few nights. But that's me.

Well, that explained my reaction.

It just has this "what's next" quality about it. Cops threatening vocal neighbors. Kids dying in the streets thanks to guys with houses and trunks full of guns selling them to junior high school kids. Crack houses. This stuff gets tossed into the "not enough manpower" column, but ousting a bunch of artist kids who throw parties can be done. Not only done, but with lots of NOPD presence, Fire Department, Building Code folks and possibly Entergy to turn off the power.

The latest news I heard was that the eviction had been postponed but that the power was still off.

There just seems to be a group of people in any given time, any given place, who are determined to homogenize the world. They want it to be a perfect place according to their standards. "Nice" art that has nothing to say but matches their couch. "Nice" literature that floats lovely images but no challenges to their psyches. "Nice" kids with no imaginations, heading off for the MBA that will give them a leg up into their homogenized world (that one's little brother, with his piercings, weird music, strange clothing choices, well, we hope that's just a phase. Christ, he wants to be an ARTIST, no money in that!) "Nice" music, all old. "Nice" theatre, hopefully yet another comfie feel-good musical, Oklahoma maybe. There always seems to be some bunch who thinks the only good artist is a dead artist, then they can mourn his passing with a great show of respect for his work, nevermind he died with an empty bottle of rye in his hand and a some dope stashed in his closet full of sex toys. He was a GENIUS. He was OUR genius. "Our community has lost a great artist today, we are the greater for his having been among us and the lesser for his passing." Oh puh-leeeeeeeze. No way you would have had him over for dinner with your friends, bucko. Well, maybe, as a curiousity or to position yourself as a patron of the arts after you shuffled him into a cab that would take him back to his bohemian hovel. Which probably wasn't up to code and didn't have the proper permits.

I'm just sick of it. Simple as that. Sick to death of the well heeled museum patrons who go home feeling good about themselves, wearing clothes and driving cars that are expensive enough to support an artist for a year. Don't get me wrong. I love museums. They're important. I just don't get why the living artist, particularly the young artist, is so dismissed, not supported, sometimes reviled.

Ah well, enough ranting. Noel Rockmore, a New Orleans artist now revered, said: "Art is not decoration. Art is war." It's sure looking that way for the folks at the Tree House.

Here are some links about all this (they also have a Facebook Page). Please read them. Please keep an open mind. Please, buy that black clad pierced tattooed vegan pitbull owning artist a cup of coffee today. Or better yet, ask them about their work.

NOLA Art House Blog
Gambit NOLA Art House Article
Gambit NOLA Art House Article: Neighborhood Assn Side
Gambit NOLA Art House Article: Fire Department Side


Anonymous said...


Mark Folse said...

Bravo. That sums up the real issues here perfectly. It's not that perhaps they are in violation of some city code, or perhaps jumped the shark on a party for 500. Its the underlying hostility that the sudden efficiency of our usually useless code and law enforcement folks in the face of something not suitable for a gallery the nicer blocks of Magazine Street.

Micah said...

I commend your article, and I'm glad to see people like you that are willing to speak out and defend the freedoms of others, even if it doesn't directly relate to your life. Our government has been attempting to divide and conquer by turning us against each other so it's easier for them to take the individual freedoms of others. Once they have accomplished their goal, they can easily finish us off because we won't stand up for each other, or so they think.

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

Thanks youz.

Anonymous said...

First of all: as for the whole "Cult of Genius" thing - the whole business of elevating certain humans as these great Uber-Talents has always turned my stomach, anyhow. "Oh, Dali this, Picasso that, blah blah blah..." - I often just feel like saying, "shut up." I believe in maximizing the potential of ALL humans, not obsessively deifying certain people, and cooing and cawing over their genius. PUH-LEEZE. I think the world is teeming with undiscovered geniuses.
So I guess that makes my viewpoint on this fairly radical - and I am from an Elite Establishment background in SOME respects. (Or SOME people seem to think I am).
Secondly: I am wary of over-generalizations. There are plenty of office managers who are in favor of diversity - and not just giving lip service to it, because, for instance, they go out of their way to hire recent immigrants with weak English skills and give them a chance to improve their skills while on the job. There are open-minded people with crazy/ quirky senses of humor in all walks of life including for example human resource assistants, secretaries and accountants.
Finally: I think you ought to take into account religion - a lot of this kind of prejudice against lifestyles comes from organized religion, I think. -MPM

billy brown said...

Great writeup about the artist mansion. I'm a young artist type and I've been to some of their parties and climbed to the top of their ridiculous(ly scary) tree-house and its great to read local support like this. The place is really unique and I hope it can stay. I do wish they would have openings or shows at their mansion instead of just parties. Maybe they did and I just missed it?

Deanna said...

The last time we were in NOLA (Halloween) a young friend of ours invited us to a party at the Tree House. We were rather cold and exhausted after standing out in the rain at Voodoo Fest and ended up not going. I now wish we had. As I read this post I kept hearing the song, "Little Boxes" in my head. Btw, my husband and I are 47 and 48, doing our best to never reach that "those damn kids" stage.