New Orleans Artists Return to an Altered City After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans theaters were shuttered, jazz clubs went silent and museums and galleries were locked up. The city's artists scattered across the country. They are starting to return but are finding that making art in New Orleans is a different experience.
NPR logo

New Orleans Artists Return to an Altered City

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
New Orleans Artists Return to an Altered City

New Orleans Artists Return to an Altered City

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel in New Orleans.


And I'm Michele Norris. We're standing here on Frenchman Street. It's lined with music clubs. This is where you come to get off the tourist trap of Bourbon Street, sit in a bar, and listen to some of New Orleans best music.

SIEGEL: Six months after Hurricane Katrina, clubs are filling up again. But the city's cultural life has a long way to go. When the levees broke and New Orleans flooded, artists were scattered across the country. Many are now returning, but there are fears that some will never come back.

NORRIS: Making music, art and theater in the city is a different experience now. Here are the stories of three artists working in the new New Orleans. First to the theater.

[soundbite of music]

Unidentified Announcer: And welcome to the stage the FDA approved Mr. Ricky Graham.

RICKY GRAHAM (New Orleans Actor): I'm Ricky Graham. I'm starring in my one man show I'm Still Here, Me, which was the first show that opened in New Orleans post Katrina and we're still going strong. The first song we do is a song takeoff on the Peggy Lee song Fever, and it's called FEMA.

Never thought I'd still be waiting, never thought I'd be a wreck. I first applied September 2nd, but I still ain't got my FEMA check. So give me FEMA.

Mr. GRAHAM: I was displaced to Alexandria, Louisiana, which wasn't exactly the hub of Louisiana culture. Wonderful people but I was sitting in the kitchen of a friend's sister and saying, I'm never going to work again. People won't understand my New Orleans humor anywhere else. I really felt that it was going to be the end of my career. I came back the second week of October and at that time it really was a ghost town. We put the show together very quickly, but as soon as we put it up, you know, people who were here, they came running.

(Soundbite of song FEMA): Try to call 'em you'll wait until your kidneys fail. But FEMA, then they tell you your check is probably in the mail. How many times you hear that?

Mr. GRAHAM: The show has been like a group therapy session. People come to laugh and eventually have a kind of cathartic release. It's sort of like being in the USO. It's like entertaining the troops in wartime. I think it's necessary for people to have some kind of balance because there is so much that we have to deal with everyday that some levity is not only welcome it's absolutely essential.

(Soundbite of song FEMA): Now you've listened to my story. Here's the point you ought to know. If I had my check from FEMA, then I wouldn't have to do this show.

NORRIS: Ricky Graham's cabaret show is called I'm Still Here, Me. It's been playing since November to sellout crowds. Next here's a visual artist who's coming to terms with a new landscape for her art.

JACQUELINE BISHOP (New Orleans Artist): My name is Jacqueline Bishop and I'm a visual artist in New Orleans. My work deals with landscape. I collect found objects and paint them. For me a found object is something that I find in the streets, on the sidewalk. The whole idea of taking something was used in one way and I give it another life in another way. Right now we're in a Lakeview area, and as you can see the watermarks went over people's heads. After Katrina, I'd drive through the city still in neighborhoods where no one lives and in some cases they're never going to live. And I walk around and I see things and I pick them up. For me seeing an object now after Katrina, the object seems to have more of a presence. Whereas before I would see a shoe or a comb or something and say, oh, somebody just dropped it, somebody just lost it. But after Katrina, you pretty much know that it's there because of Katrina, and it was from misfortune.

Here's a key. Now this probably is to somebody's home, but they don't have a door, so there is no use for that key. These are items of my people, of New Orleanians, and so it has changed me in looking at it in that way. It's almost become more of a need to touch them, or to be closer to people that lived there that may never be able to come back.

NORRIS: Visual artist Jacqueline Bishop. You can see some of her work at On to music now and one of New Orleans favorite jazz trumpet players.

(Unknown Announcer): Harrah's Casino is proud to present Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers.

KERMIT RUFFINS (New Orleans Musician): My name is Kermit Ruffins and I play and sing jazz music all over the world. The music has definitely changed a little bit. I mean it's the same tunes, the same kind of swing beat, but spiritually the tunes mean more. The performance turns a little creative. I mean it's almost like the rebirth of jazz.

(soundbite of music)

Mr. RUFFINS: After the storm I went on to Houston, Texas and I didn't have my regular band members, but, I mean, I got lucky and had Fats Domino and he just was in Texas, and he said, Kermit I've always wanted to play with you. And then He's still playing with me today, off and on. Sometimes at some of the gigs, we're not used to playing together so we're not sure where the ending is going to go. But typical New Orleans music is always played with a kind of grandiose kind of ending. And at the end of it we kind of fumble sometimes, and we all turn around and start laughing on the bandstand.

(Soundbite of Kermit Ruffins singing)

(unintelligible) New Orleans, I (unintelligible) I want to see that wolverine. Oh, (unintelligible) New Orleans.

Mr. RUFFINS: We're the kind of people that always looking for a reason to party, and now we have the biggest reason ever. Every time you open up a restaurant, we're going to party. Every time you open up a church, we're going to party. Every time they open up a school we're going to have a band play. Imagine all the kids marching in Mardi Gras parades. And all of them are being influenced by jazz players. And that will never, ever stop. Not to even mention having the music playing all over the city again. Before the storm you can go and hear four bands, five bands, and get five advertisers at each place. And right now after the storm, six months later, you can do the exact same thing.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: That was jazz musician Kermit Ruffins. You also heard from artist Jacqueline Bishop and actor Ricky Graham. From New Orleans, Happy Mardi Gras. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.