There’s no denying that the city of New Orleans is rich with art. Although, being on Tulane’s campus, we sometimes forget just how much art there is surrounding us. I went to the Oak Street Art Market, which is within walking distance of campus, just around the corner from Rue de la Course. The market sits in front of La Casita, which has some of the top-rated Mexican food in NOLA (not to mention one of the only happy hours until 7pm!). I had the opportunity to talk to three artists/vendors about their art, as well as the community that comes along with working at a market like this one.
The first artist I spoke with was a jewelry maker namedYahweh. He sat at a little table full of handmade rings and bracelets, talking to everyone that came around. I found out that he was born in California and moved here with his parents in 4th grade. Originally, he hated the city, mostly because of the weather. However, Yahweh quickly found that there is art absolutely everywhere in this city. “The buildings are art, the food is art, the people are art, the whole city is one giant masterpiece,” he said to me, “art is pouring out of the seams of everything.” As an artist, it’s important to find a place that inspires you to create, to be unapologetically you, and Yahweh says that it’s almost impossible to avoid that inspiration in this city.
The second artist that I spoke to was named Claire; she was selling essential oils, female empowerment pins, and her signature “vagina bags” and “vagina books,” which allow and encourage women to embrace their femininity. Claire’s art is all about the empowerment and freeing of women. She grew up in San Diego, but lived in New York City for most of her life, working as a ballerina. After suffering an injury, she found herself feeling lost, unsure what to do with her life if she couldn’t be a dancer. Eventually, she decided to write a play based here in New Orleans. She planned on staying for three months, but ended up loving the city so much that she stayed for six. After producing her play back in New York City, Claire decided that New Orleans was where she was meant to be. The expressive nature of this city is what drew her in and eventually kept her here for good.
Finally, I spoke to an encaustic painter named Melanie, which basically means that she paints with melted beeswax. From the second I walked up to her stall, I could see just how much New Orleans influenced her art. Like the other artists I spoke with, Melanie grew up in California. She’s only lived here since June and was originally drawn to NOLA because her fiance got a job as an archaeologist. She’s decided to transfer to LSU to study physical and forensic archaeology and knew immediately that this is an incredibly art-friendly city. The city itself is the inspiration for most of her art; everything from the architecture to the history, to the river inspires her work. Perhaps the strongest inspiration is the rich culture of our beautiful city. This is a city unlike anywhere else, and Melanie loves to reflect that through her work.
When I asked these artists whether there was a strong sense of community among artists throughout the city, the answer was a resounding, “yes.” Yahweh told me the artists here are like a family. Claire said that they are all here to support themselves, each other, art, and New Orleans in general. Melanie told me that the community is extremely strong, much stronger than she originally would’ve expected. She emphasized how everyone is incredibly friendly and that there is a strong connection between artists and vendors at different markets. It is common for artists to refer each other to new markets, as well as refer customers to one another.
Perhaps the most interesting thing I learned from these artists is just how much they love working at little markets like this one. Yahweh loves the feeling of freedom he gets while working on something he loves so much. He’s able to constantly meet new people and have genuine conversations with them, which is one of the most fulfilling things he feels he could be doing with his life. Claire loves being a part of the culture of New Orleans and putting her own spin on art in this city. She gets to be part of what people remember about the city, as well as using her art to initiate important conversations (especially through the vagina books/bags). Claire also noted that it’s great to have happy hour at La Casita right behind her! Melanie loves that no matter what the market looks like numbers-wise, she always has a good night. She’s not just there to make money, but instead, she’s just glad to be a part of the market and to have the opportunity to talk to others about their individual art and experiences.
If you get the chance to check out this market, or one like it, I encourage you to take it. Talk to these people that are so integral to the art scene of New Orleans. See just what it is about this city that fosters endless creativity. Have some of the genuine conversations that these artists so clearly love. I promise you will not regret it.
ALL PHOTOS: Colton Bray