Magic Archway, 2016

Design and project facilitation by Laurel True
Production by Laurel True and with the help of community members at Sojourner Truth Neighborhood Center and True Mosaics Studio in New Orleans

Location: Magic Street between N. Galvez and N. Johnson in New Orleans’ 5th Ward

Magic Archway explores the relationships and connections between past, present and future of the Faubourg Lafitte community in context of the changing social landscape in New Orleans.

Magic Archway was created in the footprint of the Lafitte Housing Projects, which were home to thousands of people of all ages and shuttered and demolished after the failure of the National Levees during hurricane Katrina. An example of community-supported creative placemaking, the sculptural arch and benches were created through community partnerships and participation. Magic Archway serves as a visual recording of the past, a celebration of the present and a portal into the future, including dozens of historical photos and architectural elements woven into a contemporary artwork that invites social interaction.

"This collage is a history of where you are standing, before and during the years of the Lafitte Public Housing Development. It is an offering:  To keep a commitment to safe, affordable housing in the heart of the city.
To embed it in the work of creating a more just society." 

– Rachel Bruenlin, Neighborhood Story Project

"Across the country, 'Creative Placekeeping' has come into usage as a counter to Placemaking. Placekeeping stands for the active care of a place and its social fabric by the people who live and work there—not just preserving buildings, but keeping the cultural memories associated with a locale alive…" 
– US Department of Arts and Culture

Magic Archway was created by Laurel True, True Mosaics Studio, and Faubourg Lafitte community members with support from Providence Community Housing, Enterprise Community Partners, L+M Development Partners, Inc., the Housing Authority of New Orleans and the Arts Council of New Orleans. 
A place of contemplation and gathering, the arch celebrates the history, present moment, and future of this neighborhood.

Lined with bricks like those of the Lafitte Public Housing Development and mosaics from residents of Faubourg Lafitte, it serves as an edifice to honor the strength and solidity of communities that were formed here over generations, while referencing the architectural and building trades that were, and continue to be, so important to the history and culture of New Orleans. As Jeff Poree, a fifth generation master plasterer who collaborated on this project said, it “moves forward with a feeling for the past.”  We would like to say thank you:

To Jeff Poree and Jeff Poree Plastering, LLC, for expertly constructing the concrete arch and benches. 

To the Sojourner Truth Neighborhood Center for hosting the workshops where community members learned the art of mosaic making and contributed to the ceramic and glass work.

To Rachel Breunlin for curating the collage of the neighborhood. To the Neighborhood Story Project, Cornerstones, and Spyboy Productions for contributing oral histories and photographs from their project, If Those Bricks Could Talk. This collaborative book and film were produced as part of the Section 106 mitigation process for the Lafitte Public Housing Development under the National Historical Preservation Act of 1966.  To Dana Bowker Lee and Ryan Gray for sharing their research from the historical and archaeological components of the 106 process.

We we would like to acknowledge the following contributors for their permission to use photographs in the collage: The Housing Authority of New Orleans; New Orleans Public Library’s City Archives; Bruce Sunpie Barnes; the Charles L. Franck Bertacci Photography Collection at The Historic New Orleans Collection; Rachel Breunlin; Andre Harris; Dale N. Atkins, Clerk of Civil District Court and Ex-Offico Recorder, Parish of Orleans, Notarial Archives Division; Frank Lotz Miller and the Southeastern Architectural Archive at Tulane University (for image of Phillis Wheatly Elementary School; Mary Moore; Ed Newman; Emelda Paul; Bethany Rogers; and Joseph Torregano.

Additional  thanks to: Mattt Morrin from Providence, Dominee Matthews and Claudette Austin from Sojourner Truth Neighborhood Center, Mario Jeudi, Jamie Hill, Randy Sanders, Thad Starkey and Cecily Wild for production and installation assistance: to Ms. Emelda Paul for her photos and stories, and to all of the beautiful members of the Senior Dream Team.

Full credits for the photography, historical documentation, and quotes can be found in If Those Bricks Could Talk (Center for the Book at the University of New Orleans 2015).

Laurel True works through True Mosaics Studio and The Global Mosaic Project on creative placemaking projects that engage communities around the world. 

More information:

Article in New Orleans Advocate, July 19, 2016
Short documentary about the creation of Magic Archway by Luisa Dantas and Jolu Productions