The New New Orleans, Part 2: Pearl Heart

A silver mime who performs in the French Quarter, and Bywater resident


Pearl Heart is a silver mime and owner of Busker's Bunkhouse, a nonprofit residence for traveling musicians. Born in California, "Miss Pearl" moved to New Orleans as a child and has lived at her Bywater address since 1991.

  "This was not a blighted neighborhood right before [Hurricane Katrina]. We had many successful artists. But we have an unusual thing: We have rich and poor right together. The problem ... is not gentrification. There has always been an influx of people here, but after Katrina it was a huge amount all at once. So it's like a culture shock for us more than gentrification. I think it is a cultural war.

  "Many of these people are monied, and the more money you have, the more of a zoned community you have. A zoned community is too sterile. It's not good for you. When you're in a zoned community, you don't meet your neighbors. You don't really know how to live outside. You know how to live inside, but you don't know how to live outside. A lot of us sit on our porches, so when people walk by, we say 'Hello.' The new people, you say 'Hi' to them and they're shocked. My thing is, get on our sidewalk, and while you're walking down that sidewalk, say 'Good morning,' say 'Good afternoon' to people that are sitting there, because we want to meet you.

  "Everybody is from somewhere else here. It's not where you're from, it's where you're coming from. And unfortunately, a lot of the new people have this bedroom community idea of being really quiet. And there's really, really quiet neighborhoods in this town. They should move to one of them. I don't mean that in a sarcastic way.

  "Bywater has always been bohemian. It's like a delicate ecosystem for the arts. The arts are born on the sidewalk and the street. It's a little messy when it is born. ... The people that are making everyone wealthy, that the tourists come to see, have to be within bike-riding distance of the French Quarter — because let's face it — 'starving artist' is a reality. We have to have a place to practice in the street without necessarily having a permit every time. Musicians have to live somewhere." — As told to Missy Wilkinson

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