Who painted the support columns for the elevated interstate along Claiborne Avenue?
Dear Art Lover,
It's one thing to paint a mural on the side of a building, but the public art project you ask about showcased the creativity of more than 40 artists who painted on round pillars supporting the elevated portion of Interstate 10 along North Claiborne Avenue. It was a novel way to brighten up an area that holds an important place in local history.
In 2002, the New Orleans African-American Museum in Treme launched the Restore the Oaks project, which involved painting the concrete columns along North Claiborne Avenue from St. Bernard Avenue to Orleans Avenue. The project's name came from the beautiful oak tree-lined neutral ground that once filled that space and served as a gathering spot for neighborhood residents. Its destruction in the mid-1960s to build the elevated expressway remains controversial, and the space underneath is a popular spot during Mardi Gras and other celebrations.
The murals depict some of the history of Treme and local African-American life, from voodoo queen Marie Laveau to music greats Fats Domino, Mahalia Jackson and Ernie K-Doe, Mardi Gras Indians, members of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, the Baby Dolls marching group, the Treme Market and chefs Leah Chase and Austin Leslie. Even the oak trees that once lined the space are recreated on several pillars. Some of the artists were professionals, but many were first-time painters or student apprentices who worked with professionals on the project.
The pillars aren't the only public art in Treme. The area is a hot spot for outdoor art, from the colorful paintings on Kermit Ruffins' Ernie K-Doe's Mother-In-Law Lounge to a fence painting welcoming drivers to Treme (at Claiborne Avenue and Gov. Nicholls Street), and the new mural nearby honoring musician Travis "Trumpet Black" Hill, who died in May.