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Posts Tagged ‘new orleans’

kitty-photo-by-russell-haydn-for-sod

Photo: Russell Haydn
Kitty Lunn, New Orleans ballerina who refused to let paralysis stop her.

Lately, I’ve seen a number of articles about incorporating more artists with disabilities into the theater and dance worlds. Ballerina Kitty Lunn didn’t set out to be an advocate in that movement, but after a paralyzing accident, she took charge of her future in way that helps others.

As reporter Erika Ferrando says at 4WWL television in New Orleans, “A ballerina embodies grace, control, and beauty. It takes years of practice and few are ever able to dance as a profession. For dancers, that’s the dream.

“What if that dream was achieved, then stolen? What if it no longer seemed possible for a dancer to dance? That’s what happened to Kitty Lunn and it’s been her mission ever since to overcome.

‘Life is a choice. We can either live while we’re alive or wait to die,’ said Lunn, who is now almost 70-year-old.

“Life is full of choices. Lunn always chose to dance even when it seemed she had no choice but to give up her dream. …

“Lunn trained in her hometown of New Orleans until she was 15, when her work here led to a scholarship with the Washington Ballet. She was living her dream. …

“She was 36-years-old, preparing for her first Broadway show when it all changed. …

“Lunn slipped on ice and fell down a flight of stairs, breaking her neck and back. The accident put her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

” ‘I was very depressed because I had been a dancer since I was 8-years-old. I had to find a way,’ Lunn said.

“She had just started dating the man she would marry, Andrew. …

” ‘Andrew said, spoken like a true non dancer, said if you want to dance, who is stopping you? I was stopping me, fear was stopping me,’ Lunn said. …

 Photo: Dan Demetriad

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” ‘I went back to class I put my money on the table. They had to let me in, I had the ADA behind me,’ she said. …

“Surrounded by world class ballet dancers, she was forced to break down barriers.

” ‘They said ‘well you can come in, but you’re on probation. If anyone complains, you’ll have to leave. Many people have complained and I didn’t leave,’ Lunn said.

“In 1995, Lunn founded Infinity Dance Theater in New York. It’s a non-traditional dance company featuring dancers with and without disabilities. The company performs all over the world. …

“Kitty Lunn visited New Orleans this month to help launch a program that keeps veterans moving. The New Orleans VA partnered with the New Orleans Ballet Association for ‘Freedom of Movement’ classes. The program is for veterans, wheelchair-users or not, teaching them to keep moving and dancing.

” ‘It helps me move joints that are a little difficult to move,’ veteran Tina Boquet said. ‘Although I may not be able to do things like I did before my accident, I am still able to move.’

“Now Lunn travels the world teaching others to move, despite anything trying to hold them back.

” ‘I learned that the dancer inside me doesn’t care about this wheelchair. She just wanted to find a way to keep dancing,’ she said. “I think I’m living the life I was born to live. That was an accident, this is a choice.’ ”

More at 4WWL, here, and at Infinity Dance Theater, here.

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File photo of a man clinging to the top of a vehicle in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans

Photo: Robert Galbraith/Reuters/Corbis
Clinging to the top of a vehicle before being rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard from the flooded streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, 2005. The city’s homelessness problem grew exponentially after Katrina. Then a unique collaborative decided to do something about it.

Homelessness is increasing all over this wealthy, unequal land of ours. And you know what? It’s possible to do something about it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Consider this effort in New Orleans, as reported by Jeremy Hobson on WBUR’s Here and Now.

“Across the U.S., more than a half million people have been identified as homeless. New Orleans faced a major crisis in homelessness following Hurricane Katrina.

In 2007, two years after the storm, there were more than 11,600 homeless people in the city. Since then, New Orleans stepped up its effort to tackle homelessness and has brought that number down 90 percent.

“Martha Kegel, executive director of Unity of Greater New Orleans, tells Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson the strategy to tackle the ‘unprecedented explosion’ of homelessness in the city following Katrina was threefold.

“First, Kegel says, Unity of Greater New Orleans — a nonprofit leading a collaborative of organizations providing housing and services to the homeless — had to assemble an outreach team that ‘was willing to go anywhere and do anything to rescue and rehouse a homeless person.’

“Second, Kegel says the group put all its effort behind gathering a rent assistance fund. ‘We went directly to Congress,’ she says. …

“And lastly, she says, the team took a ‘Housing First’ approach, which is ‘simply the idea that you accept people as they are,’ whether they are sober or not. … ‘Once they’re in their apartment, you immediately wrap all the services around them that they need to stay stable and live the highest quality life that they can live.

” ‘Actually, this is a very cost-effective approach, because when you think about it, it is costing the taxpayer a tremendous amount of money to leave people on the street. They’re constantly cycling in and out of jail on charges that wouldn’t even be relevant if they had an apartment, things like urinating in public, drinking in public, obstructing the sidewalk because they’re having to sleep on the sidewalk. Homeless offenses, in other words, that are costing the taxpayers a lot of money to be putting them in jail and processing them through the criminal justice system. Their health is deteriorating while they’re out on the street. They’re being taken by ambulance to the emergency room constantly. Those are huge charges.

” ‘Really what you need is, you know, a relatively small amount of money to pay for some rent assistance and they can contribute some of that rent as well with disability benefits or if they’re able to work with, you know, employment income and a little bit of case-management assistance. It really has been proven over and over again in studies to be very cost effective.

” ‘This is permanent housing. How long the rent assistance lasts depends on what people need. And we’re kind of masters at trying to spread what is always an inadequate amount of money as far as it’ll spread. …

” ‘We have reached what we call “functional zero,” which means that we compiled a list using our outreach team [and] using our shelter lists that are updated every night. We housed, in their own apartments, every veteran on that list except nine that had refused housing, mostly because of mental illness. And we continued to work with those nine, at that point, [we] have housed four more of them. Then going forward, we have made a commitment that any time a veteran becomes newly homeless, we house them in an apartment within an average of 30 days or less. And we’ve maintained that now for over four years and we’re extremely proud of that. It is very hard work. It requires a lot of organizations working together — and the VA and the Housing Authority — everybody working together to make that happen.’ ”

Think about those homeless veterans this Memorial Day. If we do “war” to them, can we also do housing with services? It’s about compassion and taking responsibility.

And I like how Kegel says, “You have to love the people in your community and want your community to thrive and care very deeply about the vulnerable people in it, that you’re willing to do, what we say, whatever it takes.”

More here.

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I’m always interested in new stories about street art and street artists. This one from the NY Times tells how street artist Swoon (otherwise known as Caledonia Curry) has been picked up by art museums.

Melena Ryzik writes, “With a glowing paper cutout pinned over her heart, the artist known as Swoon led a procession through the Brooklyn Museum early one summer night to her installation ‘Submerged Motherlands,’ a site-specific jumble that includes two cantilevered rafts, seemingly cobbled out of junk; a tree, of fabric and wire, that reaches to the rotunda; and nooks of stenciled portraits.

“A sellout crowd was there for a film premiere and multimedia concert, documenting and inspired by Swoon’s travel on the rafts. As the audience sat spellbound, Swoon, her red curls bobbing, flitted around, snapping photos, taking it all in.

“ ‘There’s that feeling that you get when you see something that you don’t understand the origin of: wonderment,’ she said. ‘It brings about a kind of innocence, and I love that. I love to witness it. I love to be a part of making those moments happen.’

“Since she began illegally pasting images around the city 15 years ago, Swoon has inspired a lot of wonderment. Born Caledonia Curry, she started her career as a street artist, but quickly leapfrogged to the attention of gallerists and museum curators, which let her expand to installation and performance art, often with an activist, progressive bent. Her intricate paper-cut portraits and cityscapes, often affixed to walls in hardscrabble places, are meant to disintegrate in place, a refrain to the life around them. Meanwhile, her socially minded work has focused on building cultural hubs for far-flung artistically welcoming communities. …

“ ‘When you look at the work of a lot of her peers, hers stands apart,’ said Sarah Suzuki, an associate curator at the Museum of Modern Art, which bought several Swoon pieces for its permanent collection in 2005. …

“In New Orleans, Swoon helped create a shantytown where each house is a musical instrument. In Braddock, Pa., a dwindling postindustrial landscape, she worked on an arts center in an abandoned church.”

The rest of the NY Times story is here. And you can read more about Caledonia Curry at her website and at wikipedia.

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Candy creates interactive street art. Her “Before I Die” wall garnered a lot of attention — and contributors. Folks wanted more.

So she decided to create a website explaining in detail how others could replicate the wall.

Here she tells how it all started: “It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you. After I lost someone I loved very much, I thought about death a lot. This helped clarify my life, the people I want to be with, and the things I want to do, but I struggled to maintain perspective. I wondered if other people felt the same way. So with help from old and new friends, I painted the side of an abandoned house in my neighborhood in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with a grid of the sentence “Before I die I want to _______.” Anyone walking by could pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives, and share their personal aspirations in public space.

“It was an experiment and I didn’t know what to expect. By the next day, the wall was bursting with handwritten responses and it kept growing: Before I die I want to… sing for millions, hold her one more time, eat a salad with an alien, see my daughter graduate, abandon all insecurities, plant a tree, straddle the International Date Line, be completely myself…  People’s responses made me laugh out loud and they made me tear up. They consoled me during my toughest times. I understood my neighbors in new and enlightening ways.”

Candy’s how-to page reads, in part, “Once you’ve created a wall, you can share your wall here by creating a mini-site! A mini-site is a page where you can post photos and responses and document the story of your wall. It’s super easy to use, absolutely free, and no technical skills are required. Visit the Budapest mini-site to see an example.”

Everything you need if you’re going to create a “Before I Die” wall is here.

Photo: Before I Die

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Summer concerts on the lawn in front of the library mean lawn chairs and group participation. Toddlers in pajamas gradually get up their courage to dance. Young gymnastic girls do sudden cartwheels and back flips, then walk away casually, pretending not to check if anyone was impressed.

Last Wednesday, the featured band, PanNeubean Steel, consisted of steel drum, electric guitar, drums, and saxophone.

The band played some New Orleans jazz. “The Saints Go Marching In” brought back memories of my brother Will playing his sax every New Year’s Day to family acclaim.

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