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The House of Dance and Feathers and other anomalies in the Ninth Ward

If you’re near Tupelo Street, drop by. You’ll be one of a steady stream of visitors graciously welcomed by the indefatiguable Ronald Lewis of the Lower Ninth Ward.

For the past ten days I’ve been laying tile and hardwood flooring, building decks and losing my bodyweight in sweat at Ronald’s building site. Ronald is a Mardi Gras Indian of the Choctaw Hunter tribe, founder of the Big Nine Social and Pleasure Club, a costume maker, a committed community activist and director of the House of Dance and Feathers, a small, grassroots museum he created in his carport several years ago. There he collected costumes, photos and newspaper cuttings from years of second line parades, as an educational resource for the neighbourhood as well as visitors from further afield. A fragment of the collection was saved from Katrina but the rest of it and his house sat under 14 feet of polluted water for two weeks after the storm ravaged the city last year.

Project Locus, a young, non-profit architectural organisation, applied with Ronald (and under the umbrella of the Tulane City Center) for a grant to reconstruct his house and museum, with the hope that getting him back in his neighbourhood would act as a catalyst for others to return and rebuild also. For now, the site is a lonely hive of activity in an otherwise ghost town of a street. In this sense the elegant little museum structure is inspiring but also poignant – what kind of future will unfold around it and will it come close to Ronald’s optimistic vision for Tupelo Street and the rest of the Lower Ninth Ward? Around his house, which has been completely gutted and renovated, two big patches of sunflowers have been planted by Common Ground Relief. The sunflowers are supposed to suck excess arsenic and lead out of the soil and should apparently have been disposed of just before they bloom. But no-one seems to be motivated to remove the blaze of yellow optimism just yet.

House of Dance and Feathers

We're Home

So if you want to get your hands dirty for a day or two the advantages are numerous – free lunch from the Catholic Church operating out of a wrecked Subway, or a big plate of ribs if you’d prefer from the Rib Shack on St Claude, on-tap access to Ronald’s bottomless cauldron of New Orleans stories and his unique perspective on the post-Katrina process….as well as the occasional Cajun sausage off his grill if you hit the right day.

Rib Shack

If you don’t get a chance to drop in you can listen to him on NPR's Morning Edition soon (Steve Inskeep is on site tomorrow!) or see the project at the ‘Viennale’ come September!
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2:17 PM

Lucy, I didn't pay attention to what you wrote in my notebook the other day until after I left the coffeeshop, otherwise I would have given you a big hug, or a high five, or genuflected. I've been here before and admire what you're doing. I said as much, only more eloquently, at People Get Ready.

Thanks for what you're doing, keep up the good work, and I'll drop in from time to time to see what your travels reveal.    



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