An abandoned building in the heart of the historic Treme neighborhood has been transformed into a 135-foot canvas that celebrates New Orleans’ culture and the influence of legendary Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana.
New Orleans artist Brandan “BMIKE” Odums and student-artists from his 2023 summer session, along with BElite Youth and StudioBE unveiled the colorful mural Monday (July 31) on St. Bernard Avenue in the 7th Ward across from the Circle Food Market.
The students are a part of Odums’ Eternal Seeds, an organization that centers its work on the empowerment and preservation of New Orleans Black history and culture. The program works with young artists in the city to teach them visual and digital arts.
“We try to talk about the power and responsibility that art has,” Odums said. “We feel like art has the power to change the way we see spaces, the way we see ourselves and the way we see each other.”
Eternal Seeds also collaborated with the UJAMMA Economic Development Corporation, which was formed to rebuild the Claiborne Corridor and the communities surrounding it.
“We have so much talent in our city. We have so much artistic talent and so much culture that is designed to enhance our community,” New Orleans City Councilmember Eugene Green said.
The mural was painted in six weeks by 18 teenagers enrolled in the Eternal Seeds’ summer session. The students had a range of things to say about their work and what they hope it will mean for the community.
“Before this, it was just a broken-down wall. It looked abandoned,” student artist Tiana Honora said. “But, we put life into it; we put hard work into it; blood, sweat and tears. It was so worth it because all around us are a bunch of community members who are also impacted by this art.”
Ryan McCray-Smith was a teaching assistant for Eternal Seeds’ summer session. “The view that we have behind me right now talks about the community of Treme, the Mardi Gras Indians, the Skull and Bones, the Baby Dolls and how they all come from the same community,” he said. “One of the big key priorities was highlighting Tootie Montana and his wife.”
The building where the mural is painted was once a Black-owned hardware store, Liberty Hardware, which was housed in Montana’s neighborhood.
“This is a way for people to see something in a place that was blighted for a very long time,” local visual and performing artist Christine “Cfreedom” Brown said.
Montana was the chief of the Yellow Pocahontas Tribe for more than 60 years and was known in the community as the “Chief of Chiefs.” He stepped down from his position as big chief in 1998, to pass the title to his son, Darryl. Darryl Montana and other members of his family attended the mural unveiling.
“There is no other chief in this city that can say that nine tribes came out of their tribe,” Montana said about his father.
Eternal Seeds in collaboration with StudioBE and Odums are also filming a documentary based on the painting of the mural, the influence of Montana on the community and the history and culture of the Treme neighborhood. The documentary will be released on Saturday.
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