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Brandan "Bmike" Odums and others, ExhibitBE

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About the Artist/Site

ExhibitBE was started by artist Brandan Odums (“Bmike”) and was extant between November 2014 and January 2015 at the dilapidated Woodlands apartment complex in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans.

ExhibitBE was the continuation of Project Be, a series of murals Odums painted in 2013 in the blighted Florida Housing Development in the Ninth Ward. Named Project Be since it was recognized that all of the work would be impermanent and would be destroyed by housing developers, the name was intended to remind the artists to focus on the moment when they’re creating and to remember the peace that comes with realizing that the moment is all you really have.

The rows of pastel colored townhouses at the intersection of Florida and Mazant streets had been there since 1946 but had been abandoned since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Odums discovered a group of street artists using the buildings as large canvases and he began filling the property with huge murals of black power icons - political figures such as Angela Davis and Malcolm X, as well as inspirational musicians like Nina Simone and Chuck D. 

Since the art being created in the Florida buildings was illegal, the area was highly policed, and the crowds of people that gathered to see the art were viewed with suspicion. The derelict buildings also posed dangers to the health and safety of potential visitors, so the Housing Authority of New Orleans felt that they couldn’t allow the public to visit the property. The Florida apartment buildings are currently being turned into affordable housing for former residents, although significantly less housing will be available: the 734 units will be turned into just 51 apartments.

Since so few people were able to see Project Be, Odums and other street artists then embarked on another large scale street art installation, this time on the abandoned five-story Woodlands apartment building located nearby. The artists had been caught spray painting the building one day by the developer Bill Thomason, but instead of calling the police, Thomason admired what he saw, viewed the project as a way to create strength in the community, and was happy to allow Odums and his friends to continue painting. 

The original concept was that when the building was complete, there would be a one day showing, but the project was incorporated into the Prospect 3 art biennial and was open to the public November 2014 through January 2015. Community events such as car shows and poetry slams were hosted there, with a Martin Luther King Day block party finale.

Odums wanted to use the paintings to bring attention to the history of the site, to make visitors remember the people who lived there, to respect the space, and to see it as something other than blight. Urban blight is a problem all over New Orleans, with many neighborhoods still abandoned after Katrina and higher rental prices in place that strain low-income residents.

Back in the sixties The Woodlands had been a white middle-class community called DeGaulle Manor, but by the eighties the buildings had deteriorated and had become a haven for crime and drug use. In 2000 it changed ownership and became the Woodlands, a mostly black and low-income apartment complex. After being damaged by Katrina, many residents didn’t return to the building, leaving empty units open to squatters.

At that point activist and former Black Panther Malik Rahim started hosting radical volunteer groups at the property, including his Common Ground Collective, a group he founded after Katrina to provide health services. Following the model of the Black Panthers in the sixties and seventies, Rahim ran drug treatment and education programs out of the buildings. It was one of the only times in recent history that the neighborhood was crime-free.

Rahim had made a deal with the past developer to buy the building over time, and in the wake of Katrina he raised millions of dollars from various contributors (including celebrities and universities) all over America. But in October 2006 the developer sold the property to another developer for more money and evicted over 100 families on November 23rd, right before Thanksgiving. Rahim wanted to challenge the broken property agreement and recoup the money he lost investing in the building’s restoration, but believes that no lawyer would take up his case because of his Black Panther affiliations.

Inside the rooms, scattered bits of clothing and bedding from previous occupants remain left behind and remind us of the many lives that once occupied these spaces. The art on the walls tells the stories of former residents and stands as a memorial to the people who lived here. Odums’ paintings include inspirational civil rights figures - leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, Black Panthers Assata Shakur and Fred Hampton, public intellectuals like Cornell West, authors such as Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka, and many more. For three months ExhibitBE was a festive grounds for music, performance, education and conversation, and an important reminder of the alchemical power of art to transform communities.

The artwork is no longer extant and the property is slated for a retail outlet, sports complex, and hotel.

~Irene Rible



Map and site information

2300 Murl Street
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 29.929428 / -90.025547

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