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Going Green in New Orleans--Worn Again Art in NOLA

by Penne J. Laubenthal

Having had its share of trouble over the years but forever out there on the cutting edge, New Orleans is a city whose name has always evoked history, music, literature, and art. Now the very mention of the city brings to mind resilience, imagination, creativity, and courage. Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has struggled to rise above the rubble and, like the phoenix, has emerged--reborn and resplendent.

The Green Project is part of this resourceful spirit. The Green Project operates a
warehouse store that resells high-quality, salvaged building materials at low cost to the community. The store is dedicated to helping the environment by reducing the amount of usable materials placed in landfills or disposed of improperly. The Green Project also supports others who salvage damaged or collapsed buildings by hand, in a way that saves between 45 and 70 percent of the materials. This preserves New Orleans' unique architectural history and benefits New Orleans' residents by returning their ruined building materials to use elsewhere in the city. Looking for a balustrade or an antique door or some vintage wrought-iron work. Stop by The Green Project warehouse.
In 2003 Recycle for the Arts merged with the Green Project and in 2006 NOLA presented its first annual Worn Again Art fashion show. The event was greeted with tremendous enthusiasm and this July the show  celebrated its third season. More on this fabulous show, but first a word about R4A.

Recycle for the Arts (R4A) is a trash-to-art storefront that supplies low-cost art supplies to the community. R4A provides art materials to individual artists, schools, art programs, galleries, and other non-profit groups at minimal cost. R4A's mission is to promote creative recycling and reuse in the community, support the arts, and educate the public through events and workshops based on creating art from reused materials. R4A sells and accepts any items lending themselves to creative projects. They also sponsor the highly touted Worn Again Nola Fashion Show. (photo of this year's poster)

I was not able to be in New Orleans on Saturday, July 18th, for Worn Again Nola3 (a benefit for Recycle For The Arts), but I heard that it was once again the socially conscious social event of the season. As in previous years, Worn Again designers deconstructed the random recycled materials that they had been given in order to create innovative works of wearable art. Thirty-three of these artists were chosen by an elite jury to rock the Worn Again runway with amazing creativity. (The design by Laura Keith pictured here won Best in Show. Photo by Steven Forster of the Times-Picayune)

Held at The Howlin' Wolf on South Peters Street, the Worn Again festivities began with an exclusive Patron Party and Silent Auction followed by the wildly entertaining Worn Again fashion show (live music provided by DJ Kristin) after which the four top designers were awarded terrific prizes. The infamous Recycled Dance Competition followed the fashion show with original “old skool –vs- new skool” choreography performed by local dance troupes. DyVersatile Crew, a hip hop troupe from Mobile, AL, kicked off the After Party with Stinging Caterpillar Sound System throwing down till the wee hours. By all accounts, Worn Again nola3 was a wonderful night of radical creativity that true lovers of New Orleans creative culture would never miss. The Times Picayune fashion editor wrote that "this year, participants went for less kitsch and more real clothing. The lineup included everything from cocktail frocks to Gaucho pants, and featured a few hot little numbers that could feel right at home on the rack at some Magazine Street boutique. It made for a spectacle of strikingly whimsical silhouettes."

Although I could not be in New Orleans for the actual fashion show, I had the thrill of witnessing the creative process from the inception My young friend Crystal Clark (from Harahan) was here on Elk River visiting her Aunt Gail during the time she was deconstructing and reconstructing her ensemble for the show. What a delight it was to watch her exciting creation take shape before my very eyes. Crystal was one of the top twenty- nine of the fifty-two designers who entered the show. She is pictured here on my deck modeling her ingeniously layered mini-dress.

Here is what Crystal has to say about recycling for the arts:

"Blank canvas? No thanks. Give me something to start with and pull apart, to work on and transform. The jean pleated mini skirt I made from an old pair of jeans (before everyone else was doing it) was the best one around. I never wore those Abercrombie shorts in their first life, but I really liked the purse I made of them in their second.

"I love making something old new again. I see the possibility in the raw material and know that it can have new life. Because of what it was before, there are certain constraints regarding what it can become, but those limits do not stifle creativity, but instead spur it. When I have it out in front of me the material just kind of gravitates to where it can work in the new outfit. For instance, the material for the bodice of the dress was really from the sleeves of a woman's blouse. It just kind of fit there, like a puzzle piece, and I knew that was where the piece should go.

"It was so much fun to make an outfit only out of a bag of random castoffs, and it is quite a challenge. Those old clothes are so sad because no one wants them, It's nice to think that they have been saved from certain doom. I think it is awesome that there is a competition that allows us to have this experience. I heard recently from Recycle for the Arts that next year for Worn AgainNola 4 that they really want to go avant garde. It should be really mind bending to see that show."

Swampland readers who would like to be a part of New Orleans revitalization may join with Swampland and become  Friends of New Orleans. Just click on the icon at the top of the page to join FONA. And I hope to see you in the Crescent City.

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