David Brooks (center) wanted students at NOCCA to look at their surroundings in a new way.
Making Art in New Orleans
Sculptor David Brooks creates large-scale works—fashioned from wood and cement—that invoke staircases, fragments of sidewalks and boardwalks, and are inspired, he says, by his ideas about the vulnerability of the built environment and its relationship to the natural world. On a recent visit to New Orleans, Brooks, a visiting assistant professor of Fine Arts at Haverford, saw his ideas poignantly illustrated in the real-life landscape. “The city is full of architectural fragments,” he says.
Brooks got the chance to spend a week in the city as a visiting artist at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) in March. The regional arts training center, founded in 1973, offers high-school age students intensive instruction in dance, media arts, music, theater, visual arts and creative writing. Among the school’s graduates are jazz artists Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr., and this year’s visiting artists have included author Dave Eggers, filmmaker Jonathan Demme and violinist Midori.
Brooks, who was invited to NOCCA by Ersy Schwartz, head of the sculpture department and Brooks’ former professor at New York’s Cooper Union School of Art, says he was impressed with the diversity and scope of the NOCCA students’ work as they explored the three parameters of architectural sculpture he introduced to the class.
One student chose “ergonomic architecture,” which is aligned to the dimensions of the artist’s body, by devising a palm-tree shaped billboard that matched his own height and width. Another explored “trace architecture,” suggesting an existing space by using wire to outline a building’s interior staircases. A third selected “architectural narrative,” taking bags of garbage from in front of a building and analyzing them, forensic-style, to tell the stories of the people behind the trash.
“The students’ process of creation was layered and uninhibited,” says Brooks, whose aim was to help the young artists view their post-Katrina surroundings with different eyes. Brooks hopes to return to NOCCA during the summer and continue working with the students. -Eils Lotozo and Brenna McBride