Gallery Owner Recalls Growth of Arts District, White Linen Night
NEW ORLEANS – With its bounty of museums, restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries, the Warehouse District in downtown New Orleans is almost always brimming with activity.
But in 1988, when Arthur Roger moved his eponymous art gallery from the Garden District to its current location on 432 Julia Street, the area was “a ghost town.”
“It was the place you raced through from uptown, to get to downtown, and you didn’t really think of stopping there,” he recalled.
At the time, there were only about ten contemporary galleries in the city, and most of them were in the Uptown area, situated in “long and narrow” historic buildings that were not conducive for showcasing contemporary art, said Roger. Meanwhile, the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), was flourishing in the Warehouse District.
Founded in 1976 by artists for artists, the CAC spurred economic development in the Warehouse District – and in New Orleans, in general – by attracting artists and art-based businesses into the area, now commonly referred to as the Arts District of New Orleans.
“It made a great deal of sense for us to locate near the Contemporary Arts Center,” said Roger. “The Contemporary Arts Center really blossomed and became such a vital part of the culture of the city.”
The New Orleans-based World’s Fair in 1984 also drew attention to the Warehouse District and its spacious buildings, which became prime real estate for gallery owners.
“This was a great location because it was so central to everything,” said Roger, adding that he still never imagined the neighborhood would become such a bustling hotspot.
The Arts District will be busier than ever this weekend.
The 25th Hancock Whitney White Linen Night, which spans the 300 to 700 blocks of Julia Street, takes place on Saturday, August 3, from 5:30 p.m. to midnight.
During Saturday’s fete, art lovers can explore curated exhibitions of local, regional, and internationally renowned artists at more than 20 of New Orleans’ finest galleries and arts institutions, including the Contemporary Arts Center, The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the National WWII Museum.
The Julia Street block party also features cuisine and cocktails from more than 30 local restaurants and vendors, and it’s free and open to the public.
The event was established in 1994 by enterprising gallery owners, trying to boost their summer business. Exceeding all expectations, more than 7,000 people attended the inaugural celebration.
Today, Hancock Whitney White Linen Night attracts more than 30,000 guests.
“Hancock Whitney has always been a significant and long term supporter of the arts in New Orleans, and specifically to what is now referred to and commonly known as the Hancock Whitney White Linen Night,” said Gary Lorio, the regional president of Hancock Whitney. “To have an event like this that supports the artists, either directly or indirectly, through making people more aware of the offerings of the art community, helps the artists, the economy, and the city.”
During White Linen Night, Roger will feature three African American artists from the 9th Ward: Leonard Galmon, Demond Melancon, and Brandon Surtain. The selection of these artists is a nod to Roger’s Lower 9th Ward upbringing, and a powerful reminder that African American artists are shaking up the contemporary art world.
“This event is meant to call attention to the artists, and the richness of the culture of the city, but it tends to get overshadowed by the party aspect of the event,” said Roger. “I think this year, there is a collective effort to refocus it, and to do everything that we can to make people come away with more than just a good time, but a chance to learn something about the art community.”
For details on Hancock Whitney White Linen Night, visit www.cacwhitelinennight.com.
Suzanne Pfefferle Tafur is the associate news editor of BizNewOrleans.com