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March 7th, 2007 Kevin Allman | News Stories
 

Recovering From Storm, Large

Hurricane Katrina relief efforts live on in Portland through the arts.

     
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Justin Valls, One of the organizers of Unmasking New Orleans, while filming for abode
In early April, Mayor Tom Potter, local businessman Sho Dozono and several dozen other Portlanders will jet to New Orleans on a "Flight of Friendship," meeting for four days with dignitaries and gleaning ways to help the ongoing Hurricane Katrina recovery effort on the Gulf Coast.

But they're not the only locals looking to help.

Back at home in Portland, artists also are joining the fight to help the recovery 18 months after the collapse of the levees in New Orleans killed an estimated 1,500 people. About 200,000 homes were destroyed in Louisiana alone.

"I was originally of the opinion that New Orleans shouldn't be rebuilt," says Justin Valls, a 25-year-old filmmaker and one of the organizers of Unmasking New Orleans, a multimedia benefit taking place March 10 at AudioCinema (226 SE Madison St., under the Hawthorne Bridge).

All proceeds benefit the New Orleans nonprofit group Alliance for Affordable Energy, an organization urging New Orleanians to rebuild with energy efficiency in mind. Tickets will be sold at the door for $20 ($10 for students).

After repeated visits to the Gulf Coast, Valls now wants to see the Big Easy rebuilt...only greener.

"New Orleans has one of the highest energy per-capita usages in the country," Valls says. "Every dollar spent in Portland has less impact on our global-warming battle than if it was spent in New Orleans."

Like tens of thousands of other Gulf Coast structures, the Alliance lost its roof during Katrina and had to be gutted and rebuilt. Since then, the group has held eco-workshops for homeowners and contractors, and Saturday's benefit will help the Alliance continue to spread its message of earth-friendly rebuilding.

The fundraiser will include interactive video art, a continuous loop of short films, a live performance by local musician Mary Flower, speakers from the Crescent City and a performance by visiting New Orleans spoken-word artist Moose Jackson.

Another art project with local ties is Constance: Replicas and Replacements, a limited-edition art book (1,000 copies) with contributions by 40 New Orleans artists. It's not a benefit project, though; as editor Patrick Strange says, "The goal of Constance is to expose New Orleans artists and their art to outside audiences."

One of those artists now living in Portland is 27-year-old Cord Bueker, who moved here last April from New Orleans' Lower Garden District (near the Superdome). Bueker is now working as assistant gallery director at Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery in the Pearl District, as well as an associate at the Northeast Alberta Street shop Office, where Constance is sold. The book can also be found at Compound (107 NW 5th Ave.) and Floating World (20 NW 5th Ave., #101).

"It's still very hard to find a place in New Orleans, and the overall cost of living—the very thing that made it attractive for artists —has gone way up," says Bueker, who just returned from Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

"It was great to visit, and it's been a tough transition in some ways," Bueker says. "But I'm happy to be back in Portland."

Bueker will also be attending "Unmasking New Orleans," which will feature an auction of more than 80 artworks by Portland and New Orleans artists. (The artists will split the proceeds evenly with the Alliance for Affordable Energy.)

Also on view will be selections from Valls' documentary Abode, a film that he's been working on for more than a year. Most of his existing footage was taken on the streets and the backroads of New Orleans, filmed by Valls and a small crew as they rode around on bicycles.

"It feels much more like art when there is that sincerity level," says Valls. "The lack of money has really highlighted the volunteer nature of everything we do."


Mercy Corps' "Flight of Friendship" will include volunteer opportunities and a tour of affected areas in New Orleans. April 1-4. $399-$599, plus $200 per person donation. For more info or to reserve a space, visit flightoffriendship.com.
 
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