Art & Evacuation

Ronnie Henry clutched a copy of the Book of Mormon as he recalled the harrowing days after Hurricane Katrina, which flooded New Orleans eight years ago this week and left more than 1,800 people dead in its wake.

Like thousands of others, Henry was stuck in the city when the federal levees failed.

“I was swimming,” Henry said as he recounted the variously panicked travails he and his family endured during the 2005 catastrophe.

Henry sat on a bench near a newly installed EvacuSpot sculpture in the Carrolton neighborhood’s Palmer Park and expressed joyous relief at its arrival.

The 14-foot-tall EvacuSpot sculptures, created by Douglas Kornfeld, are eye-catching public-art pieces with a serious purpose.

“That’s so everybody can meet up for the next flood and get out of town,” Henry said, pointing at the sculpture. “That’s what I’ll be doing!”

The sculptural figure evokes an upbeat image of a person hailing a cab – or catching beads from a Mardi Gras float, Kornfeld said. “I wanted the image to make sense and that would not be threatening. It’s an image that everybody can connect to.”

The initiative developed from the work of the volunteer group Evacuteer, which formed in 2009 in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav. 

The EvacuSpots were installed in 17 spots around the city with guidance from its disaster-preparedness agency, who worked with the city to locate the sculptures where buses could quickly spirit away up to 30,000 residents without the means to evacuate, Kornfeld said.

The project “put public art in places that didn’t have any before,” said Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson-Palmer.

Kornfeld, who has been making and teaching art for 35 years said the initiative was the first public-art project he knew of that was driven by utility.

“Art has no function other than to be art,” Kornfeld said. But these serve two purposes: They’re interesting, iconic and sculptural. And, they are practical.”

The steel sculptures weigh about 850 pounds and are made from the same material used to build highway bridges, Kornfeld said.

“There are 4,000 pounds of concrete holding them to the earth” he added. The sculptures also include a handy information placard for evacuees, screwed in to the steel.

“Public art is very hard to repair, so we wanted something really sturdy that wouldn’t deteriorate,” Kornfeld said. “They aren’t going anywhere.”

“More than ever, we are laying the groundwork to prepare for, withstand, and emerge stronger after natural and man-made disasters,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Landrieu highlighted the merging of “emergency preparedness and public art to provide safe, designated pickup points for residents who don’t have the means to evacuate during a storm.”

He described the EvacuSpots as a “perfect example of the innovative solutions that any city can develop when public, private, and non-profit partnerships come together to focus on resilience.”

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