There is a place where the tumbleweeds roll and the wind whistles between boarded-up and abandoned buildings. Long forgotten, it feels freakishly like walking the streets of a ghost town. However, this place isn't confined to a western movie; it exists in the very heart of New Orleans.
Central City is nestled between the major boulevards bisecting the city. Forgotten buildings are scattered about, subjected to the traffic that never seems to pass through despite the neighborhood's outdated history as a hub of commercial space.
"This was a great neighborhood 50, 60 years ago," said Lee Stafford, owner of the building that houses Zeitgeist Theater on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. "Zeitgeist used to be a Five and Dime and next door was a Woolsworth."
Despite the neighborhood's vacant qualities, neighborhood leaders, such as Stafford, are very invested in the neighborhood's future. Stafford's latest project is the budding Oretha Castle Haley Art Market within Zeitgeist Theater. "We always had the intention of improving the neighborhood. We wanted to create collaboration and bring people together. We figured an art market would be a great way to do that," said Stafford.
Taking the idea from the wildly successful Freret Street Revival, sparked through the restorative breath of the Freret Street Market, the OCH Market is hoping to increase traffic and awareness in this desolate neighborhood. "It's the part of the city that everyone drives through, but not to," said Clare Fentress, contributing organizer of the market. "I think it has a lot of potential in this neighborhood."
The OCH Market takes place on the second Saturday of the month and is a culmination of community activity and local artists. It wafts the subtle ambiance of undiscovered talent and quiet camaraderie. "We wanted to demonstrate the art experience in an environment where people could relax and get to know their neighbors," said Stafford.
"We definitely have a lot going for us," said Fentress. "First of all, we offer indoor space which is a huge advantage and something that really sets us apart from other markets."
Vendors agreed that the indoor aspects are definitely an advantage to the market's draw, including Pippin Frisbie-Calder, here representing the New Orleans Community Printshop, who showed-off her booth's pile of warm clothing that lay strewn in the corner. "Here we'd been so worried about being cold, but we didn't need to bother," she said. "It's nice having it inside. A very different environment."
This unique draw, plus a recent sponsorship from Yelp's Shop Local Campaign, has really gotten the ball rolling for the market as they passed their one-year anniversary in December. Yet it isn't just the neighborhood with great opportunities for change, many vendors bring their own inspirational stories.
"A lot of us have been on hard times," explained vendor Danielle Trepagnier, who makes and sells original accessories. "Some of us have struggled with this economy. We're trying to make a push for a different lifestyle."
She's not the only one; many vendors have taken this economic downturn to return to their passions or to try something entirely different. Equally prevalent is the rapidly altering anti-consumerist mentality across the country. Shop local campaigns have been on the rise, and people are searching for a more honest approach to shopping.
This spirit is quickly sweeping through New Orleans' sense of neighborhood and community involvement, as Trepagnier said, "That's the good thing about New Orleans. People appreciate this kind of art. And because so much of it is made out of recycled or reusable materials, we can still sell beautiful things for an affordable price."
OCH's Second Saturdays feature an array of artists, food and music. Past displays included slow biking contests, gorgeous cupcake creations, and art that ranged from gorgeously painted Beachwood to handmade jewelry and stationery. Everything at the market is crafted with great skill and devotion to artistic integrity. Vendors sell unique and individual items that can't be found in your local Target—such as original gris-gris and tonic waters meant to bring a modern twist to New Orleans mysticism.
The OCH Art Market takes place monthly and always features a unique host of vendors. Those interested in more information should check out their website, Ochartmarket.com, for upcoming dates and relevant monthly themes, but the best way to really show support is to come by in person and pay homage to the rebuilding of the city.