[Madison O Friel/unsplash]

The Day New Orleans Changed the World

00:00 April 16, 2012
By: Kristal Blue

Many people set out to make waves in the world, yet often are left wondering if they've even made a ripple...We spend our lives, working to the bone, often hoping, praying that we will make a difference in this world. We hope that something we do will spawn the most beautiful butterfly effect ever seen. The sheer construct of society proves that every decision we make, every kind gesture does not go unnoticed and ultimately affects one another in a profound way. We may not be completely aware of the impact we have on the world, but every now and then someone notices—and notices in a big way. For anyone who's been in New Orleans for an extended period of time, it's evident that changes are occurring far and wide. No, not the unforeseen changes as a result of an act of God, but the deliberate, heartfelt changes put forth by man. Artists across the city are using multiple mediums as their own pop-up art gallery of a new kind. Whether it be an old abandoned tire shop, someone's former family home, or the people themselves, people are taking the initiative to change the city, one building, garden, or person at a time. Since certain events have left our city with more, shall we call them "blank canvases," artists have jumped at the opportunity to call upon their drive and creativity to immediately repurpose the canvas in question. Some of these artistes de l'occasion have known this city since their birth, others have come to the city as a rebirth of their own accord. New Orleans has reinvented itself so many times over the years. Through tragedy, war and turmoil, the people of this great state are drawn to make a change. Unfortunately, this makes it hard to find change in an ever-changing world. Then one day, something hits you. For me, this artistic revolution occurred one day a few years ago when I was scanning the Internet for a project in my old town in California. I stumbled across a San Francisco-based artist named Candy Chang whose self-proclaimed purpose is to set out to make cities more comfortable and contemplative places. It seems like a lot to take on, but not when you leverage the knowledge, power, and love of an entire community. Candy started a project titled "Before I Die" where she, with the help of her friends, turned the side of an abandoned home in the Marigny into a community bucket-list of inspiration. At first, I was uncertain the purpose or the potential outcome of a project with such a title, but I was drawn in by the uncertain honesty of it. There were no rules, no registration, just hopes and dreams. As the chalkboard filled up, Candy would document the writings on the wall, and then start again. Some were as simple as "go 200 mph," "be ok with NOT understanding," "have fun," or "be a daddy." Others were more humorous such as "beat some sense into you," "find my mythical creature," and "be tried for Piracy" (Yes, it was written by a man dressed as a pirate). Then, within the chalk-filled wall, some jump out and grab your heart: "Before I die... [I want to] 'be someone's calvary'." From this project's inception in New Orleans, requests have splattered across the globe for the colorful, community bucket list. Cities like London, Amsterdam and Querétaro have all joined the list. Who would have thought that chalk, a tool of child's play, would send such an incredible message across the world? From a simple idea, Candy Chang was able to inspire thousands of people she never knew, and most likely will never know. I was inspired, but in a different way. This project led me to wonder: "How many other projects have started locally, but made a larger impact than originally imagined?" Throughout a couple of months, I noticed a large increase of social awareness and art campaigns starting up in New Orleans. With our communities taking over their own fate, areas like Treme, Marigny and Freret have reinvented themselves in record time. All it takes is at least one driven soul, unafraid to speak up, and a little help from those around them. Life is a funny thing. We scatter through, day to day, often uncertain of our next move or decision. Sometimes, if we hold true to our beliefs and hold faith in the good of mankind, good things will come our way. Sure, we've heard all the cliches, "good things come to those who wait," but for a few of us who are extremely lucky, the wait is far less long. Take, for example, Robert X. Fogarty, a socially artistic entrepreneur that has been in the spotlight recently for his numerous campaigns and endeavors. After completing his degree and settling down in New York, Fogarty decided he needed something more and headed down to the Big Easy. Called to the city in a post-Katrina aftermath, he and some friends began a project called Evacuteer, focused on providing the citizens of New Orleans assistance for evacuating in the event of a storm.Through his desire to improve the way the city functions in a time of crisis, he noticed something - the people. As we know (and try to make sure everyone else knows) the people of New Orleans are like none other. We're a smorgasbord of culture over 200 years in the making. We're loud, we're honest, but more importantly, we're real. Inspired to continually make a change, an idea came to Fogarty - why not let the people speak for themselves, this time - without speaking at all? Through this idea then came Dear New Orleans. The concept is simple, the people - nothing else. Standing in front of a black backdrop, someone previously unknown speaks to thousands. Write your message wherever you like. Use the language you prefer - just say it. Dear New Orleans is unique in the fact that the it is not driven by the artist or the entrepreneur, but the people themselves. "I have something to say. Listen to me." These photos serve not only a message to the public, but a visual reminder to the people themselves that your purpose knows no boundaries. You may speak without talking, you may hear without listening, your message may travel around the world without ever having to leave your home. Thanks in part to the digital age, our individual potential is far greater than we ever imagined. Whether you're giving hope to others in a similar situation, sending a message to someone previously thought unreachable, or simply coming together to make a statement, Dear New Orleans has proved that it is possible. "We all have a message and it's translatable regardless of race, religion or language." This thought is so powerful, it's no wonder it wouldn't stay contained for long. In an interview with Fogarty, I asked him quite frankly, "What do you think this project has been so successful? Was it social media or long-work hours?" He was surprisingly modest and attested that the success was from "a little bit of work, and a lot of good luck!" As the project gained momentum and the requests came flooding in, Dear New Orleans quickly evolved into Dear World. With appearances at the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, campaigns with the Saints and Hornets, work with Team Gleason and a recent partnership with Southwest Airlines, Fogarty and his team are taking off... and fast. In a matter of two short years, an idea has become a global reality. With coverage in Kabul, Maldova, Bucharest, and cities all around the United States, a project developed in New Orleans, is giving people around the world a voice. It began as "love notes to New Orleans" and has transformed into a loudspeaker for the world. Fogarty admitted that he never imagined it would become what it has, but the support he's receiving is making it possible for him to see the future. When asked his ultimate goal for Dear World, I was expecting a Miss USA-style answer of world peace or a station in every country. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised with the one, most surprising answer of all: leadership. All too often we focus on the voice of the people and forget that, in fact, our leadership is made of people as well. They may get their voice heard, but do we ever truly hear what they are trying to say? When you remove the red tape and take down the teleprompters, what would they say? No matter what Dear World becomes, Fogarty has made one thing clear: the success of his project that has evolved into a business, is due to the people who have helped him along the way. Whether it's a helping hand or a connection to a friend-of-a-friend he admits, he couldn't do it without the people around him. "You can build something fast alone, but to build anything great you have to go together." With even more projects around the city like Defend NOLA, NOLA Love and others, it's clear the people of New Orleans are creating something special. We've been through a lot and we've always made it out on the other side. Of all the places I've been and all the places I've seen, no place quite measures up to New Orleans and it's people. After seeing so many projects started in New Orleans spread far and wide, I couldn't help but wonder, "What is it about New Orleans? Why is our city the catalyst for such amazing things?" Perhaps it's the fact that we are a small-town feel with a big-city name or maybe its just the laid back attitude. I asked Fogarty an impossible question, "Do you think this could have happened anywhere else?" After some chuckles and some thought, he replied, "You know, it's hard to say, but of all of the places I've lived, this is the place for me." Whatever the reason for these project's success, one thing holds true: people make it happen and these people are true New Orleans. Regardless of the events of life and the hardships it may bring, there is a lot of good in the world. Sometimes, you don't have to go very far to find it.
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