Janet at Simply Divine is the last story in the Who’s on Broad digital story series. Broad Street is full of characters whose livelihoods depend on Broad itself: from David at the Pumping Station, who keeps NOLA dry; to Mama Jennifer at the Community Book Center, who works to educate women in the area; and Felix at F&F Botanical, who helps people improve their lives through spiritual healing. Through this series, I have introduced just eleven of Broad Street’s strong personalities, in sounds and images, to audiences inside and outside of NOLA, hopefully convincing some to visit these local establishments.
This is a photo of Carlos LeBlanc’s Club House at the corner of Broad and Bayou. Carlos says this is a place for hardworking people, and that most of the men that hang out here have been doing so since they were sixteen. Photo by Aditi Mehta
I started this entire project exactly one year ago as a NOLA Fellow working for Broad Community Connections. In July 2009, I went up and down Broad Street distributing disposable cameras to all the business owners and employees along the corridor that agreed to participate in this endeavor. I took photos too. At the time, I had not really envisioned an end product for all these pictures and recorded interviews. I didn’t even know how to edit audio! But slowly, this project has unfolded. I learned how to transform thirty minutes of disorganized recordings into three-minute stories.
In January 2010, with support from the MIT Public Service Center, I was able to travel back to New Orleans to curate an exhibition of everyone’s photos in a vacant storefront on Broad Street. This event not only allowed the people of Broad to meet one another and attract newcomers to the corridor, but also activated an under-utilized space on an important Main Street that was slowly recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
Over the year, as I have revisited my Broad Street friends’ audio recordings to create these stories, carefully trying to represent them as earnestly as possible, I learned new things about the corridor and its people that I did not realize at first. As the partakers explored Broad Street to take pictures, the experience gave them a sense of ownership over their community. I observed this effect when Kine discussed the trash strewn across the street and suggested ways to make the area cleaner, when Toney said that the future development of Broad is important to him because it allows him to do what he does best – cut and style hair, and when Derek proudly expressed how Gild’s Steakhouse was a catalyst for more positive real estate development along the street. It takes a lot to really know a place, and I thank the people of Broad Street for sharing their stories and insights with me.
When planning neighborhoods and figuring out how to improve streets such as Broad, city officials or architects will observe an area with their own eyes – taking pictures with their own cameras, using research to validate assumptions based off their perceptions. This project and exhibition flip that model. Ultimately, the Broad Street Story Project intends to inspire members of Broad Street to make a difference in their community by encouraging them to take pride in their neighborhood and their work, and bravely showcase their thoughts, ideas, and concerns to the public. These sorts of long-term effects are important because a successful commercial corridor relies on the attitudes, visions, and work ethic of its employees and users.
Keep following stories about place on CoLab Radio, and check out Alexa Mills’ Who’s on Newbury series.
Post by Aditi Mehta