Back in January, we had the chance to see Moviehouse NOLA in New Orleans, a pop-up exhibition by BRUNO, a company that designs experiences in Brooklyn, and New Orleans-based Pelican Bomb, an organization that runs both an online publication of arts writing and a community-supported arts program called The Drop.
The exhibition was "geared towards anyone who loves the movies, and tells the stories of the forgotten movie palaces that once made New Orleans the 'Broadway of the South.'" Talking with Isabella Bruno of BRUNO, shed some light on the process of conceptualizing and executing a participatory exhibition in New Orleans from her home base in New York.
Being from New Orleans, Isabella was noticing that classic theaters were being renovated and reopened on Canal street, a once-vibrant corridor that had fallen on hard times. The number of movie theaters that had once existed all over the city was astounding, as you can see in the video above. Now when you go down to Canal Street you'll see plenty of tourist trap shops and some longtime hold-outs, such as the Joy Theater, the Saenger, and the Orpheum have been, or are in the process of being, reopened into multi-use spaces, prompted by post-Katrina renovations. Though the revival of these theaters serves a different public than it used to, the theaters do carry on the legacy of the grand architecture of Canal Street, where people once got dressed up to be in the cathedral-like spaces of the cinema.
From this observation of contemporary change bubbling up in her hometown community, Bruno began to research an exhibition that would celebrate the many neighborhood theaters which have since closed in New Orleans. These theaters were not just an experience made of celluloid and sound, but a social and experiential destination in relation to the theaters' spaces and geographical location. Bruno is interested in pop-up exhibitions because they can deliver on timely topics that are hyper-local without being tied to an institution. She teamed up with Pelican Bomb, local to New Orleans, who wanted to create a hybrid exhibition that included art viewpoints, social and ethnographic history, and artifacts, in addition to the the experience of going to the movies.
The end result was an exhibition in a raw former bank space in the Central Business District in New Orleans, close to Canal Street. It included original artwork by Kathy Anderson, Trey Burns, Court 13, Michael Deas, Dave Greber, Charlotte Hornsby, Matt Lambros, Alli Miller, Frank Relle, Alex Ross, Nina Schwanse, and Ryn Wilson, as well as artifacts from NOLA theaters.
Exhibition visitors had the opportunity to participate in on-site interviews, and the exhibition continues to have an on-line presence on Youtube, their website and social media.
All photos courtesy of Bruno
The participatory experience completed the exhibition because it reflects on a city like New Orleans that has experienced so much change and therefore has a naturally resistant attitude to it. What does it mean to the NOLA residents when places like this reopen? The idea is that by learning about the rich history of a place one can really become excited and engaged in its future.
Isabella Bruno is the principal of BRUNO, a company that designs experiences — primarily museum quality, pop-up exhibitions in storefront spaces. She holds a Masters of Arts in Exhibit Design from Fashion Institute of Technology. After working in architecture, construction, advertising, graphic design, and project management for various art galleries, non-profits, agencies and design companies, her skills came together best in exhibition design. She's thankful for her time with great companies like the Museum of Modern Art, Lee Skolnick Architecture and Design Partnership, 360i, ESI Design, and Christie's.