Photo by Cheryl Gerber
When artist Dawn Dedeaux's 1993 exhibit at the Contemporary Arts Center caused an outcry over how it depicted African-Americans, Carol Bebelle knew she had to do something. Bebelle — not yet the director of the Ashe Cultural Arts Center — had long been disturbed by what she felt were negative stereotypes of black people, pervasive in television shows, movies and art galleries. Dedeaux's Soul Shadows: Urban Warrior Myths, which featured black gangsters and men in jail, was simply indicative of a larger problem in New Orleans and beyond, she thought.
So Bebelle teamed with local artist Douglas Redd to make the multimedia INSTALLATION Efforts of Grace, meant to counter racism and reclaim the image of New Orleans' African-American community. The project burgeoned into a new performing and visual arts organization that eventually required its own space. In December 1998, the Ashe Cultural Arts Center was born in a then-underdeveloped area of Central City, inside the old Kaufman's department store on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.
"In a very real way we were born out of the controversy of stereotypical images of black folks," Bebelle said of Ashe, which would act as a pioneer for a neighborhood that had a rich cultural community but no space in which to foster creativity. "We need something that's more literal. We want people to see the beauty, and the power, and the contribution of black people in a literal way," she added.
Sixteen years later, Bebelle is preparing for another major project for the Ashe Cultural Arts Center — the opening of its new state-of-the-art campus, the Ashe Power House.
The Power House, located at 1731 Baronne St. just around the corner from Ashe's existing Oretha C. Haley Blvd campus, speaks to the growing need for more performance and creative space in Central City. It comes amid a business boom on O.C. Haley and the Central City Historic District.
"Ashe's work is really about making things happen, and not just happen for the people who work here, but to make it happen for culture bearers and artists and activists and community," Bebelle said. "So this is another place that we have to have that transformative work going on."
Located in the once-blighted New Orleans Public Service Inc. Polymnia Streetcar Substation, the Ashe Power House hosts a performance center and visual arts gallery. Original exposed brick walls line a gallery space equipped with track lighting and exposed steel structures. Twenty-foot ceilings are perfect for large-scale INSTALLATIONS. The 1924 building, rehabilitated with a $7.4 million development, has more than 10,000 square feet of usable space. READ FULL ARTICLE