Art Embassy Hosts New Orleans’ Biggest Gun Buyback in Style

Art Embassy Hosts New Orleans' Biggest Gun Buyback in Style (7)
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Photography by Lisa Lozano

New Orleans’ biggest gun buyback was held last weekend, and it was a party. Art curator and artist Kirsha Kaechele and others brought together the community–as well as artists, musicians and performers–to create a gun buyback block party event where hundreds of guns were bought back from anonymous community members by reverends singing gospel in an all velvet room to the sounds of a solo cellist. 

Kaechele, who has been close to the New Orleans community for years, told us about how the event, hosted in the Creole-roots “back of town” 8th Ward–an area where gun death statistics are on par with those during wars–went down New Orleans style. The street party included a beautifully choreographed opening ceremony by New Orleans Airlift with Mardi Gras Indians, Caramel Curves, custom cars and the best local rappers, all of whom are now collaborating on an album against gun violence.

Platinum rapper Mr. Serv On spoke on his involvement in the project: “I want kids that come from where I come from that don’t have a way out to see that their life is like my life, and music is the one thing that got me out- that was my freedom, that’s where my shackles came off. I was up to some bad things too but I found music. I want to give them a chance to win at life like someone gave me one”.

For a group of 8th Ward neighborhood girls, the Betty Squad Gumbo Dancers (pictured in purple and black), the street party was their first debut.

Kaechele also told us about how she came to the idea of holding a gun buyback in this way, about a friend whose life was cut short by gun violence and the influence of the Australian response to the 1996 Port Arthur massacre–a decision to buy back the entire country’s stockpile of guns–and how she decided to use private money to circumvent 2nd amendment issues, bridge the gap between libertarianism and the nanny state, make selling a gun more palatable for those in possession, and let the market promote peace.

Art Embassy Hosts New Orleans' Biggest Gun Buyback in Style (9)

Where did you get the idea to buy back guns? 

“I lived in New Orleans’ 8th Ward for many years and witnessed what felt like endless deaths of boys who hadn’t had a chance in life. Just as I was moving to Australia my good friend Rayshon was shot–he was 19 and an aspiring musician. I couldn’t believe it happened to him as he had no connection to gangs or the neighborhood’s cycles of honor killings.

“Then, living in Australia I saw no gun violence. After a major Tasmanian massacre in the 1990s the government decided to buy back the country’s entire stockpile of guns. Being American, and having some slight libertarian leanings, I found the nanny state approach distasteful, but at the same time, had to acknowledge it worked. So I found myself with one foot on each side of a great divide.

“On the one hand I believe in personal liberty and feel that gun ownership should be a choice. But on the other I see that America’s approach is not working, and the class system combined with our gun policy is allowing too many innocent boys to die just because they are born in the wrong neighborhood.

“Then I had a breakthrough: What if we use individual liberty and the free market to create gun control? By offering private money we circumvent 2nd amendment issues and let the market promote peace.”

Art Embassy Hosts New Orleans' Biggest Gun Buyback in Style

“The key, it seemed to me, was to place the buyback in the center of a high violence area where it is accessible (to both those who choose to sell guns as well as those who steal them–theft is rampant in the neighborhood). It was also essential to have the trust of the neighborhood, which I felt well poised for as I’d lived in the 8th Ward for 10 years and have close ties to the community.

“To further the incentive for trading guns in I partnered with celebrity rappers to create a recording studio (Gun Metal Records) where the neighborhood can lay tracks with their heroes. If anyone can inspire a young man to turn his gun in it is a rapper.  That’s who they look up to. The rappers promoted the buyback through radio ads, billboards and fliers they distributed in nightclubs.”

Art Embassy Hosts New Orleans' Biggest Gun Buyback in Style

How did you come to decide the best forum would be a “buy back party?” 

“Block parties are something New Orleanians do to mark every event.  It’s an integral part of the culture. I also felt that tying the buyback to a party would make the idea of selling your gun more palatable.  When you have all the best rappers and dancers and your favorite radio DJ out telling you to join the buyback it has greater appeal.  It also rallies the neighborhood around the idea that the killing has got to end.  I don’t expect gun violence to disappear, but a few young boys may be inspired to look down upon killing as a way of life.”

Art Embassy Hosts New Orleans' Biggest Gun Buyback in Style

Is the buy back project a result of coming into contact with the environment you moved into in St Roch? Is this an example of life/work leads to a new environment leads to a new kind of art? 

“Absolutely! Living in the 8th Ward was one hundred percent my inspiration for this project, and in particular, losing Rayshon whom I thought would be my friend for life. Art is a reflection of our experience; in some practices it is our experience. Becoming part of the neighborhood ecology inspired me to use the biennial to shine light into the problem of youth mortality in the 8th Ward–and as I’ll later discuss, the problem of personal disenfranchisement in privileged white culture ;) I am not particularly political, in fact I have always hated political art. I’ve specifically noted in Life is Art writings how much I hate it, but what can I say? You become what you hate.    

“That being the case: I don’t think it is acceptable that we allow neighborhoods in America to languish like we do in St Roch. The gun death statistics there are the same as they are in war. And it is certainly not all about access to guns. We’ve really let our fellow Americans slip through the cracks in a way that more socially minded 1st world countries would never do. 

“That said, the community has an incredible resilience and bright vitality. The 8th Ward can teach us a lot about how to live as a connected, mutually supportive culture.  It is completely different from the modern American way where we have very little interaction with our neighbors. In this way, coming to the 8th Ward and witnessing the close ties in the community is incredible. Simply witnessing this was a highlight of the Biennial.”

Art Embassy Hosts New Orleans' Biggest Gun Buyback in Style

How did the buy back party go? Could you describe it from the perspective of an art viewer?

“The block party was touching and awe-inspiring. There was a very warm, amplified energy with all the neighbors out for a common cause. I think the art viewers were a little blown away by the power of the culture. You had Mardi Gras Indians, Caramel Curves, a custom car show, performing horse riders, the best local rappers, dance troupes–all the highlights of New Orleans’ culture. New Orleans Airlift, a group of local artists and curators, did a beautiful job choreographing the opening ceremony.  I think out of town visitors were overwhelmed.  Many approached with tears in their eyes saying they had never seen anything like it. I’m glad we got to share a little of what New Orleans has to offer with the high art world. It also felt satisfying and a little subversive to highlight what is already here, as opposed to the usual biennial approach of bringing famous international artists into an environment. (That said we also showed several international artists through performance, our billboards advertising the buyback, and The Embassy interior. They were all really touched by the collaboration with local artists.)” 

Art Embassy Hosts New Orleans' Biggest Gun Buyback in Style

The buyback

“The buyback itself was magical. There was a line around the block of very nervous, agitated people. But as soon as they entered the room they grew hushed.  It was very quiet and dark with lights only on the piles of guns and a sculpture (by Louise Riley). In the back of the all-velvet room a solo cellist played softly and beautifully.  There was a sense of ceremony and reverence around the whole experience. Those trading in their guns became part of the piece; some sellers lingered, mesmerized by it all.  We received 500 guns. I personally took in several assault weapons which was disturbing but also moving. 

Art Embassy Hosts New Orleans' Biggest Gun Buyback in Style

“People wanted to share the stories of their guns. Many wives and girlfriends came on behalf of their partners, or to get rid of a gun that belonged to their dead partner.  By 4 p.m. the reverends accepting the guns were exhausted–I hired one of their gospel singers to perform just to keep them going (they all joined in singing and clapping) and we closed at 5–still with half the cash (!) ready for round 2.”

Kirsha Kechele at The Speaker
Kirsha Kaechele

Kirsha Kaechele is an art curator and artist, and is the founder of Life is Art Foundation/KKProjects, an art space composed of six abandoned houses in the St Roch neighborhood, and The Embassy, a living installation in the 8th Ward of New Orleans.

The Embassy is a collaboration of artists, rappers and reverends for the purpose of inspiring the hearts and minds of New Orleans youth, to celebrate the vitality and creativity of the community and broach the tragedy of youth mortality through gun violence.

The Embassy’s gun buyback project is the biggest buyback in New Orleans history.
The Embassy provides $100,000 solely for puchasing guns from sellers who remain anonymous. The guns are later destroyed by the Police Department, witnessed by the New Orleans and Jefferson Parish Gun Buyback Committee (GNOJPGBC).


Additional Photography: NEWSCORP


Actor Chow Yun-Fat blacklisted in China for pro-democracy support

Chow Yun Fat
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When the film star was asked about reports he was now blacklisted, Yun-Fat replied, “I’ll just make less [films in China] then.”

Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-Fat, known to the West mainly through the 2000 blockbuster film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” is reportedly now banned from making movies in China.

Recently, the actor met with students protesting the communist government of China which has recently taken over control of Hong Kong.

After meeting with students, he gave public comments in which he did not support the new government:

“I’ve met the residents, the students. They are very brave, and it’s touching to see that they’re fighting for what they want. The students are reasonable. If the government can come up with a solution that the citizens or students are satisfied with, I believe the crisis will end,” Yun-Fat told Apple Daily.

Commenting on the use of teargas by police at the demonstrations, he said, “When the government uses violent measures on students, it’s a turn-off for the people of Hong Kong. I don’t wish to see anyone getting hurt.”

Other Hong Kong stars also commented publicly on the issue, siding with protesters, but have not been reported to be blacklisted, including Andy Lau and Tony Leung Chiu-wai.

Lau said there should be “no tear gas, no violence, no abuse,” and Leung said, “I support all the people of Hong Kong who peacefully ask for what they want and protest the government’s use of excessive force against people who have gathered peacefully, and hope the government can quickly arrange for sincere talks with the people.”

Others stars, including Hong Kong-born Jackie Chan, supported Beijing in aggressively quelling the demonstrations.

Chan expressed concern about the cost of the protests in dollars, advocating a “return to rationality,” echoing comments he’d made years earlier that “there should be rules to determine what people can protest about and on what issues they can’t protest about,” and that “Chinese people need to be controlled.”

Yun-Fat is just the most recent of a long list of entertainers and others who have been banned or blacklisted by China.

Latest news on Chow Yun-Fat: HK actor to give away entire $714million fortune to charity

John Lennon Letter Praising Yoko Ono Fetches $28,000

John Lennon Letter Praising Yoko Ono Fetches $28,000
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A letter, penned by former-Beatle John Lennon to radio and television host Joe Franklin and praising the music of Yoko Ono, has sold for $28,171. The two-page handwritten letter was dated December 13, 1971, and was written in an attempt to get Ono onto Franklin’s New York TV show.

“I know you’re a musician at heart!” Lennon writes in the letter. “And especially I know you dig jazz. Well, Yoko’s music ain’t quite jazz but to help you get off on it, or understand it, please listen to a track on the Yoko/Ono/Plastic Ono Band, called ‘AOS,’ which was recorded in 1968 (pre Lennon/Beatles!) with Ornette Coleman at Albert Hall London, you could call it free form, anyway Yoko sits in the middle of avant-garde, classic, jazz—and now through me and my music—rock ‘n’ roll!”

The songs referred to by Lennon were on Ono’s solo album, “Fly.”

John Lennon Letter Praising Yoko Ono Fetches $28,000 (3)The letter also included a thumbnail sketch Lennon drew of himself and Ono, and was written on official Apple Records letterhead–the label started by the Beatles in 1968.

The letter was successful, reportedly.

“Yoko was on my show nine times,” Franklin commented recently on the events of 1971. “John Lennon was on three times. Yoko was only with him one of those times. Part of his whole thing was to convince her to be confident enough to do it on her own.”

The letter sold for $28,171–far above its presale estimate of $15,000-20,000–at the RR Auction in Massachusetts.

By Joseph Reight

John Lennon Letter Praising Yoko Ono Fetches $28,000 (4) John Lennon Letter Praising Yoko Ono Fetches $28,000 (1)

Men and Women Judge Art Differently, According to New Study

Men and Women Judge Art Differently, According to New Study
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Whose art is worth more? The ordinary painter who just took up the craft or the authentic artist who has spent 20 years working at it and believes he will paint until he dies? According to a new joint marketing study, women and men judge the value of art differently, and how an artist is presented could have a significant effect on how much of the $65bn worldwide art market he or she will claim.

The research looked at the responses of 518 subjects–male and female–to two unfamiliar paintings which were each accompanied by a fabricated artist biography. Some participants read a biography that described the artist as an ordinary painter who only recently took up art. Other participants read a biography that described a much more authentic painter.

Men and Women Judge Art Differently (2)
Stephanie Mangus

“The more authentic artist was described as having been painting for over 20 years and believes they will paint ‘until he dies,'” Stephanie Mangus, assistant professor in MSU’s Broad College of Business and an author of the report, told The Speaker.

Both male and female subjects were found to be more willing to buy the more authentic artist’s work and to pay a higher price for that work.

However, males were much more likely to base their decisions on the artist’s “brand” than females, according to the research.

Women were more likely to “go through a complicated process of actually evaluating the artwork,” the researchers found.

“Regarding the complicated process,” Mangus explained to us, “women rely more heavily on the attitude they form toward the art itself, even if they are not an art expert, when determining their behavioral intentions toward the art (purchase and purchase price). Women rely more strongly than men on their own judgments of the actual piece of artwork. Men, in contrast, place more emphasis on the attitude they develop toward the artist when making these same downstream decisions related to purchase and price.”

The research has several implications, for both business and the everyday art viewer, Mangus told us.

“On the management/business side, we would like the folks that manage artists and other creative sorts (and even brands) to understand that authenticity is important to consumers. Consistency between an artist’s authentic ‘story’ and the image/brand they present to the outside world factors into how consumers judge them and their work. Ultimately, whether or not artists make any money off of consumers is partially a function of their authenticity and ability to convey it.

“On the consumer side, it’s a nice note to the non-connoisseur that they can still make evaluations of art and not shy away from making these types of decisions.”

The findings may extend to other creator-based product industries as well, such as clothing, shoe, jewelry and restaurant and food industries.

“While designers and chefs oftentimes operate in the background, this research suggests that more emphatically communicating their passion and commitment to their craft could significantly benefit that brand’s image and sales,” the team found.

The report may also help to fill in the dearth of consumer research relating to the steadily growing art market, according to Mangus, which has outperformed the equities market during the past 10 years of growth.

“For the average person trying to purchase art, knowing something about the artist–and knowing that the artist is authentic–can reduce the risk of buying a worthless piece,” Mangus stated. “All consumers in the study, but especially men, evaluated art with a strong emphasis on how motivated and passionate the artist was. So if you’re an artist or if you’re managing an artist, developing that human brand–getting the message across that you’re authentic–becomes essential.”

The report was authored by Julie Guidry Moulard from Louisiana Tech University, Dan Hamilton Rice from Louisiana State University and Carolyn Popp Garrity from Birmingham-Southern College, in addition to Mangus, and was published in Psychology & Marketing.

By Joseph Reight

Tie dye shirt invention by hippies on acid was actually caught on film in 1964 [Video]

Invention of tie dye
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As shown in the recent documentary “Magic Trip,” “tie dye” was invented in 1964 on the trip taken by the Merry Pranksters across America, and the actual moment of innocent creation was filmed by the crew of what would become known as the first hippies–although at the time there was no word for what they were except the names they gave themselves. Driving through the Arizona desert, the bus was searching for “The Cool Place” when Neil Cassady, the driver of the bus, veered off the road toward a small pond and got the bus stuck in the muddy sand.

Because they would be stuck for a while, waiting for their messenger to ride a motorbike into town for assistance, Kesey wanted to take LSD. The acid was mixed into a jar of orange juice and passed around for everyone to take a drink. The movie cameras that had been brought along to document the trip were set up in various spots around the river as the Pranksters started to wade into the pond.

Sometime into the trip, Kesey decided he wanted to see what it would be like to pour bright colored model paint into a small arm of the pond. The varicolored paints floated and marbleized. The pranksters put Zonker’s white t-shirt in the water under the paint and lifted it up, “and invented tie dye.”

Invention of tie dye


The narration of the pond trip includes a presentation of the setting not done justice to in the short clip. To watch the video, which unlike any other document gives a real live-action quasi-experience to the times of the first hippies–and for the first time, because the hundreds of hours of tape collected on the trip was out-of-sync with the recorded audio and could not be edited until the advent of recent editing technology.

For those curious about the history of tie die before the 60s–it dates back to 8th century Japan and was even popularized in America in the 1920s–click here.

By Joseph Reight

Images: Magic Trip

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