Concourse C Collaborative Project - New Orleans International Airport

The coordination, fabrication and installation of this project was administered by the Arts Council of New Orleans, Lake Douglas, Public Art Director.

Design Team:

Having isolated six areas in which we wished to concentrate artist involvement in phase two of the Concourse C project, the five selected artists collaborated collectively and independently with the project architects, musician Ellis Marsalis, and physicist Dr. Robert Morris of Tulane University to arrive at a central set of tenets used to anchor the artists’ involvement around a common theme. This theme first derived its impetus from the “New Orleans sound” associated with blues and jazz music. It was noted that the rhythms of the clerestory windows located between service corridors described a twelve bar blues pattern. This led to a request that Mr. Marsalis enter a short blues improvisation in the New Orleans tradition into a computer-based sequencing program for purposes of visualization (Fig. 1). Manipulation of these auditory and visual patterns served as the rhythmic key linking the various artistic components.

In addition to this rhythmic theme an additional motif was adopted by the collaborators. This motif was based on elements of the natural environment in the New Orleans area: light, shadow patterns, muted blue/green colors, and water reflections were used along with visual equivalents of musical rhythms to convey a sense of place to New Orleans visitors.

Individual elements:

Project budget:
The budget for the project was $100,000, which included artists’ fees, supervision, and materials as needed.

Selection process:
The Arts Council was invited to participate in this project through the architect Gerald Billes of Billes & Manning. A call to artists was circulated among regional artists to submit letters of interest. Through an interview process that involved active participation with the project architects, the lead artist was selected and a team assembled.

This project became an improvisational jazz piece. Playing off one another, the artists attempted to build around the themes of local musical traditions and the south Louisiana natural environment. The process allowed for the stylistic uniqueness of the members in "solo performances"without sacrificing the ensemble’s strength.

Special characteristics:
This project was part of a major effort to upgrade the New Orleans International Airport. At the time of the project's inception, there was no design review process for the airport and no real coordination between any airport elements: as new construction or renovation took place, different architects, contractors and engineers did whatever they wanted to without regard to any previous plan and without the benefit of a long-range design strategy. It was hoped that the consciously coordinated design of this installation would inspire the Aviation Board (the airport's governing agency) to become more design-conscious and cognizant of the value of coordinated, thoughtful design. The project stretched over a long period of time, from late 1989 until 1995. There were delays in funding and implementation, compounded by late changes in materials and design. Ultimately, as the concourse was nearing completion, the City’s political administration changed and there was a corresponding change in the composition of the Aviation Board. The new Board was reluctant to acknowledge any initiative or project from the previous Board, hence the project never received the public acknowledgement and recognition it deserved. No plaque or printed material was produced, as originally envisioned, to explain the project. Overall, the project is subtle and understated, much like the personalities of those involved. Nevertheless, it stands as a milestone in New Orleans public art for the collaborative way in which it was constructed and executed. It was truly a collaborative process among many different people that worked successfully to produce a project that is as significant for its results as for the means through which those results were achieved. A great deal of credit is due to architect Gerald Billes, who imagined adding a public art component to the way he wanted to design the project and to Emery Clark, who led the team through the challenging and exciting process of collaborative design.