Collins attempts to save bayou culture from Hurricane Katrina
By Joann Jordan
Kennesaw State University Assistant Professor of Art Charlotte Collins is in Louisiana for the summer to create a range of media exploring the history and present day culture of Bayou Liberty, a major waterway in Slidell, La., about 30 minutes from New Orleans. The “Rooted to Liberté” project was sparked by a boat ride on the bayou that Collins took after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the area in 2005. At the time, she was there helping her own family rebuild. Her experience of the destruction and rebuilding inspired Collins to find a way to help the residents keep their culture alive amid the devastation of historic homes, wildlife population, trees and plant life, and the loss of so much of the area’s elder population.
"How do you keep going after your heart is broken?” asks Collins, who received an incentive grant from the KSU Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning to start the project. “The elders here lost their homes, businesses and their life savings. Afterward, those who were left spent all their time going to funerals.”
Determined that their stories not be lost to history, Collins is interviewing artists, musicians, poets and everyday people to learn about their own and their families’ history in Bayou Liberty. Her historical research will go back to the 1700s to document the waves of settlement by Native American, French, Spanish, African and Caribbean settlers. Collins believes that the mixture of traditions and people creates a unique and rich cultural legacy.
"I’m living the history now, with the people and places. I have never been so engaged, and once people see my passion, they get excited, too. I get to talk with all kinds of people who I couldn’t ordinarily access. People here are very private, but they want their story told. It’s not just about history,” she explains, “it’s about today and how we developed because of the past. It’s not my story ,it belongs to the people of Bayou Liberty. I want everyone to hear what I am hearing.”
The artists’ book will be a one-of-a-kind work of art created with handmade paper and bindings. A published version will also be produced and a website will document the complete range of poetry, prose, photography, videography and music that Collins has gathered. A number of KSU faculty are collaborating on the project, including Assistant Professor of Art Natasha Lovelace, a book artist, and Associate Professor of Art Carole Maugé-Lewis, who, along with her graphic arts class, will do the design work.
“This is a labor of love, says Collins. “It will definitely remind you of the bayou—and it will be unlike any other book you’ve ever seen.”