“Katrina Fatigue” is a common complaint among Hurricane Katrina’s survivors who lived along the Gulf Coast, particularly in Mississippi and in New Orleans. People died, became physically ill, suffered mental breakdowns, lost beloved pets and irreplaceable artworks and property as a result of the hurricane.
Ten years after the hurricane, despite the painful memories, three artists and two gallery owners gathered on August 26 at Bozarts Gallery to talk with me. The artists were Pati D’Amico, Katrina Geenen, and William Warren. The gallery owners were Annette Trefzer, PhD, who teaches English at University of Mississippi, and her husband, Mickey Howley, who directs the Water Valley Main Street Association. Even though Trefzer and Howley own Bozarts Gallery, early in the conversation, Geenen referred to Bozarts as “our gallery.” Through the artist cooperative, called the Bozarts Alliance, a sense of community has been created.
Bozarts Alliance, which has 15 members, including D’Amico, Geenen, and Warren, is described on the gallery’s website as:
[. . .] a supportive network of artists and gallery owners dedicated to discussing new ideas, collaborating on projects, and supporting one another. Members of the Bozarts Alliance have freedom to choose the gallery projects they wish to explore, collaborate on shows and projects, schedule annual shows, and pursue curating opportunities with the Bozarts Gallery owners.
Artists Pati D’Amico and her husband, William Warren, were among those who returned to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Prior to New Orleans, they lived in Providence, Rhode Island, for 22 years where they started an event similar to an art crawl and were involved in an artist cooperative. In New Orleans, they ran the Waiting Room Gallery in Bywater for 11 years. Geenen says they were pioneers in that neighborhood; however, after violent crime in New Orleans increased in mid-2006, they began to consider leaving the city they loved. They moved to Water Valley in June 2008 and helped to start the Water Valley Arts Council the following year. Warren is the co-director of the arts council. Their experience with and knowledge of artist cooperatives contributed to the founding of the Bozarts Alliance.
Katrina Geenen had hosted a Brazilian music radio show for 25 years in New Orleans. Her show was one of the last, if not the last, show that was broadcast prior to Hurricane Katrina’s making landfall. After her radio show, Geenen drove the back roads — all lanes of the interstate highways were flowing north away from the coast — from New Orleans to Gulfport to pick up her mother from a nursing home. They moved to California and lived there until Geenen’s mother passed away in 2010. Geenen had exhibited at D’Amico and Warren’s gallery in New Orleans, and got in touch with them in Water Valley. D’Amico told her that there was “a burgeoning art scene” in the Valley. Geenen moved there on April 10, 2010; D’Amico remembers the exact date. Like her friends, she found the housing in Water Valley to be more affordable than in New Orleans and was able to buy a house.
Two weeks before Hurricane Katrina, Annette Trefzer and Mickey Howley, former New Orleanians who were living in Water Valley, purchased the circa 1880s building that is now Bozarts Gallery. Their time during the first couple of years after the hurricane was divided between Water Valley and New Orleans helping to clean Howley’s mother’s flooded house. (Howley tells the story of a chest freezer at his mother’s house that had floated up to the ceiling after the levees broke. The freezer wedged itself over the door and blocked the back door from opening. They stabbed a hole in the bottom of the freezer and “liquid putrification” spilled out. After that, he says, nothing fazed him.) Trefzer says that fate stepped in because if they had not purchased the building in Water Valley, they might have returned to New Orleans to help Mickey’s family.
“The fact that you bought the building—fate made you buy the building—gave all of us somewhere to go,” said Katrina Geenen.
My time in Water Valley was too short to get the full stories of the artistic production of Pati D’Amico, Katrina Geenen, and William Warren. What I heard and saw is worth telling, and I’ll be going back on September 19, 2015, for the annual Art Crawl. So, stay tuned.
Many thanks to Annette Trefzer, Mickey Howley, Pati D’Amico, Katrina Geenen, and William Warren for sharing their time, art, gallery, and memories with me.