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Louisiana State Museum's Riveting New Exhibit to Document Tragedy and Rebirth After Katrina
Curators and movers from the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans maneuver a ruined Steinway piano into position as the centerpiece for the upcoming exhibit Living with Hurricanes: Katrina & beyond. Photo Credit: Mark Sindler/LA. State Museum.
NEW ORLEANS, LA.- Hurricane Katrina’s deluge was Biblical. When it hit Louisiana and Mississippi the morning of August 29, 2005, the storm caused fearsome destruction. Then the disaster grew worse. The levees – the man-made walls built to protect New Orleans from the water surrounding it – failed. Their collapse flooded 80 percent of the city. By the time the waters receded and the survivors regrouped, Katrina, and then Hurricane Rita, had claimed more than 1,400 lives and the dreams of hundreds of thousands.

“Hurricane Katrina was a watershed in American history,” says historian Doug Brinkley. “Never before did we watch the near total devastation of a major American city as it happened. The response and rebuilding challenged us as a nation. New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have come back renewed. The story of what happened five years ago must be remembered.”

On October 26, 2010, the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans will remember the devastation and showcase the renewal with a new exhibit years in the making. Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond is a $7.5 million exhibit opening on the ground floor of the historic Presbytere in the French Quarter’s Jackson Square. The 6,700 square-foot installation tells the stories of real people caught in the hurricane’s wrath. It tells of their rescue, recovery, rebuilding and renewal in a way certain to move both those who survived the storms of 2005 and those who watched the events unfold on TV.

Combining eyewitness accounts, historical context, immersive environments and in-depth scientific exploration, Katrina and Beyond enables visitors to understand the 2005 storms’ impact on Louisiana, the Gulf Coast and the nation. It is a story of how a culture – the rich, variegated world of New Orleans and coastal Louisiana – has learned to live with the fragility of its environment and how the storms of 2005 gave rise to a new vision for the region.

Designed by the Boston-based firm ExperienceDesign that worked with the Museum’s historians, curators and exhibit designers, Living with Hurricanes consists of a powerful and moving series of galleries – each telling one aspect of the story using artifacts and rich media – sound, video and computer graphics.

“Museums have become places for interactive learning,” says Museum Director Sam Rykels. “The galleries in Living with Hurricanes are designed to convey what happened to visitors of all ages and all backgrounds incorporating everything from survivors’ personal mementos to their thoughts and feelings.”

Gallery One illustrates Louisiana’s history with water, from the Mississippi River’s benefits to the threats of coastal storm surges and floods. Visitors will move through the “Evacuation Corridor,” overhearing residents’ voices as they weigh their options as Katrina approaches. A state of the art “Storm Theater” shows Katrina’s full fury with moving and dramatic footage of the hurricane’s onslaught.

Gallery Two takes visitors past a leaking floodwall and into an attic and onto a roof where they can view the flooded city surrounding them. They’ll hear a firsthand account of a St. Bernard Parish family’s rescue and view artifacts, histories and photographs.

Throughout the galleries are compelling artifacts ranging from music legend Fats Domino’s baby grand piano found in his flooded Ninth Ward house to a Coast Guard rescue basket to seats from the Louisiana Superdome. The objects serve as touchstones in recalling the days after the storm.

The forensics of Katrina unfold in Gallery Three where science and innovative displays come together. A large interactive table map shows the paths of Katrina and Rita and the sequence of floods that inundated the region. Visitors discover how the levees failed with digital animation. Additional displays illustrate the realities of eroding wetlands, disaster management, engineering and the science of predicting and tracking hurricanes.

The Fourth Gallery celebrates recovery and promotes preparedness, showcases the ingenuity of Louisianans in rebuilding their lives and communities. The gallery will be updated regularly to reflect advancements in flood protection and coastal restoration and new strategies for living with hurricanes.

“Visitors will leave knowing the power of hope,” says Louisiana Lt. Governor Scott Angelle. “Even in the darkest hours just after the storm Louisianans were already drawing up plans to make their home a better place than it was before. Now, five years after, there’s a true rebirth in our state.”

Louisiana State Museum | Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond | Doug Brinkley |




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