This five-story 450-unit apartment complex had a notorious reputation for crime and violence. Opening in 1964, it was one of the oldest and most troubled housing complexes in New Orleans. The Black Panthers and the African-American New Orleans Saints players were the first to move into the apartments. By the early 1970s, half of the units were under lease by the Federal Housing Administration and subsidized by the Red Cross.

Exhibit Be
The public housing complex consisted of a dozen five-story mid-rise buildings initially known as Bridge Plaza. The complex later became subsidized Section-8 housing operated by HUD.

From 1970 till today, no owner has kept the property for longer than 7 years. Each time it has changed hands, the new owners make little to no effort to rectify the existing problems. A lack of management has caused the complex to fall into deplorable conditions. Broken elevators, rusty railings, broken pipes, and rodent and termite infestations were common. The property was a dumping ground for old tires and piles of rotting garbage. The security gates did not close. NOPD enforced extra patrols around the property to reduce the rising gang activity but never made any arrests. The maintenance workers would rarely enter the property for fear of being robbed or killed. By the early 1990s, the apartment complex was a battleground from a rash of shootings and killings.

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In the 1980s, squatters occupied many of the abandoned units and would burglarize the remaining tenants.

In 1996, HUD demolished 39 abandoned townhouse units on the property. Four years later, the apartment complex was purchased by a group of investors. The investors lost hope after many of the apartments still failed HUD inspections. The buildings were plagued with repairs and hazards.

In 1999, a teenager climbed into an open hole in the top of an elevator and became crushed. Authorities discovered him several hours later and emergency crews removed a wall to retrieve his body. He was pronounced dead the following morning at Charity Hospital.

In June 2001, a police officer fatally shot an 18-year-old who was being served an arrest warrant inside the apartment complex. NOPD reported the victim was shot in the chest and died shortly after at Charity Hospital. A police spokesman said the officer believed the suspect was retrieving a weapon from under his shirt. Relatives of the teenager disputed police accounts of the shooting, claiming authorities beat the victim and threw his body off of a balcony. No charges were filed against the police officer.

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The apartment complex’s old recreational building is the heart of “Exhibit Be.”
Exhibit Be
In one of the most derelict neighborhoods in Algiers stands a massive work of art known as Exhibit Be.

In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, 135 out of the remaining 364 units were vandalized. Johnson Properties Group purchased the complex and was able to renovate 160 units. In 2007, the apartments were sold. Only a portion of the complex was open at this time and remained in poor condition from rodent and termite infestations. On Thanksgiving Day in 2012, the remaining 100 tenants were evicted and the complex was condemned.

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Brandan BMike Odums, along with a crew of 35 street artists, transformed a portion of the abandoned apartment complex into what was billed as “the largest street art exhibit in the South.”

In 2014, developer Bill Thomason discovered BMike’s artwork on the property. Rather than call the police, Thomason agreed to allow the artists to temporarily transform a portion of the abandoned complex into a street art exhibit and invite the public. Over the course of three months, over 30,000 people experienced Exhibit Be. It quickly became a local success, attracting visitors from all over the country and national media coverage. Schools were even taking field trips to see the art exhibit. Mayor Landrieu visited the exhibit bestowing the artists involved with official certifications of appreciation for their community service. Odums described the street art exhibit as a social experiment of the dueling nature of graffiti as art versus vandalism, and also a healing memorial to the tenants evicted from the complex following Hurricane Katrina.

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On opening day, a crowd of over 2,500 people came to see Exhibit Be.
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Five years later, even though the complex is abandoned, the art exhibit is still mostly intact.
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Exhibit Be is about the idea of being in the moment, not about the past or the future, but what it means to just “be” according to its creator Brandan ‘Be Mike’ Odums.
Exhibit Be
Murals of famous civil rights leaders and entertainers were depicted all over the walls, including the Notorious BIG, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Muhammad Ali.
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Exhibit Be closed on MLK Day, January 15, 2015, with a free block party that included musicians David Banner, Trombone Shorty, Erykah Badu, Dead Prez, Dee-1, and a performance by the Edna Karr High School Marching Band.
Exhibit Be
Exhibit Be revealed street art and graffiti’s capacity for engaging communities of color as well as the arts community.

 

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