Artists recall Katrina

One evening a year, as the clock ticks toward midnight, New Orleans musicians, artists, photographers, authors and film directors come together for an annual grassroots commemorative event, to share with the public their artistic response to Hurricane Katrina.

“We have it on the anniversary eve of Katrina, because that is the day that our lives were normal — and then it crosses over into midnight where our lives were changed forever,” said Patty Lee, founder and host of Katrina Artistically Revisited.

Now in its eighth year, Katrina Artistically Revisited is free and open to the public. The event is hosted annually by Lee and her husband, the New Orleans musician and entertainer Armand St. Martin.

“It is totally the community giving back to the community,” said Lee. “We stay reverent and respectful, and we try to stay away from anything controversial — people will be entertained while also being reflective about Katrina.”

Katrina Artistically Revisited will be held at The Theatres at Canal Place on Wednesday. Starting at 8:30 p.m. in the lobby, there will be exhibits of Katrina-related books and photographs, while people have a chance to share their stories and mingle with Katrina survivors and first responders.

From 10 p.m. there will be an array of Katrina-related musical performances, clips from award-winning documentaries, photographs and slide shows with personal stories from Katrina survivors.

“People are happy, and then they go tearful. It’s a bit of a cross-section, but it’s very healing,” said Lee. “It’s reflective ... but we also have comedic songs, especially at the end, so everyone can leave happy.”

Among the more light-hearted numbers are St. Martin’s popular song, “Waitin’ for My Trailer.”

“There were plenty of serious things going on, and I wanted to lighten things up and amuse the folks,” St. Martin said.

Katrina survivors themselves, Lee and St. Martin evacuated and came back one month later to find their Mid-City home, where St. Martin was born, flooded and without a roof.

“We couldn’t get a roof, so we were living under blue tarps camping out in our house, taking care of my mother who had Alzheimer’s,” said Lee. “We lost all of Armand’s studio gear, equipment and pianos, but people lent us things. So we pieced together enough for him to record music for the one film short called ‘Stillness.’”

Lee’s mother passed away in June 2006, before the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and Lee set about finding a way to honor her and everything New Orleanians had been through.

“We had this film, ‘Stillness,’ so I put together this idea of an annual event,” Lee said.

Said St. Martin: “We knew it was up to people like us to maintain and retain our part of New Orleans culture, because so much was torn apart by the diaspora. As the years have gone by there has been a lot of artistic response to the storm.”

Every year, locals and visitors keep coming back to remember, to learn and to heal through the sharing of visual art, music and words.

“We do it to remember those who perished,” Lee said, “and to honor those who survived.”