Katrina becomes a New Orleans museum piece

Categories: Chicago Tribune

By MARK GUARINO | Chicago Tribune

2:47 PM CDT, September 14, 2010

An afternoon car ride through New Orleans may be enough to understand the magnitude of destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent floodwaters that swamped 80 percent of the city five years ago: empty lots where homes once stood, blighted schools, hospitals that remain waiting to open.

Despite those realities in some neighborhoods, the city is recovering in ways that aren’t so obvious from a passing window: School reform is increasing enrollment and test scores, employment is ticking upward, and a recently elected city administration is being credited with energizing entrepreneurship.

“Living With Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond,” a $7.5 million exhibit at the Louisiana State Museum opening Oct. 26, aims to tell both sides of the storm. To museum director Sam Rykels, it will be the definitive multimedia look at how the combination of natural might and manmade malfeasance continues to change the city.

Katrina “was an opportunity to clear the slate and gives us the opportunity to reinvent this place,” Rykels said.

Besides research materials, oral histories and displays that explore the science of levee engineering and wetlands erosion, the exhibit showcases objects recovered in the days and years following Katrina that tell the stories of its survivors.

The most iconic artifact is a wrecked Steinway piano from the Lower 9th home of R&B legend Fats Domino. The exhibit ends with a room devoted to recovery.

The museum is in Jackson Square, giving tourists ample opportunity to find out why the city is special beyond Bourbon Street night life.

“Our exhibit talks about why we’re here and why we should be here and what it takes to keep us here,” Rykels said.

The exhibit will be at The Presbytere, part of the state museum, on Jackson Square in New Orleans. Admission is $6 but free for children 12 and younger. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, call 800-568-6968 or visit lsm.crt.state.la.us.

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