The Next Time Someone Says Art Doesn’t Accomplish Anything, Show Them This

This public sculpture may help save the lives of residents in New Orleans.
Some find that the position of the stick figure is hailing a cab while others see a person making a request for Mardi Gras beads. (Photo: Evacuteer)
May 18, 2013· 2 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

When Hurricane Katrina was making its way to New Orleans some eight years ago, tens of thousands of residents stayed in the city instead of evacuating for the simple reason that they didn’t have access to transportation. In the years following New Orleans’ rebuilding process, a free, public evacuation bus system has been established.

Named the City Assisted Evacuation, or CAE, it’s capable of picking up and transporting about 30,000 residents to state-run shelters, which can provide temporary housing, medical attention and food to those who are in need.

The problem, according to residents, is that they have little idea where the pickup points are located because the CAE hasn’t clearly marked them. But now a new series of modern art sculptures are about to change that.

Evacuteer, the nonprofit that runs the evacuation system, came up with a new plan. They commissioned an artist to create a large-scale sculpture to mark “EvacuSpot” points, allowing locals the ability to easily discern where they need to go in order to find transportation out of the city.

Massachusetts-based artist Douglas Kornfeld was commissioned to create the “EvacuSpot” sculptures. His design is a simple 14-foot steel carving, which looks like a stick figure hailing a cab.

Kornfeld was chosen out of some 80 artists from across the country pitched their ideas to a jury made up of members from the Arts Council of New Orleans and Evacuteer. Kornfeld told The Times-Picayune, that though his design was what he thought of as a universal gesture, the jury noted that it was also specific to New Orleans.

He said, “…when I was presenting my design, someone interrupted me and said, ‘Well, that gesture of hailing a cab is the same gesture people do when they want someone to throw them beads from floats during Mardi Gras.’” Kornfeld stated that’s the moment he knew he got the job.

The old CAE sign versus the new EvacuSpot sculpture. Photo: Evacuteer.

Starting this month, 15 steel sculptures will be erected around the city—just in time for storm season, which begins on June 1.

The steel design is made to last for about 100 years, and its concrete foot pads will allow the structures to sit deeply-anchored into the ground, preventing their destruction during hurricanes.

Previously, the CAE did have signage indicating pick-up points around the city, but those signs were small unremarkable placards, placed higher than average height and stamped with small print—hardly the type of messaging that evacuees would easily notice.

But Kornfeld’s figures are unusual enough that they’re easy to see—even from afar—and easy to remember.

And they’re just in time. The effects of climate change are reportedly about to worsen; levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere have surpassed our highest levels ever and scientists believe that as a result, we’re about to experience a new level of climate change-related disasters. These are expected to include the increased presence and power of “frankenstorms” like Hurricane Sandy.

In light of this, the need for cities to evolve their safety plans in order to protect residents is greater now than ever. And New Orleans shows that it doesn't necessarily require an intricate and complex strategy—smart and simple can still save lives.

What other measures do you think should be taken to improve resident safety during storm season? Let us know in the Comments.