(photo via thelensnola.org)

Mention the name Kirsha Kaechele (assuming you can pronounce it) to folks in the New Orleans arts communities and you’re likely to hear a wide range of opinions. And whether you’re part of that community or not, her story brings up a lot of interesting questions regarding the complex and often conflicting mix of motivations, ego, and consequences behind community-based art projects and the personalities involved in creating them.

To recap: Kaechele first gained notoriety in the Crescent City with a series of exhibitions and events she organized in the fall of 2008 to coincide with the opening of the Prospect. 1 biennial exhibition. Most of these were centered around a group of derelict buildings she purchased in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward, an economically disadvantaged neighborhood not too geographically distant from the French Quarter but about as far from the genteel precincts of Royal St. and the high-end galleries of the Warehouse District as you can get. Kaechele’s projects included a $250-a-plate fundraising dinner-slash-arty block party attended by the likes of actress Uma Thurman and a collaboration with artist Mel Chin, who constructed a giant bank vault-like apparatus in the facade of one of Kaechele’s properties on Villere Street. Even more significantly, the projects garnered a massive amount of high profile publicity for Kaechele herself.

Mel Chin’s “Safe House” in 2008 (left) and 2011 (right) (photos via nola.com)

Flash forward to 2011, and Kaechele’s properties sit abandoned after she left town. In the interim, she was variously reported to be in the Bay Area working on a medical marijuana-for-arts funding project and then on a new art venture in Tasmania with her boyfriend. Meanwhile, an incendiary article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune by the paper’s art critic (who had previously been one of her most ardent supporters) basically accusing her of willful neglect of her former properties made her a persona non grata in many artistic circles in her former town — although she still maintains a circle of friends and collaborators who have come forth to defend her.

All of which is a roundabout way of introducing a new interview with Kaeschle published by the New Orleans-based The Lens last week, in which Kaeschele attempts to explain her motivations and way of doing things (“I see myself as a life artist.  I work with the intersection of art, architecture and ecology.”) while making some statements that are sure to give her detractors more grist for the mill (“I spent most of my life as a minority in another culture. I grew up on Guam and was always the only white person on my block.”)

One thing’s for sure: she hasn’t lost her knack for publicity. Whether or not you’re familiar with Kaeschele or her story, it makes for a fascinating read.

John D’Addario is a veteran blogger (since 1996), adjunct professor of arts administration at the University of New Orleans, professional arts educator, photographer and man of the world. You can visit...

3 replies on ““Artist, Entrepreneur, Opportunist””

  1. In other words… another rich white kid making her art with the suffering and economic disadvantage of the non-white.  Newsflash… growing up middle to upper class in guam does not make your experience comparable to that of people who grow up with far less money in places where they experience the holdovers of slavery and racial oppression.

  2. Wow. Writes collaborator and ardent defender Tora Lopez in her rebuttal of Doug McCash’s article: “Presenting Kirsha Kaechele as a ‘glamorous, globe-trotting creator of the project’ is sexist, sensational and vapid.” I was inclined to agree until I read the Interview mag profile of Kaechele.

    In it, Kaechele drops a number of gems, from the imperialistic, “I was born into a fabricated native environment in Topanga Canyon, in L.A. We all ran around naked and ate from the land-back to nature with strong Eastern philosophical roots,” to the grandiose, “When you are emotionally invested, it really hurts when one of the teenage boys is killed. At this point I am getting to the point where I actually helped raise them,” to the, well, sexist, sensational and vapid, “My mother is a wild, glamorous painter.” Then, there’s that photo of Kaechele, posing flirtatiously in a strapless pink leotard and white pumps next to a young inner city kid. And all those vicariously congratulatory stories about her dad. This woman sounds like the Paz de la Huerta of the art world—all narcissistic delusion and no ethical convictions to back it up.

    I’ll give Lopez the benefit of the doubt and assume she wasn’t aware of/didn’t read into this profile and was, in fact, defending Kaechele in earnest. But this is colonizing experiences pure and simple. No wonder she leapfrogs from one project to another. If you phase out the critics and commentators, and listen to a person speak for themselves, you’ll usually find what you’re looking for.

  3. Another painful story about yet another opportunist “sullying” the credibility of the nonprofit sector and especially “community based art projects”. Thankful that she is GONE. The media coverage (in and outside of New Orleans) was so focused (blinded ?) on the “blingy” side of her “M-O” – that alone was so hurtful to ARTISTS who, despite being in it for the long haul and doing the HARD WORK, could never have dreamed of getting a fraction of media attention. Now folk are really “PO’ed” and find it hard not be SUSPICIOUS of the next “anointed one” seeking a welcome mat ….

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