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Gordon Plaza art exhibit opens at Tulane University

The cancer-plagued neighborhood is a subject of an exhibit examining pollution and its impact on marginalized communities

A handmade, irregularly sized piece of paper printed with images of a neighborhood atop a landfill hangs on a museum wall
Hannah Chalew, Abundance Undermined, 2019. Iron oak gall ink on handmade paper pulped from sugarcane and found plastic waste
Courtesy Hannah Chalew

The Upper 9th Ward’s Gordon Plaza, a neighborhood built on a toxic landfill in the late 1970s, is the subject of an art exhibit opening today at the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.

A collaboration between Gordon Plaza residents, New Orleans Peoples Assembly, and Tulane University, The American Dream Denied: The New Orleans Residents of Gordon Plaza Seek Relocation aims to raise awareness of environmental issues and fully fund relocation for Gordon Plaza residents.

Built by the City of New Orleans in the 1980s on the former Agriculture Street landfill and marketed toward black New Orleanians as an affordable path to homeownership, Gordon Plaza is a collection of 67 single-family homes, a shopping center, apartments, and an elementary school.

Homeowners were not told the development sat on top of toxic waste laced with 151 contaminants, according to reporting from ViaNola.

A graffiti-covered former elementary school in the 9th Ward sits under a cloudy sky
Terry Hixson, Moton Elementary School, Gordon Plaza. March 30, 2019. Color photograph
Courtesy of the Critical Visualization and Media Lab (CVML), Tulane University

“What was initially branded as a way for working-class Black and African-American New Orleanians to access the American dream of homeownership turned into a nightmare as the residual outcomes of living on top of a landfill began to effect the residents in real and adverse ways—often having deadly consequences for those living there,” stated Tulane sociology and environmental studies professor Christopher Oliver in a press release.

More than a dozen Gordon Plaza residents died from cancer, and Gordon Plaza’s neighborhood, Desire, has the second-highest cancer rates among all Louisiana census tracks from 2005 to 2015, according to an April report from the Louisiana Tumor Registry.

The exhibit runs alongside LaToya Ruby Frazier: Flint is Family, which examines the Flint, Michigan water crisis. The two installations will be on display through December 14. An opening reception takes place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, September 5 at Newcomb Art Museum (6823 St. Charles Avenue). Admission is free.

A blurry photography of an illuminated oil refinery hangs on a gallery wall
AnnieLaurie Erickson 29°55’28.56”N, 89°58’48.87”W (Chalmette), 2013 Archival pigment print from color negative
Courtesy AnnieLaurie Erickson