A Touch of Magic | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, September 20th, 2020  

A Touch of Magic

How One Graffiti Artist Raised Tens of Thousands of Dollars for New Orleans Communities Affected by COVID-19

May 25, 2020 By Zach Hollwedel
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New Orleans has been hit hard by COVID-19. Every year, tens of millions of tourists flock to the Big Easy. They come for the culture. They come for the food. They come for the music. Since mid-March, just a few short weeks after Mardi Gras, when the pandemic sent the world into lockdown, they haven't come.

New Orleans is resilient, though, and the music hasn't stopped. Take a walk around the Bywater or Marigny neighborhoods, and you'll hear a piano echo out of a house. Cast your eyes up to a balcony, and you'll see a trumpeter playing to no one and everyone simultaneously. At the end April and beginning of May, when Jazz Fest normally draws dozens of acclaimed artists and a half a million audience members for a seven-day outdoor music festival, New Orleanians Jazz Fested-in place, blasting WWOZ and playing intimate sidewalk concerts. And on Frenchmen Street, one of the city's go-to destinations for live, nightly music, a curious sight appeared a month ago - a drive through, open-air graffiti art gallery paying homage to the city's musical heritage.

COVID LouisWhen local artist, Josh Wingerter, went to get his morning coffee one day from Who Dat Café, which was boarded up and only offering take out services, he asked if he could use the plywood window coverings as canvases. "I was going to do some local icons and throw a little COVID twist on it," Wingerter said. "I thought it would be cool, something for everyone to look at." He painted James Booker holding a sign that reads "6 ft, y'all" and Louis Armstrong wearing hospital gloves with an N95 mask on the end of his trumpet.

The art was an instant hit. Wingerter thought, "I'll go out and paint as much stuff as I can... I went back on Frenchmen and started painting a few pieces, and then business owners started coming out and asking if I would be okay painting on their locations." And from there, it took off. Residents, long confined to their homes, played tourist in their own city and drove, biked, and walked down Frenchmen Street (always six feet apart, always wearing masks) to admire the stencils spray-painted on the boarded up windows of The Spotted Cat and Blue Nile and a dozen other venues and restaurants.

Before long, Wingerter estimates, he had done over 100 paintings in 13 days on businesses along Frenchmen and in the French Quarter. "There was all this demand for these pieces, and this wasn't supposed to be a monetary thing. This was supposed to be something... for the community." Yet, more and more people were reaching out to ask how they could buy some of his work. So he thought, "Let's get creative for how we can help other people." Wingerter reached out to business owners he know, and collectively, they came up with the idea for a pop-up charity art sale. He told them, "I want to paint pieces live, and you can sell them off however you want." As Wingerter explains, "Each one of those individual groups had already started programs helping out around the city. I was just piggybacking and giving them more funds" to do the things they were doing.

Wingerter scheduled three separate outdoor events; at each, he committed to making 60 plywood pieces, ranging from 2'x2' to 4'x8'. Lowes donated the wood, and Wingerter got to work. He hoped there would be enough interest to do a little good in the community. By the end of the third day, sales of his work had raised over $37,000 for various organizations. Yet, demand for his plywood pieces remained as high as ever. Wingerter's collaborators connected him with Roots of Music, suggesting the local organization would be a good fit for another of his pop-up art events, and soon, a fourth sale was on the calendar.

Work In Progress

Founded in 2007 in response to the lack of music education programs for students aged 9 to 14 in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, Roots of Music creates a safe, after school space for at risk students, providing free transportation to its year round programming, which includes instrumental music education, academic tutoring, and hot meals. "Music is life to the city of New Orleans. It brings joy; it helps people cope with pain. It brings discipline," explains Morgan Stewart, Chief Programs Officer at Roots of Music. "In an inner-city like New Orleans, there's a lot that goes on, good and bad. Music is a way for people to connect and communicate and to get through all of the tough times and all of the beautiful times. With Roots of Music starting [students] so young, we can instill all of those principles from an early age."

The more Wingerter read about the organization and its programming, the more he was drawn to Roots of Music. "I listen to music constantly. I do music, like most [people] do television. I probably listen to six to eight hours of music a day... It's also a style of art that I tried and was not good at... You really have an appreciation for it, when you hear others do it well." Wingerter, his team, and staff from The Roots of Music spent Wednesday, May 20th selling off the fourth round of 60 pieces of plywood art. The partnership was another major success, raising over $10,000, all of which will go toward programming to support Roots of Music's 100-plus current students. As Wingerter notes, "Music is magic," and his collaboration with Roots of Music ensures that the band will play on, long after COVID-19.

Josh Wingerter Art

Follow @Joshua_Wingerter on Instagram for updates on any potential future pop-up art events. For his available inventory, including limited edition prints of his COVID Louis and James Booker designs, go to his site.

Click here to learn more about or to support Roots of Music.


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