New Orleans is known for its sultry jazz and tasty po-boys, but it’s also developing a reputation as a center for modern and contemporary design. This was particularly evident when I was in the Big Easy this past weekend judging the first annual Billes Product Design Competition (which attracted entrants from across the United States as well as both the Atlantic and Pacific).

I was part of the final judging and awards presentation at the two-year-old Design Within Reach showroom in the city’s funky Magazine Street neighborhood, I stayed at the W New Orleans which (along with the W French Quarters) opened in 2000, and I caught a glimpse of the city’s first biennial, Prospect.1.

Prospect.1, a free admission art show that spans the city (in over 20 locations that add up to over 100,000 square feet of exhibition space), was conceived and curated by Dan Cameron, who accepted the position of visual arts director of the New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center in 2007 after visiting the devastated city shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. The goal of Prospect.1 is to reinvigorate the city by creating "an entirely new category of tourism for the city on the growing American interest in contemporary art."

The biennial consists of instillations and work by 81 artists from 39 countries, such as Paul Villinski’s repurposed FEMA-style trailer titled Emergency Response Studio and Alexandre Arrechea’s Mississippi Bucket. The show opened November 1 and runs through January 18, 2009, with free guided tours and shuttle buses throughout its run. For more information, visit


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