In the heart of downtown Biloxi sits View Marche, an historic park and walk district that is PERFECT for retail shops, bars, live music, live art, and nightlife- except that it sits practically abandoned. For no obvious reason.
I've never understood why the area wasn't flooded with shops, bars, music, cafes, and galleries. The location is great- about a block from the beach and casinos, so it's in walking distance for tourists. It's close to the Ohr O'Keefe museum of art (designed by world renowned architect Frank Gehry.) A tour train runs through at least twice a day, while guides describe the rich history of the area. It's right across the street from the brand new Coast Transit Authority bus station. It's right across the bridge from hip/artsy Ocean Springs.
I'm not sure if the shops moved out first, or if people just stopped frequenting the area, but at one time, it was apparently a bustling area. Before Hurricane Katrina swept through, there was a vintage book store, a few bars, a coffee shop/deli or two, but it still never seemed to hit its full potential.
One of the buildings in Vieux Marche is the old Kress Building. It was originally an old department store, erected in 1925. It was used off and on (with some renovation occurring the 1990, I believe) but nothing seemed to stick. After Hurricane Katrina it sat abandoned, until real estate developer Charles (Chase) Taylor snatched it up, and together with Angie Molyneaux (Gallery 782) they hatched a plan to transform the building into an outdoor gallery.
For over a year, Angie had been dreaming of livening up the area with outdoor art. She pitched the idea to Chase, and he graciously agreed to let artists use the old Kress building as an outdoor gallery while renovations were taking place on the inside. Chase and Angie tracked down over 20 young artists to paint murals on the ugly particle board that was currently covering the huge windows. With this group they formed a collective called Art Can Change Everything (which we lovingly refer to as ACCE.) I was lucky enough to be included in this group of artists, and it has been one of the best experiences of my life.
We had meetings. LOTS of meetings. We didn't tell anyone our plan- just the few of us involved. We planned for weeks- they arranged to get lifts, scaffolding, lights, music. We divvied up boards, and all planned out what we would paint. We trudged out to the building as night fell on Friday, October 19th, brushes, paint, spray paint, duct tape, and wheatpaste in hand. We stayed up for hours painting in the middle of the night- equipment beeping, music blaring, people laughing, sharing paint. Unexpected visitors dropping by to see what the hell we were all up to in the middle of the night.
We worked this way for three days. At any given time SOMEONE was at the building. Artists were still arriving at 2am, 5am, 12pm. We just worked and hung out as a community, and the space was filled with life. It was SO amazing.
I think I only got about 6 hours of sleep in three whole days, but it was worth it, and I would do it all over again- and I suspect we will.