Waveland's Ground Zero Museum Under New Director
- story and photos by Ana Balka
In Waveland’s Ground Zero museum one Saturday in June, several people examine a photo display that runs the length of the old school building’s central hall. The photos and text describe hurricane Katrina’s approach, landfall, and the resulting devastation here. A thick blue line also runs the hall’s length at door-top level: a high water mark.
Above the waterline, also spanning the length of the hall on both sides, hangs a stunning collection of 55 quilts, each with its own graphically unique design quite unlike typical quilt patterns. These are fabric paintings depicting aspects of the hurricane: naked pier pilings, broken bricks, a tree-void landscape.
Talk of the Town
Museum volunteer and Waveland resident Carol Kerr says that in the weeks since the museum’s reopening visitors have reacted positively and sometimes emotionally to the museum’s collection of photos, art, and artifacts, which paint a distinctive portrait of Waveland before, during, and after Katrina.
The brainchild of local civic leaders Basil Kennedy and Lili Stahler Murphy, Waveland’s Ground Zero Museum first opened in August 2013. Funding and space issues stalled a stable schedule, and following a successful 10-year Katrina commemoration at the museum in August 2015, the doors closed for administrative reorganization until May 27 of this year.
The museum is housed in the old Waveland School, the last historic building left standing on Coleman Avenue after Katrina, and which underwent massive renovation beginning in 2000 and following the storm.
This is a facet ofnew director Kathy Pinn’s long-range vision for the Ground Zero Museum building as a gathering place: a place that builds community, as well as being a center for learning about the storm, about Waveland history, and about what makes Waveland such a special place.
Pinn has long fostered community in Waveland. A former president of both the Coleman Avenue Coalition and the Waveland Community Coalition (and incidentally a M.A.P. co-founder), Pinn and her husband Ron are moving back to Waveland after five years in Illinois specifically to get back to the home they love, and for Kathy to assume her role as museum director.
Pinn says that the dozens of museum visitors in its first month have included residents of 15 other states, some who had never been to the area, some post-Katrina volunteers. For locals, touring the museum can be cathartic.
“Seeing the waterline, seeing the pictures on the wall, then the H.C. Porter exhibit, it’s very moving,” Pinn says.
“Backyards and Beyond” is a multimedia exhibit by artist H.C. Porter and collaborators Karole Sessums and Gretchen Haien. Porter and Sessums photographed and recorded hundreds of Mississippians in the year following Katrina, creating a nationally touring exhibit that features Porter’s mixed media paintings and accompanying audio in which the portraits’ subjects express the reality of displacement and loss through their own stories.
The room feels chapel-like, bringing human shape to the unspeakable. I can see how it might uncover long-buried emotions in those who survived the storm.
Many displays in the Waveland Room represent steps toward healing. There are binders with hundreds of handwritten, individual “Storm Stories” by survivors that visitors can thumb through, and throughout the room there are photo collages, quilts, signed shirts, and other outpourings of love from well-wishers and volunteers around the country.
A large cardboard “Gratitude Tree” stands covered in names and quotes. I photograph volunteer Carol next to her own words about home being wherever she is, because she cannot go home. In a corner, an assemblage by mixed media artist Lori Gordon depicts the clothes that hung from trees after the storm.
I asked Pinn about an ornate gold and sequined gown that stands alone. She said it is an original Krewe of Nereids maid’s outfit from the first Nereids Ball in 1966, and is just the first item in a planned exhibit detailing Krewe of Nereids’ history.
Krewe of Nereids was born on Coleman Avenue, in the Waveland Drugstore. The drugstore, a community hub, closed a couple of years before Pinn moved to Waveland, but that building was where Pinn later opened her own store, a gift shop called That Cute Little Shoppe. The building and her store died in Katrina, but the inspiration for creating a community hub did not.
With “From the Ground Up,” an exhibit showing Waveland’s accomplishments and growth since the storm, Pinn will bring home the museum’s community-building mission.