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Artists from away: graNOLA

In early January Nola.com hosted a live chat about whether or not New Orleans is a good place for young people to begin a career and a life. The discussion, which prompted over 200 reader comments, originally began as a response to two opinion pieces on the subject, one of which was entitled “Why I chose to live in New Orleans,” by guest-writer Sally Hartman.

As a twenty-something laying down roots in this city, Hartman took the pro-Nola stance in this discussion,  saying that it was the creative openness that first drew her to live here. “[New Orleans] has a longstanding tradition of welcoming artists, thinkers, and iconoclasts who set the precedent for creative risk taking,” she wrote.

So who are these artists and creative thinkers? And why have they chosen to live here? With these questions in mind, NolaVie will be running interviews that will profile the young artists who have been attracted to New Orleans and who help add to the creative authenticity of this city.

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Sometimes producing art takes a little help from friends. For recent Tulane grads Maddie Futrell, Lauren Rouatt, Rocky Rudov and Emily Swietilk, this is the idea behind Grassroots New Orleans, or graNOLA -- a female artists collective that makes affordable, sustainable art from found objects with a lot of New Orleans inspiration. bOObeads,their beaded bra tops made of "up-cycled" vintage beads, are already a hit for Mardi Gras 2014; the women even recently held a workshop at The Green Project to teach others how to craft their own bOObeads.

They work together to stay motivated, share ideas and challenges, and make a profit from their collaborations. Each lady hails from a  different hometown but has chosen to live and work in New Orleans after college, finding opportunity in the new friendly and artistic supporters they’ve found in the Big Easy. On a sunny weekend before all of the Mardi Gras craziness begins, the ladies took a short break from their bOObeads preparations to talk about getting inspired, selling work, and future goals involving the art markets in New Orleans.

graNOLA artists (from left): Maddie Futrell, Emily Swietilk and Rocky Rudov

graNOLA artists (from left): Maddie Futrell, Emily Swietilk and Rocky Rudov

graNOLA artists:

-Maddie Futrell from Baton Rouge: 24; found-object artist and fisheries biologist for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

-Rocky Rudov from Pittsburg: 24; freelance graphic designer and part-time research assistant

-Emily Swietilk from Chicago: 24; anthropologist and cultural artist

-Lauren Rouatt (not present for the interview) from Westport, CT: 23; studying for her Masters of Art Education at Virginia Commonwealth UNiversity in Richmond, VA

NolaVie: How did you guys get started?

ES: We each have our own art; we’ve all done art for a long time. The idea for the collective was to aimed at providing a space for collaboration. Maddie will design something and we’re like “holy shit, this is great,” and we’ll work off of that [inspiration from her] for a while.

RR: But bOObeads was the first big collaboration we’ve all worked on together.

My art show, this past summer [with RAW at the Eiffel Society], was the first time I produced a lot of work, and it was when I got back into the groove of making art and realized you just have to open up the box and start. So that’s another thing we do for each other -- just say “Let’s make something today.”

ES: And it’s just teamwork. One of my goals for the year is to get better at using power tools. Maddie has a lot of them, so she’s here to help teach me. So we’re teaching each other, which is a huge component of the collective.

MF: I didn’t know how to use power tools before I started this. You just have to jump in. Google it and do it.

graNOLA's bOObeads workshop at The Green Project.

graNOLA's bOObeads workshop at The Green Project.

NolaVie: What are the best parts of working in New Orleans?

MF: The fact that everyone’s always renovating their houses. There are so many unique, antique objects to find and play with.

ES: The Green Project has a great collection of stuff; we do a lot of our supply shopping there. Also, I have never been in a city where there have been so many art markets. One, it’s inspirational. And two, we’re able to make money off of our art by [selling at] these affordable art markets.

MF: Or even just selling on the street. You don’t even need a formal market.

RR: The reason I originally came to Tulane was the friendliness of the city. For artists, I’ve realized that this friendliness is so helpful. You can approach and talk to people [you don’t know]. I have some pieces [selling] in a boutique on Magazine now, and the way I got them in there was by walking in and chatting with the owner. I don’t think this would have happened in New York.

NolaVie: What are some difficulties you’ve found working here?

One of graNOLA's bOObeads tops

One of graNOLA's bOObeads tops

RR: [Laughing] Well, Maddie and I were just saying, “I’m so sick of bOObeads! I want to make other art!” But that’s really what’s going to sell right now with Mardi Gras.

ES: New Orleans is such a grassroots place, because it has to be; because there really isn’t that foundation already set up. Which is also what’s great for young entrepreneurs like us.

But I think one major difficulty is the lack of environmental consciousness here. We’re talking about recycling and a lot of people have no interest. If we want to be working with glass, we’d have to set up our own glass recycling center .

NolaVie: Where else can you imagine living? 

MF: I’d love to go to Portland or somewhere on the West Coast -- just because I’m really in to sustainability and local eating. I’m really into gardening, too, and very green-minded. That’s the one thing I don’t love about the South -- you’re kind of an odd ball for being like that [here].

ES: I could see Austin, or else a nomadic-gypsy lifestyle where I could sell art on the road. Or internationally…

RR: I’m just taking it a day at a time. [Laughs] I’ve always been in to California, but I’ll probably end up back home one day, in Pittsburg.

Elisabeth Morgan writes about New Orleans for NolaVie. Contact her at elisabethsmorgan@gmail.com.