Zurik: Port of New Orleans shells out $50,000 for painting not easily accessible by the public

The agency spent $31,500 to purchase the painting and another $18,500 for installation

Zurik: Port of New Orleans shells out $50,000 for painting not easily accessible by the public

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A new piece of art has gone up in the Port of New Orleans’ offices costing the agency more than some of its employees make in a year.

The piece of art, Mural of The Port of New Orleans circa 1850s by Pierre-Marie Rudelle, was purchased by the port in 2019 and installed this year on the fourth floor of their headquarters located on the edge of the Mississippi River. The artist was commissioned by a New Orleans couple in 1993 to paint the mural in their Royal Street home.

The painting was appraised for $35,000, but sold to the port for $31,500. The port paid an additional $18,500 to transport and install the 19-foot-long mural into the fourth floor, adjacent to the executive offices, boardroom and coffee room.

The port said the artwork was purchased to ‘welcome visitors’ but on a trip to the offices, a FOX 8 crew found it is not easily accessible.

“I haven’t been in there period. In 70 years I haven’t set foot in there and I guarantee 90%+ of the state population hasn’t either,” Certified Public Accountant Patrick Lynch said.

After waiting in the lobby for more than ten minutes, we had to be escorted to the fourth floor by a port employee.

“That’s our money, the citizens of Louisiana’s money,” Lynch said.

On its website, the Port says its mission is “to drive regional economic prosperity by maximizing the flow of international trade and commerce as a modern gateway.”

“I don’t understand how that mural helps them accomplish that goal,” Lynch said.

Port records also show the agency with an operating loss each of the last three fiscal years: -$5 Million in 2019, -$6 Million in 2018 and -$9 Million in 2017.

“So why do you go spend $50,000 for cosmetics -- I don’t consider that prudent,” Lynch said. “I don’t believe any private entity would spend that kind of money for artwork if it doesn’t directly help them achieve their profit goals.”

A Port of New Orleans spokesperson initially said they would not be available for an interview when we showed up to see the mural in-person. After that, a port employee called and scheduled an interview with FOX 8′s Lee Zurik for Thursday morning. However, 90 minutes before the interview, the port official cancelled the interview.

Instead, the port sent the following statement:

The Port acquired the mural, Port of New Orleans, using funds from our budget, for its artistic depiction of New Orleans’ bustling maritime riverfront in the mid-nineteenth century. All procurement rules were followed and the purchase price was below appraised value.

The port said the mural showcases the racially-diverse population of the city. The New Orleanians we talked to said it’s all a waste of public money.

“Fifty-thousand to decorate a wall?” one man asked. “When you see that kind of abuse it’s ridiculousness.”

“That’s some bulls***,” another man said.

“It’s just government waste is all it is,” Another person said.

“I have a lot of friends that are artists -- I think that’s outrageous,” one woman said.

Lynch said the port should have spent the public money in a more-wise manner.

“These people have a fiduciary responsibility to manage that money and spend it wisely,” Lynch said. “If you can show me that painting helps them generate economic prosperity in the tri-parish area -- good, I’m open to it. I can’t see how that does.”

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