Zurik: Port of New Orleans decides to move mural after FOX 8 report, employees concerns

Zurik Mural Update

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A mural that cost the Port of New Orleans (Port NOLA) thousands to purchase and even more to install will be coming down following employee concerns, according to a memo from the agency’s CEO obtained by FOX 8 News. FOX 8′s Lee Zurik first reported the cost of the 19-foot-wide mural which was installed in January on the fourth floor of the Port of New Orleans headquarters along the banks of the Mississippi River.

The piece of art, Mural of The Port of New Orleans circa 1850s by Pierre-Marie Rudelle, was purchased by the port in 2019. Rudelle was originally commissioned in 1993 by a New Orleans couple to paint the mural for their Royal Street home.

When the painting was put up for sale it was originally appraised for $35,000, but it was sold to the Port of New Orleans for $31,500. Port NOLA paid an additional $18,500 to transport and install the mural into the fourth floor, adjacent to the executive offices, boardroom and coffee room.

The mural was tucked away in a spot where it is not easily accessible to the public, whose money was used to purchase the painting. During a visit to the Port NOLA offices, we had to wait several minutes in the lobby and be escorted to the mural by port staff, due to security issues.

In an e-mail to Port NOLA employees on Monday, February 3, President and CEO Brandi Christian said, “Our purpose was to honor our maritime industry’s fundamental historic importance to the region’s growth, inclusive of everyone’s contributions.”

Christian said that some employees had concerns about the mural “that are inconsistent with that commitment to inclusivity.”

In the memo to staff, Port NOLA said it has since been in discussion with the Louisiana Office of Culture, Recreation and Tourism to give the painting as a contribution to a larger exhibit on maritime activity on the Mississippi River. The state office, headed by Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, confirmed that they met with the Port of New Orleans on Saturday, February 1.

They said that the painting will be moved to the Cabildo Museum in the French Quarter.

Port NOLA said they will retain ownership with a “long-term loan to the Cabildo.”

The port maintained in their description of the mural that it depicts ‘Free People of Color.’ However, some New Orleanians we asked about the painting interpreted it differently.

“It shows bringing in imported goods, also looks like slave trade going on,” One man said. He said he does not view the people in the mural as being ‘free.'

The description of the painting said the Free People of Color had significant status in New Orleans during the 1850s. The city had 12,000 by 1830 and eventually more Free People of Color lived in New Orleans than in the rest of the country combined, according to the artwork summary.

But according to Molly Mitchell, co-director of the Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies at the University of New Orleans, that’s not true.

She said that in 1830 the rest of the country had nearly 300,000 Free People of Color.

In the memo to port employees on Monday, Christian wrote, “I and the rest of the Port leadership team did not intend to be insensitive in any way and have decided to relocate the piece as the best path forward.”

Port NOLA spent $50,000 of public money on a mural that will now be moved to a museum.

“I don’t think any private entity would spend that much on artwork if it doesn’t allow them to achieve profit goals," Certified Public Accountant Patrick Lynch said.

While the mural will be in a far-more public location - it will again have to be moved which will come at a cost. The cost to disassemble the painting, transport it and re-assemble it cost nearly $20,000. An estimate on this move is not known at this time, however, we are told they ‘hope’ to not use public money to transport the mural to its new historical home.

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