Cultural-health-education-programs-find-home-with-Guardians-Institutes-new-building

Cultural, health, education programs find home with Guardians Institute's new building

Herreast Harrison keeps pinching herself. A longtime dream is coming alive in her backyard in the Upper 9th Ward. Tulane City Center students are beginning to build a dedicated space for Mardi Gras Indian performances, cooking demonstrations, and classes on reading and health.

The one-story structure is slated for completion in February, ending decades of shuffling between homes and other organizations’ meeting spaces.

The Guardians Institute, an organization focused on preserving African-American cultural arts and promoting literacy, was awarded a $50,000 grant in 2010 through the City Center to design and construct the structure. Named after Harrison’s late husband, Donald Harrison Sr., a Big Chief for multiple Mardi Gras Indian tribes, the building is the first physical manifestation of his passions for the community, the wife said.

“It’s not big,” Harrison said. “But we’ll have something physical, a physical facility to denote what we’re doing here.”

The building’s two main components are an indoor classroom and an outdoor performance space and stage. In those areas, Harrison said she hopes to have regular health-focused community programs for adults and children, such as exercise groups, healthy food presentations and tobacco-free living education.
It was these programs and goals that Tulane architecture students and faculty said they kept in mind when designing the structure.

“The enjoyable part will be when we start seeing this thing built,” said Natan Diacon-Furtado of Tennessee, a first year architecture graduate student at Tulane.

Working within the community to meet organizations’ needs and promote the importance of New Orleans to the rest of the nation is why Scott Ruff moved south from New York.

“They need the physical infrastructure to expand their program,” said Ruff, an associate professor of architecture at Tulane who is leading the Guardians Institute project with fellow professor Seth Welty.

Eventually Harrison and her family, who run the institute, want to expand the site into a campus that includes a museum. For now, though, Harrison is enjoying the moment.

“I’m just so thankful and amazed,” Harrison said. “It’s my passion to do this because my husband had a passion for the culture and education.”

To learn about the Guardians Institute, click here.
For information about the City Center, visit tulanecitycenter.org.

Naomi King, Tulane PRC Staff
September 2011

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