The Purpose of the Project

New Orleans above ground cemeteries are at serious risk through physical deterioration and loss of historical character. A new approach to the care and management of them as cultural landscapes is urgently needed to make better informed decisions regarding their preservation and long-term development.

Participants

The Graduate School of Fine Arts Collaborative Studio was developed in conjunction with Save our Cemeteries, Inc., the Archdiocesan Cemeteries of New Orleans, the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Fine Arts Departments of Historic Preservation and Landscape Architecture, and Tulane University's School of Architecture/Preservation Studies beginning in September of 2000.

Objectives of the project

  • develop a model conservation plan for New Orleans's early cemeteries
  • offer education and training on methodologies employed in this effort
  • initiate public outreach activities to publicize the results

Project Info

The Collaborative Studio sought to develop a model conservation plan through documentation, recording, and analysis of this urban landscape and its context over time.

The Dead Space Project Addresses Many Issues

In addition to architectural analysis and the physical restoration of the tombs, the project addressed issues of past and contemporary meanings and associations of these places as cultural urban landscapes, and  related aspects of use, abandonment, ritual, and preservation of such necrogeographies.

Tourism

The early Creole above ground cemeteries of New Orleans, long appreciated and promoted as historic sites, as well as traditional burial places, are currently experiencing renewed popularity through heritage tourism. Yet with this revived interest, have come commercialization, overzealous restoration and opportunistic vandalism, in addition to existing neglect and abandonment. As a result, many of these sites are now at serious risk through loss of physical integrity and historical character, as well as changing social and cultural contexts.

2-phase documentation and conservation project

A 2-phase documentation and conservation project focusing on St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 was developed by the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Fine Arts Departments of Historic Preservation and Landscape Architecture with Tulane University's School of Architecture/Preservation Studies in conjunction with Save our Cemeteries, Inc. and the Roman Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Funding was provided by grants from the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation, Office of Cultural Development, and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Model Conservation Plan

A model conservation plan was developed through the documentation, recordation, and analysis of this urban cemetery landscape and its context through time, using visual mapping and surveys of the cemetery, coupled with the development of practical conservation guidelines for the care and maintenance of these unusual necrogeographies and their features (e.g., tombs, paths, vegetation, etc.). To accurately document this site, historical changes in boundaries, design, and use were recorded and visualized. Central to the project has been the utilization of digital technology to link archival maps, images, and text with current field survey information in a robust database, coupled with Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping to provide descriptive and analytical tools for communication, decision-making, and management. Today, these results are in use by professionals and community members as they make decisions and guide the conservation efforts funded by a separate "Save America's Treasures" grant.

By focusing on the immediate practical and long-range management issues of these unique sites, it is hoped that other less obvious but no less important considerations responsible for the creation and evolution of these places can be addressed. Through the benefit of a multi-disciplinary approach and the use of GIS, various aspects of the cemetery have been explored including the physical evolution of the site over time and the mapping of cultural influences (Spanish, French, Anglo-American, African) on tomb location, type, and style. Existing conditions and treatment recommendations have been studied through the construction and manipulation of relational datasets. Also addressed is the role of past invented histories and tourist development in the decline and revival of New Orleans's historic cemeteries. Such concerns are related to the larger cultural questions of the 'construction of identity' and the 'invention of tradition' which have been of interest to public historians, anthropologists, and preservationists in understanding people's changing relationships to specific sites. For preservation, these issues beg renewed consideration of such places as social constructs, rather than only as designed entities, both necessary for the continued use and preservation of these places as unique culturally-defining elements for New Orleans and the region.