FEWER THAN 10 PEOPLE are on staff at Prospect New Orleans. An addition to the small team was just announced. Jennifer M. Williams is joining the citywide triennial of contemporary art as deputy director for the public experience. For nearly seven years, Williams served as executive director and curator at McKenna Museum of African-American Art in New Orleans. In her new role, she is in charge of all aspects of visitor experience and public programming for Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, which opens in November.

“During Prospect.3, Jennifer was working at one of our key partner locations, and her collaborative nature, open-mindedness, and optimistic spirit made a lasting impression on me. I have been wanting to welcome her to the Prospect family ever since, so we are all excited to work with her on Prospect.4,” Brooke Davis Anderson, executive director of Prospect New Orleans, said in a statement.

An Atlanta native, Williams has a dual degree in history and art history from Georgia State University. She will work with Trevor Schoonmaker, the artistic director of Propsect.4 who is also chief curator at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

He has already assembled a seven-member advisory council, including artists William Cordova, Wangechi Mutu, Ebony G. Patterson, and curator Zoe Whitley and indicated the geography and history of New Orleans are central to the themes artists will explore during Prospect.4.

“The rich diversity of New Orleans has developed over a long history of colonization, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, waves of migration and displacement, and Gulf Coast trade routes buoyed by the city’s position as the American South’s largest port. Artists in Prospect.4 will explore many of these histories and themes and how they relate to contemporary geographical and cultural settings around the world,” he said.

“The rich diversity of New Orleans has developed over a long history of colonization, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, waves of migration and displacement, and Gulf Coast trade routes buoyed by the city’s position as the American South’s largest port. Artists in Prospect.4 will explore many of these histories and themes.”
— Trevor Schoonmaker, Artistic Director, Prospect.4

In a 2012 interview with the National Endowment for the Arts, Williams was asked how she thought New Orleans culture affects the the production of local art. She said art infuses life in the city.

“I think it’s just a part of life. I’m originally from Atlanta, where art is seen as something that you go and see. Art is a part of life in New Orleans. It is shown in the way Mardi Gras parades are presented, the outfits that people create by hand, the floats that are created during Mardi Gras, the poster contest for different artists around the world to create visual representations of their crew for that year,” she said.

“There are “second line” parades here, which are celebrations of an individual’s life. So we have the jazz funeral, and then after the jazz funeral people go out into the streets. The “first line” is people who are part of the family, but [the revelers who follow them] are called the “second line” because anyone in the city can join in… They’re basically street parades or processions that include music, that include dance, that include social aid and pleasure clubs… I could be in the museum like I am today and a second line could go by and [I] could join in—they become larger as time passes.”

Williams continued: “I think that when a child grows up in that environment, they are able to see that art is a part of life. It becomes a natural progression for people to decide if they want to participate in music, in visual art, in culinary arts. I find that remarkable, that you can go out on any given weekend and see art being made, see music being made. To me, it’s reminiscent of an Afro-centric viewpoint that art is functional, and that it’s a part of your life in your home, in your spiritual life, in your community life. It’s a part of everything.”

“I find that remarkable, that you can go out on any given weekend and see art being made, see music being made. To me, it’s reminiscent of an Afro-centric viewpoint that art is functional, and that it’s a part of your life.”
— Jennifer M. Williams

More than 70 artists from around the world are participating in Prospect.4 in venues located throughout the city. The list of artists is expected to be released in May. CT