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George Marks wakes up Louisiana and France

George Marks is a 44 years old american artist. He lives in Louisiana, at Arnaudville. As the founder of a collective called NUNU, he celebrates the cultural diversity. Consequence? NUNU creates an economic model from the bottom-up in its closest surroundings, in Louisiana which still have very present french roots.

George is an artist. A visual artist, as he says. Visual, for whom is watching, his actions follow the speech. He is a handyman : he makes his fingers strechting, twisting in order to form unusual ways. George is like that : he does not let anything for tomorrow but gives everything for today, two people, two days, two communities, the whole world. He transfers the call without asking to hold on ; he goes, never alone. Because when you are a team member, you are stronger.

Neither politicians nor anybody wanted to see

As a young artist, George lived thirteen years one hour away from Arnaudville, his little town of Louisiana where his family lives. In 2004, his father got sick. George moved back to his home-town for a little while and realized that « it was where I needed to be ». The sideways of Arnaudville were walked only by drugs dealers, the buildings was increasingly abandoned : « the city was dying ». Then, George, his friends and family decided to... Walk. To go shopping on the streets.

George put his hands on his eyes : « Neither politicians nor anybody wanted to see. They were saying : " there is no drug problems, there is no waste trashes in the bayous (typical trees from Arnaudville)… Nothing, the town is clean !" What we did is that we formed a network of people. » As a reaction to the general apathy, they alerted the police about the drug dealers : « Our police department were also saying there is no problem, because they did not get any complaints. We said huh, if complaints is what you need, complaints is what we will give ! » If one person would see a drug deal, everyone would call. Ten people. They have three polices departments, three governments : « Ten people calling all three polices. No one can ignore this » smiles George, with sparkle in the eyes.

The goal : reclaiming the town

Now that the drugs dealers were displaced, they needed to assemble skills for « reclaiming » the town : « We looked at what musicians lived in the area. We started things together, focusing only on Saturdays and Sundays. The idea was to allow the week to be a time when we would focus on making art or work. » For making the city centre attractive, they decided to create cultural initiatives, supported by the tourist office which was desperate. The collective was named NUNU. It was right before Katrina, occured in August 2005. George remembers : « Katrina played a huge role, in Louisiana. Before, there was no connexion between New-Orleans, Lafayette, Baton-Rouge. If something happened there, it was there. So, Katrina took everything and shook it up. It was terrible. It forced people to move. However, it forced people to have a new way of thinking. It exposed them to other cultures, to new things.». It caused a person from the french conciliate to visit NUNU. Fascinated by their initiatives, she stayed « six hours instead of one », says George proudly.

Using what is available

Another whirlpool seizes Arnaudville. A constructing one, this time. George takes a paper sheet. He makes the list of different sections in capital letters : Education, Politic, Business, Civilian (artists included) : « In fact, creating diverse groups of organizations of people. We knew that if it were only just artists, just business or just government, it would fail it all. » The movement of reclaiming the city is about people recovering their surroundings with energy : « Using what is it available, what is it on the ground, using the territory. We can create what we want, Art is happening anywhere, everywhere. So, you can't use the excuse : " I don't have the right paint, the right education, the right studio…" It is just doing. It is all about the process. »

« We know French people who do the same thing you do »

On the territory of Louisiana, the roots are tangled up : Cajun, Creole, Native... The communities live next to each other, NUNU makes them know each other. For example, by the way of french culture : the association « la Table française » organizes meals where you speak french. The « Coudre points » organizes knitting sessions. The bayous are back in the proud hearts of the inhabitants and become a source of admiration for the tourists. And, one day, Philippe Aldon, from the french consulate in Louisiana, contacted George : « We know French people who do the same thing you do ». The « Articulteurs », in Redon on whom we made a reportage (in french). For George, the « Articulteurs », is difficult to pronounce but very easy to contact.

Love at first sight between the two collectives

The visit of the Americans in Redon was love at first sight between the two collectives. They shared ideas, projects, energy… The french « Articulteurs » found its alter echo. The partnership helped the Americans to validate them in Louisiana : « We wanted the politicians in Louisiana to see what was going on. That was real. » In 2012, NUNU participated in the seasonal event of Peillac, a french village of 2000 inhabitants. In Arnaudville, they created la Semaine française. In Redon, october 2013, the annual party of la Bogue d'Or was dedicated to Louisiana. No twin-town partnership, just a real sharing. The Bayoust, a beer they prepare in common, is expected for April 2014. The french ambassy in New-York supports NUNU. The francophile roots emerges from the ground.

The origin of NUNU

George's father is involved a lot in the story of NUNU. This shy man travelled the oceans and the seas as a boat captain. When George was a kid, he was coming back home with VHS videos that he bought in foreign countries : « Instead of buying a souvenir-trinkets, he was bringing cultural things made by people. So, I did not realize that it would have such a huge impact on me and what would happened. » At the beginning, the small collective consisted of friends and family : Nunu is the nickname George's father. And George looks alike his father.

It is a « sum of parts »

With the success, the NUNU collective travels the ocean without loosing the course. NUNU found another meaning when a little boy pointed his fingers to George : « Nounours ! ». The lack of hair on George' skull forms two teddybear's ears. George laughes with tenderness. The little kid was right... Then, after a serious work done by university students, the name of the collective found all its meaning in the diversity of culture and people. It is a « sum of parts » explains George. Visually, NUNU is drawn as piece of a channel. George crosses his fingers, unites his hands. Everything is here, everything was there, since the beginning.

Thank you for helping me, helping you, helping me, helping you...

The multiplication of knowledges comes from the addition of skills. Is that logical? George defines the dynamic  : « Instead of seeing how different we are, we look at how similar we are. What is our common ground. Then, we celebrate the differences, not seeing them in a negative way . (…) We are stronger because of it. I am a better person because I know you and you are a better person because you know me. Thank you for helping me, helping you, helping me, helping you... This is how it works. It is constant. »

Who goes far, does not go necessarily further

Who goes far, does not go necessarily further. George happily approves : « As an artist, I was felt that the next obvious move would be to go to a much bigger city like New-York or Los Angeles. But moving back to Arnaudville made me realize that it was where I wanted to be. Where I can have a much bigger impact. » But still, a network is easier to create in a big town, isn't it ? George shakes his head : « I think it is the contrary. In smaller communities, they can throw a pebble and the ripple continue in much more place. Into the ocean, in California, it does “splash” in the waves, and goes directly to the sea. »

Some pebbles, George has many. His sweet laughter embraces his anecdotes. His look in the corner highlights his surprise to be there, in those impressive networks, buildings dreams and relationships. He whispers his conspiracies, naming people, brands and future local products. His base is solid, the energy to fly is contagious. Once launched, no one can stop him.

Violette Goarant

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