On July 29, 2005, I packed my bags and boarded a plane to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I began my new life as an English teacher in a land where I knew no one nor the language. Exactly one month later, I watched the television in horror, feeling helpless, as I sat alone on the other side of the world.
Hurricane Katrina fundamentally changed my path. After teaching for a year, I decided to stay in Thailand as word trickled to me from friend that ‘She wasn’t back yet,’ ‘She’ being New Orleans. I didn’t know how to help my people, the people of New Orleans, so I threw myself into helping those in other lands.
I spent almost 6 years abroad in 12 countries, ‘helping’ others, embarrassed that I did not know how to help my own. I farmed, taught English and studied foreign art techniques, saved sea turtles, delivered school supplies to remote villages, learned languages and saw the world.
I was terrified of the stories I heard from home, that ‘New Orleans would never be the same’ were true. I came back to NOLA each time I visited my family, borrowing my grandmother’s car to make the 6 hour drive so that I could be here, even if only for 24 hours, to see if I still felt the pulse that drew me there 15 years ago.
In January 2009, I returned again for a visit. It was the year the Saints were headed to the Super Bowl. That is when I felt it; the City was alive. Finally she was back, or at least well on her way. I was still living in South America out of a backpack, but I began plotting my return home. I began visiting more frequently. I fell in love, with a man and with New Orleans all over again.
It took me a year, but in 2010, I boarded another plane bound from Ecuador to New Orleans, and like that, I was back. I did not know my place in rebuilding, but I knew it was deeply rooted in fostering culture. In all of my travels, the one thing that rang true is that there really is no place in the world like New Orleans.
As an artist who studied business, I rebuilt my art career and began consulting others on how to do the same. A chance meeting with Catherine Todd at a festival, changed it all. Where Y’Art was born.
Where Y’art is my role in the rebuilding process. I know my place. I know my purpose. And in all of that, I know myself. People often ask, “Are you from New Orleans?” To that I reply, “I am not from here, but I am of here.” This City made me the woman I am today, and I will work diligently to protect Her and see Her thrive. – Collin Ferguson #MyX