The Joan Mitchell Center, $12.5 million artist retreat, a post-Katrina gift

The Joan Mitchell Center, $12.5 million artist retreat, a post-Katrina gift
Joan Mitchell Center, the 8,000-square ft. studio space designed by New Orleans architect Lee Ledbetter // © Doug MacCash

The face of the center is the 1790s mansion that houses offices, a kitchen and guest rooms. Nearby, the former Indigo restaurant, at the corner of North Rocheblave Street, has been converted into a meeting room and gallery space. Beside the former restaurant, several small cottages have been converted to dormitories and utility areas, with a broad, covered back porch. Architect Jonathan Tate designed the renovations to the existing historic buildings.

But the centerpiece of the new institution is mostly hidden from the street. Over the past months, a long, lean, L-shaped building with an aggressive shark’s tooth roofline has risen at the back of the joined properties. The elegant $4 million, 8,000-square-foot structure, designed by architect Lee Ledbetter and Associates, houses the sort of spacious studios most artists only dream of.

The triangular windows cut into each of the building’s “teeth” allow artist-preferred northern sunlight into the 10 studios. Extra horizontal skylights and halos of track lighting complete the brilliant interior lighting. From the polished concrete floors to the slatted plywood ceilings in the halls, the ecologically efficient studio building is an industrial chic gem.

Vertical wires will someday support vines to help soften the appearance of glassed-in lobby entrance of the building. Artists will walk to their work across a small bridge that traverses a pebbled rainwater basin meant to reduce runoff. The small outdoor swimming pool is just a few steps away. Palm trees rustle in the wind, bees circulate among the passion flowers, lizards scamper along pathways. []