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Mapping Katrina: A dynamic visual documentation of New Orleans before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina.

A panorama of the

A panorama of the "Mapping Katrina" exhibit in the Elzay Gallery at Ohio Northern. (Northern Review photo/Sam Pontarolo)

There have been many exhibits to take place at Ohio Northern University’s Elzay Gallery of Art. The gallery exhibits a wide range of work by artists and designers of invited exhibitions throughout the year; however, Jimmy Wilson’s display isn’t your typical art exhibit. 

Wilson is a Management and Information Systems Professor in The Dicke College of Business at ONU. Wilson’s love for the outdoors pulled him into the field of geography, starting off in archeology and eventually drifting into geography.  

Melissa Eddings, the gallery director and professor of art, encouraged Wilson to develop a dynamic visual gallery of the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, Louisiana. With the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Wilson reflected back on his work from a decade ago.

Actively involved with information systems that were geographic in nature, relying on spatial data, the maps curated by Wilson displayed throughout the exhibit were made with such spatial data in response to Hurricane Katrina with his time working at the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LaDOTD). Hurricane Katrina affected so many different people, and the dynamic visual representation of New Orleans before, during, and after the storm shows how exactly these people were affected.

Wilson recalls working in the cartography section of the LaDOTD in the exhibit, next to the first responder maps.

The manager in the geospatial section asked me Saturday if I would mind coming into headquarters to monitor Hurricane Katrina as it came ashore in the Florida panhandle, which at the time is what everyone believed would happen," Wilson said in an on-campus interview. "I essentially lived at the LaDOTD headquarters for the next three weeks. At first my efforts centered around pumping out first responder maps as fast as I could develop and print them. I didn't even watch the news, I was so busy. And the requests were coming at a fevered pitch from all kinds of organizations and agencies. Everyone needed paper maps with basic roadway and location information. Then efforts turned to damage assessment. Much of what we were doing was new and, at the time, considered cutting-edge in terms of technology and application. It’s so commonplace these days to use remotely sensed imagery to estimate flooded areas and damage. Now, ten years later, even the most ordinary person can do what we were doing, and do it better and easier."

Wilson’s gallery opened October 16 and had received a tremendous response from students, faculty, and the ONU community. “The response to the exhibit has been overwhelming,” Wilson stated. “Everyone I know of my generation and older have had very strong memories of Hurricane Katrina.” 

Wilson’s gallery reminisces on Katrina and all who were affected.

It was a memorable event, one of a handful that will forever bring back memories. The exhibit brings back these memories, and from what I hear reminds them that good did happen in the midst of tragedy and chaos. This was the goal of the exhibit, to emphasize some of the positive aspects of the event, so it’s refreshing to hear that people get it.”

Wilson went on to emphasize that as members of the ONU academic community we are in such a great community and that he actively encourages his students to attend as many events as possible.

Every academic year, artists, specialists, and scientists visit our university and perform and share their experiences with us, without fear of censorship or public reprisal. Our ability to take advantage of these events dramatically decreases after we graduate and move beyond the university. Ultimately, I have found that these experiences have helped shape me for the better and, in many cases, helped define me. I encourage my students to pack in as many of these events as they can.”

Wilson’s “Mapping Katrina” exhibit is open through the end of the term, December 19, and can be viewed weekdays from 1:30 pm-4:30 pm in Ohio Northern University’s Elzay Gallery of Art. 

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