The 2019 ACHP/HUD Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation was presented at the ACHP business meeting on November 7, 2019, to the Bell Artspace Campus, which restored and transformed an early 1900s high school campus into housing for low- and moderate-income artists and cultural workers, as well as space for small nonprofit and creative organizations.
For more than 100 years, the two-block Andrew J. Bell Junior High School campus anchored New Orleans’ Tremé neighborhood as a place for education, music training, and cultural development. Tremé is not only one of America's oldest African-American neighborhoods, but was also the site of significant economic, cultural, political, social, and legal events that have shaped American history for the past two centuries. The Bell campus site housed a school and was a cornerstone of the thriving Tremé neighborhood. The school originally opened its doors in 1904 as the all-girls St. Joseph’s Academy High School and Sisters of St. Joseph Convent. In 1954, the school was renamed Andrew J. Bell Junior High School. The five-building Bell School campus was abandoned following Hurricane Katrina, and for more than a decade, the buildings sat empty and began to deteriorate.
In 2012, Artspace, a nonprofit real estate developer, saw the Bell school site as an opportunity to rejuvenate Tremé's cultural infrastructure while renewing, restoring, and refurbishing a vacant, dilapidated campus to a vibrant cultural hub. In February 2015, the Housing Authority of New Orleans voted to allow the agency to purchase the former Andrew J. Bell Junior High School from the Orleans Parish School Board and transfer the property to Artspace for redevelopment. Artspace acquired the property a year later, and partnered with Providence Community Housing and nearly 30 stakeholders to fund the project. The renovation of the property included repairing and replacing windows, exterior masonry, mortar, and roofing, as well as installing handrails, removing plaster and lath on the interior of all exterior walls, and selectively demolishing damaged wood floors. Care was taken to ensure that changes were compatible with the buildings’ original design, and that where possible, original materials were retained. The refurbished Bell Artspace Campus opened in 2018 to provide 79 one- and two-bedroom housing units geared toward low- and moderate-income artists, cultural workers, and their families. The campus also offers 2,000 square feet of additional space for small nonprofit organizations and creative enterprises. The restored campus serves as a gathering place for people throughout Tremé and across New Orleans, while invigorating the cultural infrastructure through the artists’ ability to create, produce, and present their art.