About Art and Design in New Orleans
New Orleans is known as the birthplace of jazz. So it has an amazing music scene. But it also has an extremely vibrant visual arts scene too! For music, most locals avoid Bourbon street, and instead hang out on lower Frenchmen Street in the Marigny neighborhood below the French Quarter, where a 3 block stretch of clubs play all varieties of music in the city: traditional jazz, modern jazz, brass band funk, rhythm and blues, blues, Afro-Caribbean music, and any combination of the above. Even beyond Frenchmen, locals hear music at the Maple Leaf in Uptown, Chickie Wah Wah in Mid City, and Vaughn's in the Bywater. For a listing check out the local Offbeat Magazine or download their app.
For art lovers, the Ogden Southern Museum of Art is always inspiring, as is the New Orleans Museum of Art, which is accesible by the red street car. The first saturday of every month, galleries on Julia Street and Magazine street host special exhibit openings. St. Claude Avenue in the Bywater neighborhood hosts gallery openings during the second saturday of every month. St.Claude has emerged as the newest gallery district, and is an art scene that has transformed the neighborhood into a center of creative arts in the city.
The most important local custom is the act of parading every weekend. The Back Street Cultural Museum in the Treme neighborhood behind the French Quarter provides a list of parades that are held each weekend from Labor Day to Memorial Day. So every Sunday from September through May, a free public brass band parade (known as a second line) is held in the city, where everyone is encouraged to join and have fun! Tourists are always welcome and should get to know the local culture first-hand!. Of course, we also have the Carnival Season from January 6 to Ash Wednesday, which has all the Carnival parades. While most tourists are familiar with Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street in the national media, most locals treat it as a family event and do not care to venture to the over-the -top Bourbon Street.
New Orleans also celebrates All-Saints Day (Nov 1) when Catholics clean the graves of their ancestors at the local Catholic cemetaries. St. Louis #1 and #2 cemetaries behind the French Quarter and St. Louis #3 near City Park provide incredible sites for this Catholic ritual that is totally unqiue here within the United States.
On March 19, locals celebrate St. Joseph's night, in which African American Mardi Gras Indians celebrate through song and dance, and Italian Americans celebrate through the creation of St. Joseph's altars. Italian-American families create elaborate alters with food and offering to honor St. Joseph, the patron saint of Sicily.
New Orleans was founded in 1718 as the capital of the French colony of Louisiana, which encompassed the Mississippi River and all its tributaries. In 1763, France gave the colony to Spain, which ruled until 1803. In 1788, a fire destroyed most of the original city, which was rebuilt under the Spanish, and took on the look of a Spanish village. In the early American period, wealthy Americans began building mansions on large lots further uptown in the Garden District and along St. Charles Avenue. For the first 200 years of the city's settlment, people built along the natural deltaic high ground along the river and bayous. So the French Quarter, Uptown, the Bywater and parts of Gentilly Ridge and Bayou St. John neighborhoods are above sea level. After 1900 engineering technology encouraged people to build in former wetlands that were protected by modern levees and pumping system. So the neighborhoods of Mid-City, Lakeview, parts of Gentilly, the Lower 9th Ward, and New Orleans East are below sea level and flooded after Hurricane Katrina.
In the mid-1800s New Orleans was the economic center of the American South, and in 1840 was the third largest city in the U.S.. Gradually in the 1900s, other southern cities like Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Birmingham, and Charlotte emerged as economic centers, while New Orleans became known more for its distinct charm, heritage, and tourism.
With the tragedy of the Hurricane Katrina flooding in 2005, locals have made more of an effort to hold accountable the government agencies charged with protecting the metro area. Since the great flood of 2005, the city and metro area have made a greater effort to provide flood protection, while the city has attracted a new wave of immigrants dedicated to rebuilding and improving the overall schools, food scene, and small business communities.
Politics & Economy
In the colonial period Louisiana was under a Catholic monarchy. But in the American period, after 1803, it became an American pluralist state that was heavily Catholic but where all religions are practiced. Even as protestant Americans from the East Coast moved to South Louisiana, numerous Catholics immigrated from San Dominque (Haiti), Germany, Ireland, Italy, France, the Philippines, Croatia, and Vietnam helping to reaffirm the general coastal Catholic culture.
From the 1890s to the 1960s, formal racial segregation was practiced in the city, but white and black residents lived in mixed neighborhoods throughout the city. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, African American residents have made major progress in gaining local political positions.
The port and river have always been the source of the city's economy. New Orleans has always neen an important entrepot, where international goods are off-loaded for inland distribution, and where goods from upriver are offloaded to ships for international export. In the old days cotton was king, but today the port takes in coffee beans, lumber and steel from Latin America, while it exports oil, chemicals and midwestern grains. Tourism has been central to the economy since the early 1900s, but in recent years New Orleans has emerged as one of the greatest cities for entrepreneurs and start-ups. Locally there is a great support network for new small businesses, many which are established to solve environmental, educational, and health-care problems.
Louis Armstrong is perhaps the most famous of all New Orleanians. Armstrong is considered the pioneer and inventor of modern jazz because of his ability to scat, play long solos and sing.
In the 1950s, Local 9th Ward native Fats Domino is the second best selling recording artist behind Elvis Presley and recorded many great hits that are known today.
In literature, writer Tennessee Williams has inspired a writers festival that is hosted every spring in the French Quarter. Williams is best known for his screenplay and movie "Street Car Named Desire."
More recently, jazz artists Harry Connick Jr., Wynton and Branford Marsalis have carried the torch of a modern jazz generation, while the international hip hop star Lil Wayne (Dwayne Carter) has emerged as a cross-over successful artist on pop and rap radio.
New Orleans has festivals every weekend of the year. At the beginning of the year, people celebrate Carnival (see the Holidays and Festivals section), and in the Spring we have the music festival season with French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest.
The French Quarter Festival held in mid-April is a free music and food festival held on the streets of the French Quarter, and increasingly attracts international visitors who appreciate its intimacy and stunning weather.
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest) is a major event that draws international tourists annually. Held in late April and early May, the Festival is two weekends at the local Fair Grounds race track, and which features a huge variety of musical artists, local food, arts and crafts to celebrate the state's distinct and rich heritage and culture.
More recently, the Voodoo Fest held the weekend of Halloween at City Park has emerged as another large multi-day music festival that features a diverse mix of local and national artists. Halloween is now one of the biggest events of the year in general and brings large street parties to the French Quarter and the Marigny.
Essence Fest, held on the July 4th Weekend celebrates African American culture and empowerment, and Satchmo Fest in early August honors native son Louis Armstrong with a weekend of music and food.
Beyond these larger festivals, New Orleans generally hosts smaller neighborhood festivals every weekend. New Orleans' mild weather can spoil the locals who find there are always smaller music and food based festivals every weekend of the year.
The city is often considered a living museum, but for a city of its size, it has a great collection of history and art museums that are highly regarded. The official museum district in the Warehouse District includes the stunning National World War II Museum which has an incredible collection of military artifacts and media presentations, the Louisiana Civil War Museum, as well as the elegant Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the Contemporary Arts Center.
In the French Quarter, the Louisiana State Museum's Cabildo covers 2000 years of the state's history, while the Presbytere Museum has the most in-depth exhibit on the history of hurricanes and the Katrina disaster, along with an entertaining and informative exhibit on the history of Carnival. The Hermann-Grima and Gallier Houses are historic houses from the mid-1800s that offer an opportunity to experience two beautiful French Quarter residences with lush quiet courtyards. The Voodoo Museum on Dumaine is a rich collection of artifacts related to the worshiping of voodoo historically in New Orleans, and is interactive in that guests are encouraged to leave offerings at the authentic altars on display.
In the Treme neighborhood, the African American Museum and the Backstreet Cultural Museum offer fascinating exhibits on local African American culture, history, and traditions.
The beautiful New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) is in City Park and is accessable by street car (the Canal Street line), or even a short bike ride from the French Quarter. More recently, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has opened a museum at West End on the lake, that features an environmental history of the region.
Holidays & Festivals
New Orleans' Carnival season and the Mardi Gras celebration is known internationally. But don't let the media's portrayal of tourist debauchery on Bourbon street mislead you. For locals, the event is a family oriented three-week celebration with parades in the Mid City and Uptown neighborhoods and all the suburbs as well. On Mardi Gras Day, the backstreets of Uptown and Downtown neighborhoods feature Mardi Gras Indians, essentially African Americans dressed in brighly colored elaborate home-sewn suits that reflect the city's cultural ties with the Caribbean. On Mardi Gras Day the Uptown Indians meet up at 2nd and Dryades Streets, while the Downtown Indians gather at Orleans and Claiborne Avenues. At the Backstreet Cultural Museum on Mardi Gras morning, members of the Carnival-based Skull and Bones Gangs and the alll female Baby Dolls gather. These two groups also represent African American costuming traditions that are distinct to New Orleans and also reflect cultural ties to the Caribbean. The Carnival schedule is based on the Christian calendar around Easter, so it changes annually.
Halloween and Christmas also involve distinct traditions that are unique to New Orleans. Halloween now is one of the biggest parties of the year in the French Quarter and along Frenchmen Street, and includes the multi-day Voodoo Music Festival at City Park. November 1st is All-Saints Day, in which locals visit their family tombs at local cemetaries to clean them, and sometimes honor their ancestors. Visiting the older Catholic cemetaries on this day is always a special event for locals and tourists.
The Christmas season includes the unique Creole tradition of having a reveillon meal, a French-based custom. Most local fine restaurants offer a special reveillon menu throughout December. City Park also hosts a special lights display for cars and also for pedestrians in the botanical garden. A drive along St. Charles Avenue during December is a great way to see stunning light displays at a number of beautiful homes on the avenue.
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