New Orleans has no lack of museums, and as always, they celebrate the city’s renowned diversity. For starters, there’s your traditional art museum, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. That is New Orleans’ flagship art museum, the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park. It’s under new leadership in the person of Susan Taylor, and is proudly moving into its second century. NOMA’s holdings include a significant collection of decorative arts and photography as well as painting, but for its second hundred years, it’s widening the spectrum of pieces in the permanent collection in its new show, NOMA 100.
You might want to check out the Ogdcn Museum of Southern Art, on Camp St. in the Warehouse/Arts District in downtown New Orleans. The Ogden not only boasts a rich assortment of Southern art, including painting, photography, ceramics (such as fascinating pieces by George Ohr, “The Mad Potter of Biloxi,” and Newcomb pottery, originated by the Woodward brothers at Newcomb College in New Orleans), but also sponsors a happening live music show called Ogden After Hours most Thursday evenings from 6 until 8 PM, with performances by Southern musicians. You can get a drink (there’s a newly-invented cocktail special each month), mingle with your friends, and listen to all kinds of Southern music–including Cajun musicians, jazz, old-school rhythm and blues, rockabilly, Delta-style blues, New Orleans funky piano, etc. etc. Just a brief listing of the performers over the last few years- Troy “Trombone Shorty” and James Andrews, Theresa Andersson, Henry Butler, Leah Chase, Hackberry Ramblers, Steve Riley, Joe Krown, Little Freddie King, Red Stick Ramblers, Coco Robicheaux, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Amanda Shaw, Ivan Neville, David Egan, Jon Cleary, Stanton Moore (of Galatic), and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. During the intermission, the museum’s staff members or musical authorities in town interview the musicians for the Museum’s archives. Several of the artists listed here have died since their performances; fortunately, the interviews live on.
But for a couple of quirkier museum outings, you might want to check out another New Orleans offering-The Southern Food and Beverage Museum–the only food museum in the United States, in New Orleans, Louisiana, located on the third floor of Riverwalk at the Mississippi River. SOFAB, as it’s known, has over 35,000 visitors a year and educates the curious about Southern food, defined loosely as whatever food Southerners eat-whether that’s Lebanese, Vietnamese, Tex-Mex, or the more familiar fried chicken, okra and collard greens you might imagine. It contains exhibits about New Orleans po-boys, snowballs, Cajun food, sugar, MRE’s and abandoned refrigerators in the immediate post-Katrina era in New Orleans, and New Orleans’ famous cocktail culture, showcasing the historic absinthe. It boasts the original 1859 bar from Bruning’s (originally the West End Hotel) on the lakefront in New Orleans, lovingly reassembled after it was damaged by Hurricane Georges in 1997. SOFAB also presents live cooking demonstrations at the Museum itself, as well as at the French Market, so the curious can actually see how to go about cooking gumbo the Creole way, or macquechoux, or St. Joseph’s Day cookies. It’s a wonderful way to learn about what makes New Orleanians the happiest – food!
There’s a museum devoted to Mardi Gras Indians, another oddity of New Orleans cultural life. It’s called the BackStreet Cultural Museum, and you can see photographs of Mardi Gras Indians and actual elaborate beaded costumes. It’s located in the historic Faubourg Treme’ at 1116 Henriette Delille Street in New Orleans. BackStreet Culturual Museum promotes the cultural traditions of the African-American community in New Orleans through its exhibits, of course, but it also sponsors programs such as the Mardi Gras Indian Sewing Program, to teach youngsters the old ways of sewing Mardi Gras Indian costumes, and opens its doors on Mardi Gras Day for visitors to catch the Indians themselves, the Baby Dolls, and everybody else in their finery.
We’ve got more than we can talk about in this space, but for more information on these institutions we’ve described here, check out their websites: