Mardi Gras at the Historic New Orleans Collection
Display of matching Mardi Gras king and queen regalia at the Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture

Making Mardi Gras

The focus of this exhibit, which runs through May 8 at the Historic New Orleans Collection, is on Mardi Gras as a public forum that motivates creative energies on a high level — a license for everyone to be an artist and let their imaginations run wild in service to a theme, fantasy or whim.  

Indeed, basically everything that professional artists do to make the celebration so captivating — from designing and building parade floats to crafting collectibles and fabulous regalia — is also undertaken by non-professionals, many of them highly accomplished, on a massive scale. And it’s not just objets d’art but performances, too — ranging from dance troupes and ritual enactments at balls to a profusion of music including the call-and-response chants and syncopations of Black Masking Indians and the booming sounds of marching bands with drum majors, baton twirlers and drill teams.

Making Mardi Gras, sponsored by Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World and Kern Studios, goes behind the scenes, documenting the passion and extensive preparations that go into making such a beloved spectacle. “This showstopping display,” as described by the exhibit’s presenter, “invites visitors into the sprawling dens, late-night sewing sessions, and sweaty dance rehearsals where ‘The Greatest Free Show on Earth’ is created and re-created each year among the city’s diverse communities. Explore the vibrant expression that only Carnival season can muster, as we meet up with 19th-century float artists, dawn-breaking skeleton gangs, and homebound house-float creators — stopping to admire costumes, royalty and hand-painted coconuts.”

For the exhibition, DJ Soul Sister — founder and host of WWOZ’s Soul Power — has curated a playlist to help everyone in get into the Mardi Gras Spirit.

The exhibition — on the 3rd floor of the Historic New Orleans Collection’s facility at 520 Royal Street in the French Quarter — is open Tuesday-Saturday, 9:30 am-4:30 pm; Sunday, 10:30 am-4:30 pm. Admission is free; advance reservations required.