Continuing our tour of American cities, we’re leaving on our very own Magic School Bus for New Orleans. With any luck, its powers will include supercooling A/C. We really ought to have taken the seasons into account when putting these trips on the editorial calendar.
Even if we’re fainting from heat exhaustion and the local humidity, we’re thrilled to introduce you to some of our favorite artists and cultural institutions from Louisiana’s most populated city. Read on for recommendations of great places to visit – ideally, in a more temperate month, like January.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 (est. 1789)
This cemetery used to mark the boundary between city and swamp, but over centuries, New Orleans has grown so that St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 now occupies a central position, both geographically and symbolically. Because New Orleans has a high water table, remains of the deceased are often buried in above-ground tombs, creating “cities of the dead” and contributing, no doubt, to New Orleans’ reputation as America’s most haunted city. Famous people buried at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 include Marie Laveau (1801-1881), who used voodoo to fight yellow fever, and Homer Plessy (1863-1925), who presciently challenged segregation. Nicolas Cage plans one day to rest beside them in a nine-foot pyramid. Whether he dreams of being a pharaoh or simply shares our Wednesday Addams disposition, who can say?
Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré (est. 1916), Historic Theater
In the early years of the little theatre movement, which sought to bring Broadway or original stage productions to local communities, Le Petit Théâtre opened in New Orleans. Six years later, it moved to its St. Peter Street location, where it celebrated a centennial in 2022. Recently performed plays have included The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted from Mark Haddon’s novel by Simon Stephens, and Choir Boy, authored by Moonlight’s scriptwriter (Tarell Alvin McCraney) and directed by Queen Sugar’s Micah (Nicholas L. Ashe). Today, Le Petit Théâtre is doubling down on its early twentieth-century mission by “presenting the highest quality theatrical performances to entertain and educate the diverse population of the region.” Clearly, the little theatre movement has continued in the new millennium!
Bourbon Orleans (est. 1966), Hotel
Although the Bourbon Orleans Hotel has existed for over 50 years, the premises have a deeper history, beginning in the heyday of Creole high society. The sumptuous Orleans Theatre and Ballroom opened in 1817, but everything except the ballroom was annihilated by fire in 1866. The age of antebellum decadence was put to an even more definitive end in 1881, when the Sisters of the Holy Family, an order of Black nuns, bought the grounds to use for their convent and school. They moved to New Orleans East in the 1960s, after selling the property to Bourbon Kings Hotel Corporation. Like many places throughout New Orleans, the hotel is haunted, but unlike other establishments, its cast of spirits includes “a ghost nun who slapped a man working on a stairwell for swearing.” We shudder to think how that virtuous yet restless Sister might respond to our blogs!
Jazz & Heritage Festival (est. 1970)
In the 1970s, this festival welcomed about 350 music lovers per year to Louis Armstrong Park for performances by George Porter, Jr., Zigaboo Modeliste, Deacon John Moore, “Soul Queen of New Orleans” Irma Thomas, and other local musicians. In 2023, the Jazz & Heritage Festival welcomed thousands of guests to the Fair Grounds for performances by the same old-timers, as well as Ed Sheeran and Lizzo. Despite massive growth, the festival remains true to its roots, not only because it still features artists from the original roster but also because it devotes most of the program to southwestern Louisiana musicians. There’s probably nowhere else, except Heaven, where visitors can “funk it up” with Lizzo, Ed Sheeran, Big Freedia, and Trombone Shorty.
Frank Relle (b. ?), Photographer
Professional photographer Frank Relle, who runs a gallery on Royal Street, is famous for stunning, evocative landscapes depicting Louisiana at night. An early series, Nightscapes, shows haunted houses in New Orleans and records Hurricane Katrina’s long-lasting consequences for the city’s neighborhoods. Another series, Until the Water, was the fruit of numerous, lengthy camping trips to Louisiana’s swamps, where Relle shot photographs with the help of a flatboat and “tripod able to stand in 25 feet of water.” Even though Relle prefers to take pictures at night – or, perhaps, because of the fact – he knows that “lighting is the language and music of photography.” Relle’s photographs appear in collections owned by New Orleans’ Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and, most impressively to CreativeFuture, Brad Pitt.
Anthony Mackie (b. 1978), Actor
Anthony Mackie’s parents founded Mackie Roofing, which still operates out of New Orleans as Mackie One Construction. Instead of vying with siblings to inherit the family business, like one of Succession’s feckless Roys, Mackie created his own success by pursuing a passion for acting. In 2005, he won an Independent Spirit Award for playing the lead role in Brother to Brother, a film about the Harlem Renaissance and a 21st-century Black gay teenager. Mackie gave his most acclaimed performance to date in The Hurt Locker, a film about the Iraq war, winning supporting actor awards from the African-American Film Critics Association, Black Reel, and The Gotham Film & Media Institute. Currently, Mackie appears in Marvel’s Avengers franchise as Sam Wilson, better known as the superhero Falcon. We’ll be remembering Mackie’s New Orleans roots when Falcon becomes the next Captain America in New World Order, to be released in 2024.
Brandan “BMike” Odums (b. 1985 or 1986), Visual Artist
This self-described “artist, activist, mentor” is most famous for Studio BE, a series of galleries installed in a former warehouse measuring 35,000 square feet in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans. The first gallery protests police violence against Black people; the second makes an unromanticized assessment of the marriage between Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King; and the third grapples with Hurricane Katrina’s repercussions for New Orleans’ communities. Studio BE began humbly – and, BMike admits, illegally – as Project BE, a collection of graffiti and murals on a housing project in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. When it ended, BMike recruited 35 street artists to help him create Exhibit BE, painted on an empty apartment building. After the popular success of these installations, an anonymous donor furnished BMike with the Bywater warehouse for Studio BE, which has been visited by Ava DuVernay, Chris Rock, and Senator Cory Booker. It is also open to the public, so make sure to stop by during your next trip to New Orleans!
Queen Trini Lisa (est. 2021), Caribbean Restaurant
New Orleans is known for its Cajun fare, but Lisa Nelson, the chef and owner of Queen Trini Lisa, serves guests the cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago, reminding them that New Orleans is “the northernmost Caribbean city.” Since 2016, Nelson has treated customers at various stores or pop-ups to “Trinbagonian” dishes such as jerk chicken and doubles, which resemble sandwiches made from turmeric-infused flatbread and curried chickpeas. In 2022, Nelson’s latest restaurant was named 2022 Restaurant of the Year by Eater New Orleans, which praised Queen Trini Lisa for “establish[ing] Caribbean comfort food as an integral part of the city’s cuisine.” We heartily recommend Queen Trini Lisa, as well as Nelson’s advice for happy living: “more doubles, less troubles!”
That’s our New Orleans roundup! We hope you now have many reasons to visit besides the Mardi Gras festivities. However, we’d be remiss not to note that Mardi Gras takes place in the relatively comfortable month of February.
We’ll be back soon with another roundup. After Louisiana, we’d like to take an Alaskan cruise, but our itinerary shows we’re heading to another southern state …
Until next time, find some creativity wherever you can. Stay safe, and be well. #StandCreative