The New Orleans arts scene has become one of the most vital and innovative in the nation. Here, monthly art openings have become public celebrations, attracting thousands, a pattern now repeated in dozens of urban centers across the country.
New Orleans is the second city in the USA, after New York City, where the arts have driven a major neighborhood revival. The Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) opened in 1975 in an empty warehouse, surrounded by a skid row atmosphere and other empty warehouses. Now, the CAC happily finds itself surrounded by dozens of newly converted warehouses filled with several thousand new residents of all ages. There are new hotels and condominiums, restaurants, shops and a prize-winning National World War II museum.
New Orleans has also been recognized as an arts center where unique art styles and trends have developed, reflecting the special ingredients that go into the arts scene here. Sometimes called “swamp art,” the art here reflects the funky, diverse, authentic culture that reigns in the streets and neighborhoods of the city as well as throughout the surrounding countryside.
There is art here for everyone. With over 100 galleries, serious buyers, as well as the curious, can find something of interest in New Orleans galleries. Whether it is the Gauguin-like, bird-filled jungles of Jacqueline Bishop’s landscapes, or the Blue Dog of George Rodrigue, the funky peoplescapes of Douglas Bourgeoisie filled with rhythm and blues celebrities in their kitchens or nearby clubs, the flashy dancers constructed from false nails by Sally Heller, or the lush impressionist South Louisiana landscapes of Elmore Morgan, new and experienced art buyers can find work to fit their lifestyles or simply enrich their imaginations.
The Contemporary Art Center, (CAC) at 900 Camp Street, set the pace in the mid 70s by presenting large-scale shows of work by living artists of the region, celebrated with over-the-top parties that attracted strikingly diverse crowds of social, business, café, artiste, student and neighborhood crowds.
Just across the street is the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, an elegant new building filled with 5 floors of both historic and contemporary art from the South. The Ogden began with a superb collection from the Museum’s principal donor, Roger Ogden, and serves a rich context for viewing and understanding art made of and about the South. The works of Clementine Hunter are a major attraction in this exciting museum.
The National World War II Museum is just around the corner from the Ogden. For historians, for surviving veterans of the war and their families, for anyone with a sense of pride in this momentous period of our lives, a visit to this remarkable memorial to WWII veterans is an absolute MUST SEE.
The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) in City Park routinely offers exceptional collections of the decorative arts, including one of the world’s best collections of Faberge. NOMA is also known for its African, Asian, and Latin American Art. It has also collected the works of contemporary artists from the region and the country, especially in the grand Walda and Sydney Besthoff Sculpture Garden.
One of the great advantages of checking out the arts scene in New Orleans is that visitors can get to most of the galleries and museums via the city’s fabled streetcars. They run along the river, on St. Charles Avenue (a boulevard that runs right through the gallery district) and on world famous Canal Street that features a right turn at Carrollton that takes you directly to NOMA. From NOMA, the Esplanade bus takes visitors into the French Quarter and nearby Frenchman Street where numerous dining places and cafes offer a chance to kick back a little.
The St. Charles streetcar rolls up yet another lovely boulevard with stops at Tulane and Loyola Universities for viewing inside the Newcomb College Art Center. The Magazine Street bus will take you on another fascinating look at the Magazine Street art scene with its five miles of antique shops, galleries, clothing stores and restaurants.
Downriver from the French Quarter is another arts based district. The Marigny and Bywater areas run along the river and include many art galleries, antique stores and a monthly outdoor art market. Many of the city’s visual and performing artists live in these Caribbean style neighborhoods in brightly painted Creole cottages. Studio Inferno, a glassmaking studio and shop in an old warehouse is the arts anchor of the area. Royal Street is the center of the antiques area.
Central City, just off the elegant and historic St. Charles Avenue in uptown New Orleans, is an area that once suffered a long drought of the arts but is now being quenched once again. The Ashe Cultural Center, Barrister’s Gallery and The Neighborhood Gallery, are bringing back the arts with monthly visual and performing arts presentations.
The arts and the neighborhoods of New Orleans have a special relationship…a language of renewal, or mutual sustenance and renewed sustainability. In the interplay between the cultural legacy and the future of the city, is a rich world for visitors and residents alike to enjoy and learn.
This material may be reproduced for editorial purposes of promoting New Orleans. Please attribute stories to New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130 504-566-5019. Revised 2013.