The Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans might have been cancelled this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, locals celebrated the holiday by employing suddenly out-of-work artists and builders to decorate their homes to resemble extravagant floats. The festivities and fundraising continue this weekend with Hire a Mardi Gras Artist: Carnival 2021 (20 March-4 April) at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), an exhibition and auction that continues the goals of the eponymous initiative, says Devin de Wulf, the founder of the Krewe of Red Beans which has organised the show and the project.
The show presents the decorations from 18 “house floats”, with parade builders hired for the installation and participating artists serving as paid docents, while piano players will perform periodically during the show. Each house float is presented individually, with actual elements of the decorations leaning on walls, displayed as sculptures that visitors can circle, or hanging from the exposed rafters of the 12,000 sq. ft warehouse space (which the CAC had also lent as a workshop for the initiative). These include the butterflies and strands of Mardi Gras pearls from the jeweller Mignon Faget’s float, Butterflies of Winter. Photographs taken by Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee of the float-making process are also displayed.
The show culminates with an online auction (the website will be live from Saturday) of around 250 items. Most floats, like Mignon Faget’s, have been divided into several lots. Others, like the initiative’s first house float, The Night Tripper, a spooky homage to the late musician Dr John, are being sold as one piece.
Auction proceeds will cover costs of the exhibition, which was also funded by the remaining Hire a Mardi Gras Artist budget. Any leftover proceeds will support a Krewe of Red Beans programme hiring young musicians to take high-risk cultural figures in New Orleans to Covid-19 vaccine appointments.
Emmeline Johnston, the CAC’s Director of Sales and Partnerships, who spearheaded the collaboration with Krewe of Red Beans and organised the auction, is herself a member of the all-women Krewe of Muses, and usually rides in its parade. Seeing all of the “floats” together—as if in a parade, she says—has been “good for the soul”.