I love playing tourist in my own city. New Orleans has so many things to offer that the options are endless.
Typically you will find me doing something outdoors, but the weather wasn’t great recently, so I was looking for some indoor options. I heard about a new museum that opened, The Mardi Gras Museum of Costume and Culture, so I decided to check it out.
It’s in the Quarter on Conti Street near Rampart and was started by local event planner Carl Mack. Mack got his start in New Orleans as a xylophone player at the 1984 World’s Fair and then became a clown, mime, magician, juggler, just an all-around entertainer, which led to him starting an entertainment company. Out of the necessity to outfit his entertainers, he got into costuming, and over the years Mack has collected thousands of costumes. Instead of keeping them in a warehouse, he decided to let the world see them, and that is how the museum was born.
On the day I visited the museum, both Mack and the museum director, Helen del Guidice, were there. They were so welcoming and pleasant, greeting me as soon as I walked in the door. In fact, there is a section of the museum dedicated to Mack’s early days as a xylophone player, and he did not hesitate to jump behind his xylophone and play a tune.
The museum is very clean and fresh looking with galleries dedicated to different genres. There is the “Takin’ It to the Streets” room focusing on grassroots and local traditions. Here you will see costumes from the 610 Stompers, Mardi Gras Indians and an area focused on Mardi Gras traditions of the Cajun culture.
There is the “Wild ‘n’ Wacky” room spotlighting the whimsical balls and the craftsmanship and creativity behind some of these intricate ensembles. The “Of Kings and Queens” gallery features elaborate gala ball costumes with the beautiful Medici collars and headdresses. Some of these collars weigh more than 50 lbs!
A lot of the pieces in the museum had to be restored after years of wear and tear and they sure did a great job. The ceiling of the museum is draped with capes hung like sails on a sailboat … such a creative way to display these exquisite masterpieces!
Not only do you get to see these beautiful displays of artistry, but you also get to learn about the culture behind them. Almost every display has a description of where it came from and the tradition behind it.
There is also an interactive exhibit called “The Dressing Room”. This is where visitors get a chance to try on some of these amazing pieces. I am not talking about regular krewe costumes, I am talking about headpieces, scepters, crowns, and so on. It is a whole lot of fun for both adults and children.
The museum also has a gift shop where you can take home some of carnival’s favorite catches like the coveted Muses shoe.
What I love about this museum is that it celebrates the other side of Mardi Gras, the side that most tourists don’t get to see, which is the pageantry behind it all. I love that people from around the world will get to experience this part of our heritage.
The museum is open 7 days a week from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission is $12 for the general public and $10 for seniors, children and students.
Here are some ideas for other indoor places to visit on a bad weather day:
Mardi Gras World
The National World War II Museum
Aquarium of the Americas
New Orleans Museum of Art (free on Wednesdays for Louisiana residents)
Louisiana Children’s Museum
Rachel Sigur is Director of Production at Fox 8 WVUE and a frequent traveler. She also loves playing tourist in her home town.