Finding Fun in the New Normal at JAMNOLA

By Isabelle Cunis

Even under normal circumstances, a New Orleanian could not spend a relaxing afternoon with a human-size crawfish, stumble upon a po-boy larger than one can imagine, stroll casually through a gold Bayou landscape, and dance among others during Mardi Gras all in one day. However, one of New Orleans’ newest and hottest attractions allows locals and visitors to immerse themselves in an illustrative New Orleans experience all under one roof.    

While the doors to bars and music venues remain closed throughout the City of New Orleans, a new cultural experience opened its doors to the public amid a country still struggling to battle a pandemic. Joy, Art & Music NOLA, more commonly known as JAMNOLA, recreates the cultural gems that make up the city in a safe and socially-distanced setting.  

Located off of Royal Street in the Marigny, JAMNOLA is not just a museum or art gallery. Past the Royal Street art galleries in the French Quarter, JAMNOLA provides guests with an experience beyond the quiet and careful behaviors an individual may be inclined to stick to when visiting an art gallery. JAMNOLA consists of 12 exhibition rooms for visitors to walk through and take photos with the artwork. Beyond photo opportunities, many exhibits have interactive features, like videos and touchless musical walls that encourage all visitors to have fun and share their experiences with others on social media platforms.  

In a partnership with Where Y’Art, JAMNOLA took on a mission to battle the negativity in our society through its experiential pop-up that focuses on New Orleans’ cultural community. Over three years ago, Jonny Liss, co-founder of JAMNOLA, developed a plan to spread happiness through an experiential museum, inspired by various interactive museums he visited around the country and catalyzed by countless magazines and news articles that focused on seeking happiness and joy in today’s world. However, unlike similar experiential museums, Jonny wanted JAMNOLA to bring people joy through art and music rooted in New Orleans’ culture.  

Despite the restrictions still in place for the City of New Orleans, JAMNOLA successfully opened at the beginning of August. Jonny describes JAMNOLA as one of “the first museums of the new normal.” With touchless yet interactive exhibits, private tours to keep the pop-up under 25% capacity, contact-tracing capabilities, a temperature checkpoint at the entrance, extensive disinfecting measures, and cashless transactions, Jonny considers JAMNOLA’s opening to fulfill safety protocols even better than those required by the City of New Orleans’ Phase 1: Safest at Home plan. JAMNOLA offers its visitors an entertaining experience and an opportunity to get out of the house, all in a safe space.  

Its visitors are not the only ones positively impacted by JAMNOLA. In a conversation with Jonny, he emphasized the importance of supporting local artists, especially during these tumultuous and unknown times. JAMNOLA did not receive any financial assistance from the government due to the nature of the establishment and the artists working as contractors. However, in addition to the commission paid to artists, JAMNOLA provided its artists with a supportive environment and something positive to look forward to in these stressful times.           

In its first two months of business, JAMNOLA became a well-accepted member of the New Orleans cultural community. Given the current environment surrounding racial injustice throughout the U.S., JAMNOLA and its contributors represent the cultural and creative diversity embedded in New Orleans. JAMNOLA witnessed an influx of positive reviews and reactions from its community members, as it serves as a means of education and entertainment surrounding New Orleans’ culture. 

Jonny described JAMNOLA’s plans for the future, including a Halloween pop-up and a variety of events for post-COVID-19 times. “We are the safety, family-friendly, cultural gem of the city right now…We made it through the most difficult tourist month of the year, which is August, in the middle of COVID-19… I have 100% confidence we will be a huge success,” Jonny remarked, reflecting on the current status and future of the city’s newest attraction.  

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