By Pia Heyert
Roaring crowds, cheerful children, and an all-around incredible environment is what one expects from Madi Gras in New Orleans. However, the 2021 Mardi Gras season was different in expected and not so-expected ways. When isolation struck the Crescent City of New Orleans, the streets emptied and a ghostly silence descended upon this fair city, the likes of which had never been experienced by anyone alive today. The desolate streets were empty, and silent but not for too long. The residents of New Orleans could not let Mardi Gras season slide past without any type of celebration. In the words of renowned Dr. John, “It’s about knowing how to make a groove happen and keep it going so others can play off it.”
Local artists came up with the idea of “house floats.” The concept is simple, as are many great ideals instead of bringing the parade to the people, the people will come to the parade. Artists fanned across the city and offered to help residents decorate their houses as if they were Mardi Gras floats, colorful and extravagant pieces of work. Just as a Krewe would pick a theme for their floats, most people stuck to a theme for their house. This creative new form of Mardi Gras decorations spread quickly and all throughout the city. The decorations varied from local art to large industrial pieces. One of the most popular houses was circus themed. The front lawn consisted of large structures of circus animals, and concession snacks. Another house was dinosaur themed. These popular houses were located on St. Charles Ave. where most Mardi Gras parades would ride down. Kern Studios which is a large studio that makes Mardi Gras floats was involved in more industrial made pieces.
There were many challenges with these new forms of Mardi Gras celebrations. Most artists and float makers were not used to forming art pieces on the scale of a large mansion on St Charles Avenue or the multitude of shotgun homes scattered throughout Uptown New Orleans. Joe Mazzota of Business Development, Rentals, and Sales at Kern Studios said the construction of these house floats was harder than constructing a moving float, “It was all about adjusting the height of the decorations, the heights were based on the viewing sight, if something was going to be hidden by a bush we had to raise it up three feet so you could see the full product”. The homeowners were in charge of their theme. Kern Studios sourced the materials and managed the construction. Usually during a normal Mardi Gras, season member of the Krewes, pay dues which go towards the cost of the floats. These house floats on the other hand are not like this, the cost is coming out of the homeowner’s pocket. Some of the cheaper house floats produced by Kern Studios cost $3,000. Now some of the larger more extravagant houses cost between $30,000 to $50,000. Kern Studios is a local art studio connected to the tourist location called “Mardi Gras World.” These house floats helped support local businesses, craftspeople, artists, and showed the world New Orleans and the Madi Gras spirit are alive and well even during a global pandemic. Mazzota said that people have already started booking themes and decorations for their houses for next Mardi Gras season, “Most of the people with such successful themes want to just build on them for next year!”
The mass involvement by the New Orleans community in this house float Mardi Gras celebration brought tourists back to New Orleans even though there was no actual Mardi Gras celebration. This helped business too. Smaller local artists were also involved in these creations. One artist, Sarah Nelson, completed 5 house floats. “I was pretty much contacted by everybody I knew who wanted a float.” Most were in the Uptown Garden District neighborhood of New Orleans. The hardest part of these projects she said was figuring out the correct scale for her art.
“I created about 20 flowers for a house,” Nelson said, “Automatically, I thought I had made too many, when I saw them on the house it was too bare, and I had to make more”.
Never having worked on such a big canvas before, measuring the size and scope of the project presented an unprecedented challenge for Nelson, who decorated a house float on St. Charles Ave. in the Garden District neighborhood. According to Nelson, the Garden District had a theme they all were working with which was ‘Garden District in Bloom’. Although there were no traditional Mardi Gras floats this year, the people of New Orleans used their creativity and did not let the season pass without a celebration. This seems to be such an admired idea; the city of New Orleans may begin to see these house floats return in the upcoming years of Mardi Gras.