New Orleans Museums

Jennifer Waxman is a native New Orleanian who is delighted to return to the city soon. She is an archivist and collection management consultant with a background in preservation. Thanks to Jennifer for contributing this guest post!

Museums and the City

At times the City of New Orleans can feel like one giant museum about itself: food, music, culture, art and history can be discovered on practically every corner of the city. However, should you have a couple of hours to spare and want to explore the city in more depth (in a climate-controlled environment), you have plenty of options.

Through architecture and exhibits, you can experience the history of the city and Louisiana in a few museums not far from the conference hotel. If you find yourself walking through Jackson Square, take a self-guided tour of the St. Louis Cathedral, one of the oldest continually operating cathedrals in the country. To the left of the Cathedral sits the Cabildo, the former seat of Spanish government and site of the signing of the Louisiana Purchase; to the right of the Cathedral you will find the Presbytere, a former courthouse. Both buildings date back to early Spanish colonial rule and today are a part of the Louisiana State Museum network, containing collections and exhibits related to the history and culture of Louisiana and New Orleans. Don’t miss the Presbytere’s interactive and colorful exhibit from the permanent collection about Mardi Gras and Carnival time in New Orleans. The Presbytere has two additional current exhibits open. One is titled “Don’t Call Me Baby Doll”, an exploration of African-American women and Mardi Gras, and the other called “Living With Hurricanes: Katrina & Beyond”. To find out more about the museums’ hours and location, visit the websites for the Cabildo  and the Presbytere.

Not far from Jackson Square you can find a couple of other great collections representing Louisiana history and culture. Walk with the river on your right from Jackson Square to find the Old US Mint. Another historic site and state museum, the Old Mint houses the New Orleans Jazz Club Collections, including a performance center. Look for the performance schedule and some highlights of their collection of instruments, sheet music, photographs, posters, film and paintings at their website. The Historic New Orleans Collection, museum, research center and publisher, is located on the opposite side of Jackson Square, a short walk with the river on your left. Located in a beautiful, historic French Quarter building with a quaint and quiet courtyard, the  documents, paintings, and other artifacts from the permanent collection takes the visitor through the colonial era to the 20th century. Newly renovated, the museum added iPads that accompany the permanent collection exhibit. Your visit can be enhanced by listening to a choir perform colonial period compositions from the Ursuline nuns or by paging through a photo album of the industrial and commercial life of the French Quarter from the early 20th century. THNOC also has a downloadable mobile app with which you can take an interactive, historic walking tour with geocoded photographs supported by HistoryPin.

For military history enthusiasts, there are two museums in very close proximity to each other on the edge of the CBD in the Warehouse District, not far from the conference hotel. The National World War II Museum is a complex of buildings dedicated to the US involvement in the war. Nearby is the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum. The museum is housed in a historic building dating to 1891, and contains flags, paintings and other military artifacts from Confederate soldiers.

Opened in 2003, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (adjacent to Confederate Memorial Hall), houses a wonderful collection of art by regional artists spanning a range of styles and decades. The collection includes portraits, landscape, folk, abstract, sculpture and photography. Take your time to enjoy this newly built space dedicated to regional artists that, arguably, are not generally included in collections with a more national focus. The current exhibit about painter Will Henry Stevens is certainly worth the visit.

Miss Pussycat

Miss Pussycat

Across the street from the Ogden is the Contemporary Arts Center. A number of exhibitions are on display at any given time, including Anthropormorphize !!, a live puppet making installation by Panacea Theriac, aka Miss Pussycat of the duo Quintron and Miss Pussycat. Another show, called Chalmatia, takes the viewer through an imaginary suburb with photography and written pieces by the characters experiencing life on the forgotten outskirts of a post-storm world. Strike up a chat with Miss Pussycat while she makes puppets and read more about her upcoming performance at the New Orleans Museum of Art. The New Orleans Museum of Art is not located in the French Quarter or the CBD, but you can get to it on a very nice ride on the Canal Streetcar. Just hop on the red streetcars that say CITY PARK and take it to the end of the line. Many new and exciting things are happening at the museum, including a series of solo exhibits by contemporary, nationally known artist from the region. Enjoy City Park and the grounds of the museum, which include a sculpture garden located behind the main museum building.

The above is just a preview of some of the local history and art available to visitors in the city. Some local museums are closed due to renovation and relocation, such as the New Orleans African-American Museum and the Museum of the American Cocktail, but there’s plenty to keep you busy. For a much more expansive list of museums and other sites such as historic houses and natural parks, browse this website.

Editor’s note: We also suggest the Backstreet Cultural Museum in the Treme, which is dedicated to the culture and heritage of New Orleans’ African-American community of  Mardi Gras Indians. If you’ve ever wondered how giant Mardi Gras floats are created, check out the enormous warehouse of parade floats at Mardi Gras World. See one of the oldest buildings in the Quarter: the Old Ursulines Convent. Annie Peterson’s guest post on New Orleans Curiosities also highlights smaller museums off the beaten path.