JAMNOLA Redefining What It Means to Love NEW ORLEANS

December 15, 2022
I love a freak show. You know, the real kind, with the Bearded Lady, the Strong Man, the Lobster Boy, and the twins that are stuck together. Oh, sure, I gravitate to the darkness and spooky factor of it all, but what I really love about a freak show is that it’s essentially an assortment of human beings with remarkable talents and unique attributes who’ve managed to figure out a way to market themselves to the world and turn a real thorn in their sides into something profitable. Throw up a few red and white striped tents, and some flashy blinky lights, and it’s a party. A party that people will pay good money to see and a party that will turn what seems like a raw deal into something valuable for our community.

The concept of super unique ideas and creativity coming together to bring balance to our little world—that’s this edition’s lesson boys and girls. Just in case you hadn’t already noticed.

It is no secret that our beloved New Orleans has weathered the storms of bad press and, even worse, actual storms. No community within our great city has championed the cause to correct those wrongs and bring a positive breath of fresh air through our streets more than the New Orleans Art Community.

For decades, groups have established themselves and championed our city beyond the bad rap using its unique talents and creativity from visual arts to theatre and dance. Our artists have been the strongest voice and, in many cases, our heroes in overcoming a few thorns in our sides.

The newest—and, if I may say, the grandest, most colorful, most exuberant—attempt, is the collaborative efforts of the artist and creative teams that have developed JAMNOLA. Located at 2832 Royal St., a hop skip and a jump from the French Quarter, this adventure takes visitors on a delightfully whimsical journey through seventeen exhibits designed to celebrate our city’s cultural gems. JAMNOLA—standing for Joy, Art, and Music, New Orleans—champions the city’s iconic and notable art, music, food, and theatrics. With the collaborative efforts of over thirty local artists and other creative minds, JAMNOLA is a perfect example of why artists are the perfect humans to orchestrate and lead change in our communities.

Immersing themselves in happiness that you can see the moment you walk through the doors, JAMNOLA emphasizes that living in happiness and sharing that happiness with others is the key to finding a little sun in every storm and overcoming any adversity.

The list of artists and contributors contains of some of the most dynamic and assiduous people our city has to offer. They include the director and producer Alexander Glustrom, who’s most noted for his feature documentary Mossville, now showing nationwide on PBS. And sculptor Carl Joe Williams, the creator of the Sculptural Trees along Veterans Boulevard. George Porter, Jr. adds the fruit of his four-decade musical career to JAMNOLA. Other artists include Chad Smith, Shel Roumillat, the owner and operator of the New Orleans Costume Center, and local mixed-media sensation Skye Erie. One of my personal favorites, Charles Hoffacker, is also a collaborator and, in my opinion, is one of the most impressive conceptual artists working today, addressing issues that impact our daily lives while leaving comfort and safety at the front door. Local influencer Dr. Nicole Caridad Ralston and performance artist Cherice Harrison-Nelson also add to the mix. The list of impressive names does not stop there, but I have an editor armed with a word count, if you get my drift.

Before you act on the incredibly wise decision to visit JAMNOLA in person, do a bit of homework at JAMNOLA.com, just enough to value the time and energy these individuals have given to this project and to their valiant attempts to reinvent our city. Understanding these collaborators’ impact on the world will make your visit a spiritual outing and leave you wondering just what you can do to make a difference. Born from the minds of two men who got their start in the beauty business, one in fashion styling and the other working with names like Aveda and Revlon, Chad Smith and Jonny Liss envisioned an artist’s playground. A place where everyone can be a kid, and everyone can be inspired. Gold-platted surfaces, color, film, photography, and interactive exhibits turn our city into an amusement park of the most important things that make New Orleans the only city to love.

My visit left me energized, hopeful, and inspired to spread the word about this little gem just down Royal Street past the Quarter. I couldn’t tell you the last time I was this impressed with a collaborative effort between creative minds and souls. The self-guided tour through twelve rooms appears perfectly arranged to make you feel as if you are part of a jazz number. The greens are the kind of greens we love here in New Orleans: neon and bright with a touch of grit. Feather chandeliers feature prominently in the Feather Forest, a room that, at first glance, seems to be created with feathers but with a second viewing you can see that the room comes to you from the upcycling of art. “All on a Mardi Gras Day” is a room-sized video immersion experience that pays homage to documentary filmmaker Royce Osborn. The reflective mirror wallpaper makes for a perfect photo opportunity. In fact, the entire place is a photo op. If you are Instagram strong, this should be your new favorite place; you’ll have profile pictures for the next ten years.

The moral of our story today is this, boys and girls: no matter how we look to the rest of the world, we know what we look like to each other. Knowing that makes it easy to take the hits and weather the storms, because deep down inside we have each other. We appreciate what our city has to offer the world, and we appreciate the talents and the minds of the people who want to protect that. They make us smile, they make us happy, and—guess what?—both of those things are contagious.