Ten months after Hurricane Ida damaged a museum celebrating New Orleans’ African American parading culture, the Backstreet Cultural Museum is reopening.
A parade is planned Saturday afternoon from the original building to the new museum site just blocks away in the city’s Treme neighborhood. The museum will now occupy a smaller location at a former bar, and not all items can be shown at once, said Dominique Dilling-Francis, President of the museum’s board and the Founder’s daughter. She plans to rotate exhibits every few months.
Hurricane Ida left holes in the roof and water inside the original building, a former funeral home, after the storm crashed ashore in August 2021. A powerful Category 4 hurricane at landfall, Ida hit on the same date Hurricane Katrina had ravaged parts of Louisiana and Mississippi 16 years earlier.
Artifacts at the museum include regalia given by Mardi Gras Indians – African Americans who create new elaborately plumed and beaded costumes every year. There is also memorabilia from baby dolls – groups of women who parade and dance in bonnets, garters, and short, ruffled dresses. And there are black sweatsuits painted with white skeletons from the Skull and Bones Gang, which wakes up the neighborhood early on Fat Tuesday with a message that everyone dies and should first have a loving, productive life.
The museum also has photos, films and papers related to such neighborhood traditions and is a place where maskers and merrymakers gather on Mardi Gras. Its founder, Sylvester “Hawk” Francis, created it in 1999 after decades photographing and filming the neighborhood culture.
Although benefactors paid to have a tarp put on the roof at the first site, it became clear that mold and humidity would eventually ruin the collection even with window air conditioning units cooling the place.
Dilling-Francis and volunteers dried and boxed everything for storage. She said she hopes that donors won’t be disappointed that their work cannot be on permanent display. Dilling-Francis said individual donations and a grant from the New Orleans Tourism and Cultural Fund helped the museum reopen, but she declined to say how much was given.
Starting this weekend, the new museum will be open 10 am to 4 pm, Tuesdays through Saturdays.