By Chris Waddington
The New Orleans Museum of Art remains a natural spot for locals who like to contemplate Picasso, find out about Crescent City art stars, or meet scholars who know about the family porcelain. On Friday nights, however, NOMA's sacrosanct halls serve as one of the city's most distinctive party venues.
This Friday (Aug. 2) the weekly bash will expand dramatically, as NOMA extends its hours to midnight, and transforms its art-filled galleries into a 1920s speakeasy suitable for date-night revelers- and just about anyone else.
Think of this party as "NOMA Fest," a sprawling Louisiana festival with some very distinctive trimmings. The celebration kicks off with art activities for children (5 to 8 p.m.), and includes curator-led gallery tours (5:30 and 7:30 p.m.); a cooking demonstration (6 p.m.); a film screening (9:30 p.m.); two live bands (Jayna Morgan at 5 p.m. and Gal Holiday at 8:30 p.m.); and an improvisational comedy troupe that invades the galleries after 9 p.m. Visitors can wash it all down with drinks from several cash bars- and learn about their favorite vice from cocktail scholar Elizabeth Pearce, who will lecture on Prohibition and the Sazerac (8:30 p.m.).
Brad Caldwell, who directs public programs for the museum, said that the Jazz Age party theme was a natural one, since NOMA is celebrating the final weekend of the touring exhibit, "Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World's Fairs, 1851-1939."
"We looked at the 90-year span of that show, and settled on the most fun decade for a themed party- something where New Orleanians could easily reach into the closet and throw together a costume."
Caldwell has had plenty of time to hone his skills as an event planner. For the past three years he has directed NOMA's Friday night programming venture, which has become a potent tool for drawing new visitors and winning new members for the City Park institution.
Part of the goal is to demystify the museum experience, especially for newcomers who shy at NOMA's grand façade with its lofty pillars, classical vases, and an entablature etched with the names of artistic greats. Even on Fridays, NOMA remains an institution with a serious mission, but it doesn't take itself too seriously. (One example: Some of the Friday night gallery tours will be infiltrated by comics who plan to get you laughing while you learn).
"These parties bring in a lot of first-time visitors who think of the museum as a quiet, reserved place, like a library," Caldwell said. "Often they are surprised at the social side of what we do, but once they're in the door, they make plans to come back on a quiet day to look at the art more closely."
Speakeasy Art Party
What: Museum visitors can sample a host of free activities at an evening festival that includes live bands, an improvisational comedy troupe, cooking demonstrations and hands-on art projects for children. Jazz Age costumes are encouraged, but not necessary.
Where: New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park.
When: Friday (Aug. 2), 5 p.m. to midnight.
Tickets: $10 adults; $8 seniors; $6 children (7-17). Free for museum members and for children 6 and younger. For details go to Noma.org or call 504.658.4100.