How New Orleanians are celebrating Carnival this year
You’re driving down the street when suddenly to your left wildly colored papier-mâché flowers and Mardi Gras colors erupt your thoughts. Yes! You’ve stumbled across one of this year’s float houses!
No doubt about it, New Orleanians are a creative lot. It’s been proven time and again that little keeps us down for long. “House floats” were born in response to New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s cancellation of 2021 Mardi Gras parades due to COVID-19 safety restrictions. Artistic energy is now being poured into adorning houses as floats, with imaginative decor previously seen only on wheels.
Also known as “Yardi Gras,” the decorating trend is catching on across the city and beyond, and looks to become a permanent seasonal tradition.
Krewe of House Floats
The Krewe of House Floats was founded by Megan Boudreaux in November as a safe alternative to celebrate Mardi Gras. Her idea is what started the trend. Megan remarks, “Parades (were) cancelled, so I decided to organize folks all over the city, the state, and the world who wanted to decorate their houses and celebrate safely in the midst of this pandemic.” Yes, the world. Expat New Orleanians are decorating their houses all over the U.S. and the world.
Her organization has several roles, first serving as a conduit for artists and vendors and those looking to decorate their houses. The kreweofhousefloats.org website allows locals easy access to artists, props and decorations, costumes, and more. And their Facebook resource page serves as an open market for vendors and homeowners, and posting decorating tips.
You don’t have to join to decorate your house. But thousands have signed up on the organization’s website to submit house themes, then joined one of the sub-krewes that are arranged by neighborhood. These sub-krewes in turn have themes, each with a captain and their own Facebook group page. Houses are not limited to decorations; some are planning throws, bands, and dancing groups for Carnival day. (Bands and dancing groups require city permits.)
Lagniappe – A Citywide Map
Beginning February 1, kreweofhousefloats.org will feature a map of all affiliated houses so that locals can tour different neighborhoods’ houses while socially distanced in their cars. Over 1,000 houses have been decorated to date, with more in the works.
Hire a Mardi Gras Artist
The creative initiative “Hire a Mardi Gras Artist,” a partnership of float builder Caroline Thomas with the Krewe of Red Beans, was inspired by the Krewe of House Floats. The group’s goal is to create 40 professionally designed float houses.
In order to support local artisans whose livelihoods rely on Carnival, Krewe of Red Beans founder, Devin Du Wulf, explains, “(Float builder) Caroline Thomas had this idea ‘what if we created something that could…put people back to work, and instead of building floats like they would normally do, this year, they’re transforming people’s homes.’ Everytime we’re able to pull one of these projects off, it’s creating about 15 jobs.”
The hireamardigrasartist.com website explains that houses can either be decorated by direct commission or crowdfunding, and features a donation page.
Decorating your Own Float House
Uptown residents Bryan Batt and Tom Chianfici took on the decorating tasks themselves, sourcing their vibrant flowers from Phil Floats, a float builder in Westwego ($30-$150/each), and giant beads from Lou’s Ballz in Uptown ($50/8-feet), among other items.
Bryan explains, “We love to decorate, so it was great for us. But it’s work! The flowers don’t come ready to hang. They’re staple-gunned to wire and you have to bend the wires to fashion them. And then you have to attach some sort of hardware to be able to attach them to a wall or banister. Also you have to polyurethane (the papier-mâché) to be able to take the rain.”
Laughs Bryan, “My neighbor said, ‘You’ve raised the bar!’ It’s really put smiles on faces. And that’s what Mardi Gras does, puts smiles on faces!”
Trevor Wisdom is a native New Orleanian, avid parade goer, and managing editor of Nola Boomers.
Cover photo: Hire a Mardi Gras Artist’s “The Night Tripper“ float in honor of Doctor John.