You’re gonna want to bring your camera to the bling bayou.
What happens when you ask over 20 New Orleans artists to help create an immersive art experience that is sure to break up the monotony of a pandemic-ridden summer? You get JAMNOLA — New Orleans’ first art pop-up that celebrates the art, music, food and people of the Crescent City!
Located at 2832 Royal St., JAMNOLA (Joy, Art, Music New Orleans) is the brainchild of art and culture enthusiasts, Jonny Liss and Chad Smith. This multi-room art installation, in the Bywater, might be just what the doctor ordered to bring a little joy back into our lives.
You’ll want your phone charged for this one…
Originally slated to open in early 2020, but put on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions, JAMNOLA will take you on a photographable and Instagram-able journey throughout a magical New Orleans that explores art, music and the people who have made the city what it is. The goal of the museum is happiness, and it seems that there is no better time than now to spread a little joy through local art.
Liss, a native New Yorker who has been a regular visitor to New Orleans since 1992, is, himself, an embodiment of joy. His enthusiasm about JAMNOLA, and New Orleans culture, is contagious and makes you want to be a part of the magic.
“I always want to bring joy and happiness to people in life,” Liss said. “I thought the best way to bring joy to people, in New Orleans, is through music and art.”
Inspired by the Museum of Ice Cream in New York and San Francisco, Liss and Smith wanted to bring that type of interactive experience to New Orleans. He knew that he wanted it to feature New Orleans’ greatest assets: art and music.
To help develop this unique experience, Liss and Smith recruited Collin Ferguson and Catherine Todd, of Where Y’art, as curators, artistic directors and creative partners of the project. They were enlisted to acquire artists and develop concepts for each room. The artists used their individual talents to bring the experience to life.
“Last year, I met Collin and Cat and brought them to New York to explain what we had in mind,” Liss said.
The project took off from there and the process of gathering a team of artists, to bring JAMNOLA to life, began.
“JAMNOLA reached out to us because of our relationships with artists in the community,” Cat Todd said. “They understood we are a mission-driven company rooted in New Orleans, that works to support and create opportunities for local artists.”
She continued, “They understood that it is artists who are OUR most valuable natural resource and essential to maintaining our culture. So, JAMNOLA chose to partner with us and invest in our creative economy.”
Liss said that Ferguson and Todd took the experience that he was envisioning and brought it to the next level.
“Collin and Cat found the artists and made the exhibits what they are,” Liss said. “We started with 8 artists and ended up with 20. They took a basic vision that I had and really brought it to life.”
From a blinged-out bayou to a larger than life crawfish boil
What was born of Liss’ and Smith’s vision and Ferguson’s and Todd’s work is the JAMNOLA experience: full immersion into everything that makes New Orleans wonderful. The fun is spread out over 12 rooms that include a 3-D feather forest, made out of recycled materials, a life-size crawfish boil (where you end up in the pot!), beautiful hand-painted murals depicting second-lines, Mardi Gras parades and po-boys, larger-than-life-size sculptures of some of New Orleans’ most famous musicians, a bling bayou and much more. Local musicians’ music echoes through each exhibit and makes you want to dance.
Whether you’re a local New Orleanian, or you’re just visiting The Big Easy, the experience will make you smile and you’ll leave with a new appreciation for the city and its people.
One of my favorite rooms was Bling Bayou by Pompadour Productions. This glittery bayou shines under the moonlight as a sparkly alligator looks on. Look up and see a Spanish moss-covered light that seems to twinkle under the stars. Use your QR code to learn about 9 amazing hiking trails near New Orleans.
Putting JAMNOLA together, during quarantine, was a project in itself. Artists were selected in January and work began shortly after Mardi Gras. Due to the pandemic, changes had to be made to the exhibits.
“Exhibits had to be changed to be touch-free, in order to make everything as safe as possible,” Liss said. “For example, originally, Feather Forest was going to include a ‘feather car wash’, but that had to be scrapped. Artists were allowed to work on their rooms, on their own, and we had designated times for each artist to come in and work.”
It’s important to Liss, Smith and all of those involved that JAMNOLA is as safe of an experience as possible. Masks are required, as is 6 feet of social distancing, and tour groups remain small with no more than six people at a time.
“We’re operating at phase one guidelines,” Liss said. “QR codes are available in each room and that adds to the no-touch experience and each room is regularly cleaned after each group.”
One of the best parts of the JAMNOLA experience is the personalized microsite. When you arrive at the experience, you scan a QR code on your phone, enter your email address and you’re given a link to a custom site where you can learn more about each art room.
There are also ways to use your personalized QR code to interact with different exhibits. Click one link on your site and learn all about po-boys. Click another and learn about the cultural tradition of Spirit Trees. This is a fun way to learn more about the artists, and their vision for each space, long after you’ve left the building.
Something that is really important to both Liss and Smith is the opportunity that JAMNOLA provides to give back, not only to the artists participating but to organizations in need.
JAMNOLA uses some of its proceeds to donate to worthy causes like Feed the Second Line, which provides food for the culture bearers of the city. The NOCCA institute invests in young artists, their mentors and the community through programs that encourage educational and cultural innovation. This is a cause dear to the folks at JAMNOLA because the pop-up is housed in a NOCCA building. The Trombone Shorty Foundation’s mission is to inspire the next generation of talented opportunity youth through music education, instruction, mentorship, and performance and Liss and Smith know how important music education is to New Orleans youth. Finally, Guardians Institute provides books about music and culture to children in need.
You can also help support the artists, that made JAMNOLA possible, by purchasing their art and other offerings in the JAMNOLA gift shop.
Liss refers to JAMNOLA as a “permanent pop-up” and he said some parts of the exhibit will be changed about once a year, in order to keep the experience fresh. Liss said that everyone will be able to find their “jam” at JAMNOLA: it’s all about joy.
Know Before You Go:
Kids 12 and under: $20
Kids 2 and under: Free
Students, Seniors, Military, Teachers, First Responders, and Health Care Providers: $20 with valid ID
Louisiana Residents save 15% with code NOLALOVE on website with valid ID