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Before joining PETERMAYER earlier this year, I hadn’t actually spent much time in the agency's hometown of New Orleans. In fact, I had only been to this city twice: once for Mardi Gras and once to interview for my position. What I knew of NOLA is probably what most people think of: Bourbon Street, Mardi Gras, nice architecture, gumbo. However, I love throwing myself into new places and getting to know them through the eyes of the locals. So I took a weekend to drop down from my longtime home of Chicago to explore the place I’ll soon be calling my new home.
People call it the Big Easy. To me, it’s the Big Mashup. There’s so much going on here, and the diversity of cultures is striking, even compared to much bigger cities like New York or London. Over the course of a weekend, I met fierce citizens throughout its colorful neighborhoods, where their pride of the local culture and personal contributions to it shine through. Those who pigeonhole the city as drunken and careless truly insult the multiple generations who have labored to maintain the traditions and customs that distinguish New Orleans.
Each of the spots below reveals the true heart—and fighting spirit—that I discovered after chatting my way through the city’s neighborhoods. Some were recommended by my new colleagues while others I accidentally wandered into. Along the way, I was welcomed with a loving embrace that has me counting down the days until I make this city my permanent home.
Stephanie Moreaux, our analytics lead, recommended I walk down Julia Street in the city’s Arts District. I have multiple degrees in art, so this was a natural starting point for me. My stroll along Julia Street recalled more recognized areas like Chelsea in New York or Short North in Columbus; but don’t mistake it, NOLA has a serious arts scene worthy of national honors. One installation that struck me was the collection of Whitfield Lovell’s charcoal drawings at the Arthur Roger Gallery. Lovell’s works were inspired by his collection of historical photos of unidentified Black subjects.
Venturing out of the air conditioning, I was confronted by a grittier, but equally inspiring, art scene. Along Julia Street and in neighborhoods across New Orleans, giant murals hold court on the walls of warehouses, parking garages, and rail yards. Local legend BMike is arguably the ambassador for public art here, where his gargantuan murals elevate his mostly Black subjects to heroic stature. His love of his city and its many diverse neighborhoods and people is palpable through his striking use of bright colors and larger-than-life scale.
I know, I know: Music, not art, is New Orleans’s greatest cultural export. As it happens, I’m an improviser in everything I do; therefore, I need and understand jazz. Scouring record stores for rare recordings is one of my favorite pastimes, and I’ve come to associate neighborhoods and cities with the albums in my collection (one of my most prized being a rare UK edition of a Miles Davis concert, found in London’s Camden District). So naturally I found my way to the Louisiana Music Factory on Frenchmen Street, where I was floored by the staff's broad-reaching knowledge as we exchanged trivia about defunct record labels.
A divey Chicago Cubs bar in NOLA? Enough said. The super-friendly patrons were 100% New Orleans. They bought me a beer and toasted my son who was working that night at Wrigley Field. I joined them outside and listened to stories about the neighborhood. They told me that the lounge is a classic mainstay in an area whose raw charm is fading.
The historically Black neighborhood of Tremé—whose name and centuries-old culture inspired the HBO series—is home to the New Orleans African American Museum. The docents here are all local and care deeply about telling the stories of their city and neighborhood.
Lisa Costa from our HR team tipped me off about the museum’s special Juneteenth programming, and I’m glad she did. I stopped for a while to sit with a mother and daughter who were working on a quilt. The mom introduced herself as Cely Pedescleaux and explained that they were stitching together a tapestry of fugitive slave advertisements from pre-Civil War era newspapers found in the freedomonthemove.org database. Enslavers paid for these ads when laborers escaped, appealing to white readers to help track them down. Adding a few stitches of my own, and learning about the freedom seekers who inspired her quilt, were the highlights of my trip.
National WWII Museum—a longtime PETERMAYER client—is high atop any tourist’s list in New Orleans. I’d visited the museum before, so I decided to stroll the perimeter to take in the exterior displays.
The museum itself is an impressive and imposing complex of contemporary and historic buildings when you’re standing among them. But walking two blocks west (or “toward the Lake,” in New Orleans parlance) to Harmony Circle reveals the striking 19th-century aura of the Warehouse District. The museum’s modern canopy pierces the sky over historic buildings that still hold their character—a reminder to me of the city’s longevity, and the contributions of architects and artists over many generations.
In most cities, a sultry night will send residents scampering indoors to air-conditioning, but not so in New Orleans. I joined my colleague Eric Camardelle who recommended this place and brought along fellow employee Keith Crawford, for an after-work drink in this oasis of wine and charcuterie. After a weekend of kicking around the city, it was pleasant to sit under umbrellas, sip on wine and humidity, and listen to a good jam session in this backyard-turned-hip-music venue.