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New fundraiser puts professional Carnival artists to work creating "house floats"

With Mardi Gras parades canceled and different for 2021, unemployed or struggling float builders and artists can benefit from a new idea from the Krewe of Red Beans

NEW ORLEANS — A Carnival krewe which raised more than a million dollars to support the city’s restaurants, health care workers and cultural community during the pandemic is turning its attention to what it knows best: Mardi Gras.

With the city’s edict that Carnival 2021 isn’t canceled but different – and without parades – the Krewe of Red Beans is adding its strength to a movement to create a parade of “house floats.” These will be designed and built by professional Carnival artists.

Its new crowd-funding campaign, called the “Hire a Mardi Gras Artist” initiative, is designed to help provide work to members of the artistic community who design and build for the city's parades and krewes.

The project launched Friday will create jobs for float builders and artists who are out of work or struggling because of COVID-19. The new effort will raise money to pay some of those workers to design and install elaborate decorations on New Orleans houses between now and Mardi Gras.

The idea is the brainchild of Caroline Thomas, who works as a float builder, artist and parade designer for Royal Artists. The company designs and builds parades for several local krewes including Rex, Proteus, Chaos and Le Krewe d’Etat.

As the idea of a Krewe of House Floats has gained popularity on Facebook, with people making plans to decorate the exterior of their home for Mardi Gras, Thomas said she thought such a concept might help provide work for some of her fellow artists.

“I'm excited to see what people do with the do-it-yourself house float idea, but I thought it’d be great to see an actual ‘float’ on a house, so to speak” she said. “And it could also pay these artists who are out of work. A lot of us are kind of invisible and not in the spotlight, so we've tried to come up with a way to support them.”

Credit: Provided photo
An artist at work on the first creation for the "Hire a Mardi Gras Artist" initative.

Devin DeWulf, the Krewe of Red Beans founder, said that it didn’t take him long to heartily endorse the idea. Thomas is a longtime friend and former member of the krewe he founded. Red Beans members create fanciful costumes and suits using red beans and walk the streets on Lundi Gras.

“I thought she had a really smart idea,” DeWulf said, “because our city’s economy right now is in shambles because we're so dependent on tourism, so we have to be really creative on how we can possibly create jobs for people right now. And that's what we're going to try to do.”

The goal of the “Hire a Mardi Gras Artist” initiative is to hire artists to decorate 40 homes across the city. Organizers plan to raise $10,000 per house to pay the artists involved. For each house, the group estimates eight jobs will be created for artisans, carpenters, installation teams and project managers. 

Houses and businesses that are selected for the project will be chosen at random from among the donors.

“If you own your home in New Orleans and you support our effort, we will basically choose at random one of those houses,” DeWulf explained. “So we're excited because they could pop up anywhere.”

Homeowners will be encouraged to offer ideas for the designs, which will then be created and installed by professional artists and craftspeople.

In addition, companies and individuals can commission a house by donating online at hireamardigrasartist.com.

 “We want to hire sculptors and flower makers and painters and really bring all of those crafts to the house designs,” Thomas said. “I also think people don't always appreciate that the way that we build floats in New Orleans is not like anywhere else in the world. It is a unique regional art form and we should celebrate it,” Thomas said.

A design has already been completed and artistic elements, including papier mache flowers and figures, are being finished for the first decorated house, which Thomas hopes to unveil in the next two weeks. The house is near a large mural of Dr. John on Toledano Street, so the design employs a voodoo theme, with a large skull, snakes, moss-draped trees and other foliage planned to grace the front of the home.

Credit: Provided photo
A papier mache flower that will be used to decorate one of the houses.

In addition to the Krewe of Red Beans, the project is endorsed by two other spirited and inventive Carnival krewes: Krewe du Vieux and the Krewe of Chewbacchus.  It also has support lined up from Rouses Markets, Nola Craft Culture and Merchant House.

The Krewe of Red Beans is actually three parades in one, with two sub-krewes: the Dead Beans parade (whose members create and wear suits inspired by mythology or folklore that deals with death or the afterlife) and the Brazilian-themed Feijao parade.

With this new project and all their 2021 activities canceled, members will instead continue the philanthropic work they have earned a reputation for over the past year.

Its “Feed the Front Line NOLA” campaign raised $1.2 million to support some of the city’s restaurants by feeding health care workers. The effort also created jobs for unemployed musicians who were hired as gig delivery workers.

An ongoing project is called “Feed the Second Line.” DeWulf said that has created $250,000 worth of gig-work for some of the city's musicians, Mardi Gras Indians, Baby Dolls and artists. To date, it has purchased more than $100,000 in groceries for 150 elderly members of those groups.

The krewe also organized a Mask Up Sweepstakes over the summer which promoted mask-wearing by giving away a $10,000 prize.  

With the Hire a Mardi Gras Artist initiative, the krewe returns to its roots. DeWulf and Thomas said that has them most excited about the work.

“The whole idea is we have these professional artists who have incredible skills and we're just going to unleash and tap into their skill set to make Carnival magic,” DeWulf said.

RELATED: Krewe of House Floats finds unique alternative for Carnival 2021

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