Everyone knows the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell is one of the largest and most impressive gatherings of artistic talent anywhere in the country — or the world, for that matter.
And we hear the music is pretty good, too.
The truth is, the “jazz” part of the festival tends to get the lion’s share of the attention every year (along with the rest of the music), while for some attendees, the “heritage” festival is limited to a couple of Abita Amber drafts near the Gospel Tent and a bowl of Crawfish Monica.
But visual art and crafts have long been an integral part of the festival, and this year’s lineup of artists is every bit as wide-ranging as the festival’s musical offerings — and maybe even a little more eye-catching.
This year’s selection of visual art and crafts at Jazz Fest checks in at more than 250 artists, spread out over three venues, making it in effect the largest group show in New Orleans.
While some of the art — including the late Michael P. Smith’s iconic photographs of Jazz Fest performances and Richard Thomas’ original paintings and limited-edition prints — will be on view both weekends of the festival, all three of the venues will feature a different artist lineup each weekend, making the search for that perfect fine art souvenir to take home from the festival more than a little daunting.
But that wide-ranging selection of art is what the Jazz Fest art marketplaces are all about.
Although many of those artists come from places further afield than New Orleans, local and Louisiana-based artists are represented in greater numbers than any others.
“It is important to us that a good representation of Louisiana artists and new artists be part of the festival,” said Jazz and Heritage Festival crafts manager Christine Berthiaume, who is part of the team responsible for selecting the artists whose work is sold at Jazz Fest every year.
Berthiaume said the same selection procedure is followed for all three art exhibition areas — Contemporary Crafts, Louisiana Marketplace and Congo Square African Marketplace — and that the process begins the fall before each year’s Jazz Fest when artists apply online.
A panel of artists and art professionals reviews the applications and judges them anonymously based on creativity and technical expertise, Berthiaume said.
In addition, art for the Congo Square African Marketplace and Louisiana Marketplace is evaluated on the basis of cultural relevance, she said.
And although veteran festivalgoers will recognize some familiar artists from year to year, Berthiaume said, jurors begin each year’s selection process with a blank slate.
“There is no priority given to artists that have participated in the past,” Berthiaume said. “Every year, each application is given the same and equal opportunity.”
With more than 120 artists represented over the two weekends of Jazz Fest, the Contemporary Crafts area is the largest of the three craft venues.
Over the first weekend, look for New Orleans artist Christine Ledoux’s mosaic sculptures and Rebecca Rebouche’s mixed-media pieces on canvas and paper. Matthew Holdren creates intricate furniture pieces from reclaimed wood, while Stephany Lyman transforms vintage cowboy boots into one-of-a-kind purses. And Jean-Marcel St. Jacques & Ella Augustine continue the recycling theme with haunting wood pieces made from salvaged wood.
New Orleans-area artists in the Louisiana Marketplace include Paulette Lizano’s glass sculptures and Cathy DeYoung’s colorful enameled jewelry, while the rest of Louisiana is represented by Connie Kittok’s paintings of music legends like Buckwheat Zydeco and Annie ODell’s “cultural wearables.”
Wearable art also features prominently in the Congo Square African Marketplace, which includes Doctor Foots’ Egyptian-inspired silver and gemstone jewelry and Bridgeja’ Baker & Bridgette Baker’s copper wire-wrapped jewelry with natural gemstones along with basketry and pottery by Bernadette Gildspinel and mixed-media wall art by Peter Boutte.
It’s all enough to provide many years of happy Jazz Fest memories long after the taste of that last bite of Crawfish Monica has faded from your mouth.