When the first White Linen Night took place in 1994, it was conceived as a respite from the misery of a New Orleans summer.
The then-nascent Warehouse District art corridor on Julia Street would be transformed into a civilized street fair in which New Orleanians in their linen-clad finery could sip Chardonnay and chat with friends while leisurely taking in the latest crop of summer gallery shows.
Twenty years later, that’s still the idea. Unfortunately, for many locals, the annual event brings a new set of headaches all its own.
The traffic and parking situation in the Warehouse District can be a nightmare. The crowds on Julia Street can be oppressive. And you can count on the heat and humidity in early August being just as miserable as ever.
Of course, complaining about White Linen Night is nothing new. Rumblings about overcrowding on Julia Street were part of the reason that the French Quarter-based Dirty Linen Night was started in 2001. And last year, Filthy Linen Night on Frenchmen Street and the St. Claude Arts District brought organized reaction to the original event to a logical, if tattered, conclusion.
So being frustrated with White Linen Night has become something of a venerated New Orleans tradition in itself.
But that’s not to say that art-loving New Orleanians should give the event a pass. The trick is being smart about it.
We’ve asked some longtime veterans of White Linen Night how they’ve managed to cope with the event, which remains a linchpin of New Orleans’ annual arts calendar.
Curator, Ogden Museum of Southern Art
“After braving the heat of Julia Street in your white linen (or black leather, if that is your inclination), come by the Ogden Museum for more art, air conditioning and libations with DJ Matty spinning vinyl until 9 p.m. If you still feel like braving the elements, take a stroll down Poydras Avenue to view a stationary parade of 26 sculptures that are included in the Ogden Museum and Sculpture for New Orleans’ Poydras Corridor exhibition.”
Artist and former interim director of visual arts, Contemporary Arts Center
“Tips for the early birds (starting at 4 p.m.) who want close parking to the CAC when leaving the White Linen Night afterparty: Just across the street from the CAC’s front door, walk through the parking lot and go left to enter the Hotel Modern courtyard. Take your pick of which bar to visit: Tivoli & Lee or Bellocq. Also, if in the vicinity of Magazine and Gravier streets, be sure to check out the ongoing Us.Is (Urban Sidewalk Installation Space) featuring Louisiana assemblages by Jimmy Descant and Vestiges/Trinitas.”
Executive director, The NOCCA Institute
“Best tips are to avoid red wine that night and to make a new best friend with an air-conditioned oasis nearby!”
Robin Wallis Atkinson
Independent curator and arts consultant
"Don’t bother trying to drive into the Warehouse District. Instead, park somewhere near St. Charles Avenue uptown and grab the streetcar, as parking is a nightmare and the streetcar is a ball! Don’t bother with your hair or makeup, you’ll be sweating it all to oblivion anyway. Pack a few beers in your purse, carry cash and don’t forget to drink water!”
Instructor, arts administration, University of New Orleans
“To ensure I have the chance to view as much art as possible, I walk or bike to the Warehouse District from the Marigny and show up on Julia Street just before 6 p.m. to hit the places and shows that most interest me. By 7 p.m., when the crowds have begun to peak, I’ve seen everything I wanted to see and head out for ice cream.”