A sizable grant from ArtPlace America will help the Mardi Gras Indian Council to construct a hub of sorts on La Salle Street in Central City.
Bertrand Butler, who helped to found the Mardi Gras Indian Council 30 years ago, said the new center will help the group fulfill its mission: “to unite the culture and help it blossom.”
The result will be a gathering spot and exhibition hall that can act as a touchstone for Indians from across the city.
There, at what’s being called the Mardi Gras Indian Cultural Campus, Indians will host performances, exhibit their art, teach beading and sewing classes, and perhaps sell the feathers, beads, stones and plumes needed to make their elaborate annual suits.
While the Indian tradition is often described with varying degrees of accuracy, the campus will help visitors better understand its Native American and African roots, said Big Chief Tyrone Casby, head of the Mohawk Hunters, the only tribe located on the city’s West Bank.
He said the campus can help younger Indians better understand their own culture — a need he sees with young Indians who increasingly declare themselves to be “big chiefs” before they’re ready.
“They need to understand that the community anoints you as a chief,” Casby said.
Howard Miller, a chief of the Creole Wild West tribe, hopes to move the sewing class he now holds for neighborhood children to the campus, which will be near A.L. Davis Park, a stronghold of the civil rights movement and the starting point for many civil rights marches.
The Mardi Gras Indian tradition is rooted in those civil rights campaigns and in not backing down when faced with adversity, said Miller, who sees a direct connection between the La Salle corridor’s rich history and the proposed new campus. “It’s important to us to have this campus so that we can hold our own destiny,” he said.
The campus concept came out of the Claiborne Corridor planning process a few years ago and was furthered by a $70,000 grant that brought in the Tulane City Center — the Tulane School of Architecture’s applied urban research and outreach program — to create actual plans from the vision begun by the Mardi Gras Indian Council.
The council, which was formed in the 1980s, includes about two dozen Indian tribes from all parts of town.
The Foundation for Louisiana last week received the $500,000 grant for the campus, which is envisioned as a $1.4 million project. It will redevelop two blighted shotgun-style houses and a vacant lot into a campus that will include classrooms, offices, indoor and outdoor performance spaces, workshop studios and a kitchen.
Out of nearly 1,300 applicants for its national grants program, ArtPlace America chose 38 recipients, including the Mardi Gras Indian campus. Another New Orleans applicant, the Arts Council of New Orleans, will receive $350,000 for its Youth Solutions initiative.