Petronius, city’s oldest active gay krewe,

Queen of the Krewe of Petronius Ball, New Orleans, 1993. Photograph by Syndey Byrd

New Orleans’ oldest active gay Mardi Gras krewe has canceled its annual Carnival ball for 2015, a decision it said was difficult but financially necessary amid increasingly difficult times.

The Krewe of Petronius, founded in 1961, said Wednesday that it will not hold Bal Masque LIV this year, instead putting all of its funds toward its 55th anniversary ball next year.

“The behind-the-scenes costs of putting on an elaborate event are more astronomical than most people understand,” said Petronius’ captain, Daryl Dunaway Jr. “It just was not possible this year for us to have enough money to not be in debt.”

Over the past 10 years, the krewe held its ball at the Frederick J. Sigur Civic Center in Chalmette, but it had planned on holding this year’s event at the Carver Theater on Orleans Avenue.

While Petronius has hosted events that cost as much as $50,000 in the past, Dunaway said last year’s ball was “an excellent event” at just under $20,000.

Still, Dunaway said, the krewe’s 30 active and 10 lifetime members discussed the issue among themselves for a couple of months before deciding to hold off on this year’s event.

“We could have squeaked by, but in our minds it would not have been the best foot to put forward,” he said.

Petronius, which does not parade, will still hold a small gathering for members and their guests. It will announce details of its 2015-16 membership rush party and other events later this year.

Dunaway said Petronius was encouraged in recent years by gaining new members who had never been part of a krewe before, but the overall trend for gay Carnival organizations has been downward as the general population becomes more accepting of gay culture.

Dunaway said the Krewe of Yuga was the city’s first gay Carnival krewe, and in the decades after it and Petronius were founded, such organizations were essential to providing a safe and supportive place for gays and lesbians to be themselves.

Today, when going out in drag not only is no longer dangerous or illegal but is embraced during Mardi Gras, the importance of a private-ticket event has diminished.

Groups like Petronius need to find new ways to be relevant and get the kind of active participation required to keep a krewe running, Dunaway said.

“That’s where a lot of us are having issues,” he said. “We have to reformulate and regroup and figure out where we’re (going in) the future and how that’s possible.”

He said Petronius will undertake that task against a backdrop of declining resources and craftsmanship necessary for Mardi Gras in general: Costs are up, the availability of some supplies has shrunk and the knowledge and skill base required to create elaborate costumes and floats has diminished.

“It’s very unfortunate, but it’s a dying art, not just gay Mardi Gras but for Mardi Gras organizations in general,” Dunaway said.

He said older seamstresses and costume designers tell of a far more vibrant and collaborative community than exists today, when the knowledge and skills needed to create great costumes often are protected as proprietary information.

“Younger people see it in the street and say, ‘Oh, that’s pretty!’ but that’s as far as it goes,” he said.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.