There is no shortage of festivals around New Orleans in the fall, but only one invites you to spend the day wandering through our region’s only ecological time capsule.
“This forest is a magical place that exists out of our time,” said Grace Rennie, residency technician at A Studio in the Woods, a 7.66-acre patch of bottomland hardwood forest in Lower Coast Algiers. “For over 40 years, this property has been stewarded to mitigate any invasive species, so what you see is what our land looked like years ago, before other species came in.”
There is only one day of the year that the general public is invited to come out and enjoy A Studio in the Woods, and that is at FORESTival, a festival of music, art, food and guided walks through the woods designed for visitors of all ages.
The seventh annual FORESTival: A Celebration of Art and Nature will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11. The event is free for children, with a $10 suggested donation for adults.
“A Studio in the Woods is a program of Tulane University’s Bywater Institute that was created to provide artists with a peaceful place to come and be inspired,” Rennie said.
“From September through May, we host artists and scholars at six-week artist residencies. We also have one-week scholarly residencies and other special invitation residencies as well.”
FORESTival, Rennie said, is the chance to share not just the land but the art it inspires with the public.
The day will include everything from a highly thoughtful jazz piece by Byron Asher’s Skrontch Music, to a painting and poetry collaboration by artist and former artist-in-residence Benjamin Morris, to the chance to get your hands dirty creating a clay and wood landscape.
Guests also will have the opportunity to learn more about their surroundings via walks in the woods led by environmental curator David Baker, entomologist Kimberly Mighell and Morris.
“The kids especially love the bug walk,” Rennie said. “But everything is really suitable for all ages. We’ll also have some Chocolate Chirp Cookies — cookies with crickets baked in them — to try.”
Also on-site — likely greeting visitors, along with his cat — will be 90-year-old Joe Carmichael, half of the couple that created A Studio in the Woods.
Carmichael and his wife, Lucianne, were passionate about two things: art and education. Lucianne Carmichael was formerly the principal of McDonogh 15 Elementary School and an award-winning potter. Joe Carmichael is a former journalist and governmental liaison for public education and a woodworker.
The couple would commonly meet other artists and invite them out to their property, where all the buildings were built with salvaged materials. In 2001, A Studio in the Woods was born. In 2004, it was donated to Tulane.
Joe Carmichael still lives on the property.
“Because of the nature of the space and what it’s used for, we can’t be open to the public all the time, so this is a really special day for us,” Rennie said.
“We used to have a few open houses a year, but we decided to just condense everything into one big day. Now we’ve got so much going on it’s hard to decide where to put everything.”