On our first day in New Orleans we visited the Louisiana State Museum located in the historic French Quarter. The two exhibits that resonated with me the most were “Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond” and “Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana.” The first provided me with a lot of the history of Louisiana and its experiences with hurricanes in the past. The subdued lighting, wind, and news reports playing in the background helped give a sense of the chaos that was occurring during the storm. It was interesting to learn about the science behind the hurricane, but also the human errors that made it worse. Levees were not constructed correctly, rescue operations were inefficient, and there was miscommunication among city officials and the media.
I also gained some insight into how citizens banded together to support one another in the face of such destruction. I liked that the underlying theme of the exhibit was the idea of resiliency. Despite the havoc Katrina wrought, people coped with humor or by making signs with phrases like “we are coming back.” The museum had a display of some really powerful artifacts including banners and a garage door with an x that firefighters would use to mark that they had checked the house. There were also seats from the Superdome where many sought shelter, and Fats Domino’s piano from his flooded Ninth Ward home. One of the most moving displays was a video montage of residents describing the physical and emotional devastation the storm brought and how this affected them personally. It ended on a positive note, however, by describing the cultural traditions that have continued to be symbols of positivity and hope for the city. Many of the citizens commented upon the history, the food, and the diverse group of people that make the city so special.
It was interesting to juxtapose this somber exhibition with the more festive one on Mardi Gras. The museum displayed some really elaborate costumes, ball gowns, and crown jewels from the various carnivals. This exhibit was really informative for me because before this trip I had a misconstrued idea of what the festival entailed. While I always associated it with drinking and partying, the festival is actually very family oriented and definitely not as crazy as it is portrayed in the media. Ornate floats and marching bands are showcased in parades, and families gather to barbecue while children sit in ladders with built in seats to watch the festivities.
Overall, the museum provided me with an in depth environmental explanation of Katrina, the human failures that occurred, and how the city began the recovery process. I liked that the exhibit mixed in some positive aspects as well. For example, it displayed costumes made from blue tarps used to cover roof damage after the storm. The resilience and celebratory nature of the culture were also reflected in the Mardi Gras exhibit which gave a taste of the history and traditions that make it so unique.