How to Discover the Artistic Side of New Orleans

Designer Alexa Pulitzer is constantly inspired by the city.

How to Discover the Artistic Side of New Orleans

Photo by Sarah Essex

When it comes to New Orleans, art isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind. But spend a little time with designer Alexa Pulitzer and you’ll quickly discover the vibrant world that is the city’s art scene. Born into a family of artists, Alexa specializes in stationary and other paper arts and, two years ago, was chosen to design a logo to honor the city’s upcoming tricentennial anniversary in 2018. She was also one of our hosts for AFAR Experiences New Orleans (May 18–20 2016). Here, she opens up about the city’s rich art scene.

What’s the design world in New Orleans like today?
“New Orleans has undergone a renaissance in the last decade due to the very real necessity of having to rebuild—in many instances, from nothing. New Orleans as a port city has always incorporated a gumbo of people and cultures and has managed to retain these influences in a way that feels less traditionally American and more Caribbean and European. So, in the rebuilding and refurbishing of their studios, artists use these various influences, and it really captures the flavor of the city. It can be seen in our vibrant Burlesque community, which infuses an appreciation for the history of the art with modern twists. It’s alive in burgeoning art communities like the St. Claude arts corridor, which creates spaces and opportunities for artists of various exposure and experience. As more artists and designers realize that New Orleans is a hip scene where exciting new art and artists can be found—creating in mediums from glass blowing to print making to graphic design—this feeds into the community.”

How have you seen creativity play into the city’s recovery from Katrina?

“New Orleans is a city where almost everyone is an artist, so being a creative is the norm. In fact, the only person I hang out with who isn’t an artist is my husband, who is a lawyer. When you have a convergence of so many artists and mediums you get a wonderful collaborative effect akin to jazz music, where these influences all meld together in a very free and easy way, often just for the love of creating and collaborating and not just for the salable end product. I think that’s an important aspect of New Orleans. It’s visible in the elaborate costumes that come out during Mardi Gras or the weekly festivals we have to celebrate any number of things that often involve music, visual arts, food, and most importantly, people. These mostly free events create a community and culture that values creativity just for the sake of creativity. And no one knows better than a New Orleanian that all of this can be washed away, so there is a joy even in temporary or impermanent artistic creations whether it’s a costume worn once, a street performance, an impromptu jam on stage at a music hall, or a parade through the streets.”

Where in the city do you go for artistic inspiration?
“I make it a point to go on a weekly basis to Preservation Hall to hear live music. Every Wednesday, I’m in what I call my “living room” there. Dancing gets the stress out and the creative juices flowing. Even sitting in Jackson Square or Frenchman Street listening to the street musicians and the bustle of the crowds of the French Quarter along with the sights can inspire me. New Orleans is a visually interesting city with bright colors, distinct architectural influences and a tropical climate that makes the city erupt into full bloom most of the year. Balconies in the French Quarter are teeming with design details. Our street corners are adorned with elaborate posts, the houses with colorful shutters and antique gas-lights, and if you ever get tired of looking at all of these details, you can just people watch. You will always see something interesting on the streets of New Orleans. The bizarre is quite the ordinary here. If I’m at home, I can just rummage through my costume closet! You can’t live long in New Orleans without acquiring an overflowing costume closet.”

What do you think is the most Instagrammable place in the city?
“My favorite place is the legendary Preservation Hall, a tiny hole-in-the-wall in the French Quarter dedicated to traditional New Orleans jazz. It’s run by one of my best friends, Ben Jaffe, who plays tuba in the band. His parents started the Hall over 50 years ago during segregation as a safe place for black and white musicians to play together.”

What should a first-time traveler do?
“I get asked this question so often, I made a guide that’s available on my website under the New Orleans tab. It’s eleven pages of my favorite things to do on any given day as well as some must-dos in terms of where to eat, what to hear and what to see. Some of my favorites: Take a streetcar to The Garden District and stroll to Commander’s Palace for lunch and then stumble across the street to the Cemetery. Or for a longer adventure: Walk from the French Quarter down Esplanade Avenue to City Park to explore the Sculpture Garden next to the New Orleans Museum of Art. Or if you are sticking to the Quarter, have a cocktail on the balcony at Salon by Sucré before heading over to the Preservation Hall for some music. For a funkier scene, head out to the Bywater to hear music and eat great food under the stars at Bacchanal. There are really so many options, you can’t go wrong.”

AFAR Experiences New Orleans took place May 18–20 2016. Learn more here.

>>Next: 6 Things You Should Know About New Orleans’ Booze Culture

Aislyn Greene is the associate director of podacsts at AFAR, where she produces the Unpacked by AFAR podcast and hosts AFAR’s Travel Tales podcast. She lives on a houseboat in Sausalito.
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