The Historic New Orleans Collection will celebrate the city’s 300th birthday next year with an exhibit covering New Orleans’ earliest years, a free symposium exploring the city’s diversity and an exhibit of contemporary local art that will inaugurate a massively renovated French Quarter building, said the organization’s executive director, Priscilla Lawrence, on Monday (July 24).
New Orleans’ tricentennial, she said during a news conference, “is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us, and you’d better believe we’re going to take advantage of it.”
The collection will launch its observance of the city’s milestone with “New Orleans, the Founding Era,” which will feature artifacts from the organization’s holdings and from museums in the United States and Europe, “many of which rarely travel outside their home institutions,” said Gregor Trumel, France’s consul general. “We expect visitors to be amazed by the contrast between New Orleans in the 1700s and today.”
The exhibit, which Whitney Bank is sponsoring, has a broad scope, covering, among others, Native American tribes, waves of European immigrants and slaves. It will run from Feb. 27 through May 27 at the collection’s French Quarter headquarters at 533 Royal St., which was the site of the news conference. Admission will be free.
With a nod to the city’s French heritage — starting with the group led by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, that founded New Orleans in 1718 — the catalog will be in French and English, Trumel said.
From March 8 through March 11, the collection will join with the city’s 2018 Commission’s Cultural and Historical Commission to present “Making New Orleans Home: A Tricentennial Symposium” at sites around the city. About two dozen experts will participate in a combination of lectures and panel discussions. They were picked by a committee led by Emily Clark, the Clement Chambers Benenson professor of American history at Tulane University.
The sessions, which will be free, will not only look at how New Orleans came to acquire its diverse population but also examine the concept of “home” in the city’s life and culture, said Sybil Morial, the committee’s co-chair.
New Orleans has always exerted a powerful attachment on its inhabitants, she said, adding that the bond was “tested by the diaspora formed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.”
The art exhibit — “Art of the City: Postmodern to post-Katrina” — will be the first display in the Seignouret-Brulatour Building at 520 Royal St., across from the collection’s headquarters. The 201-year-old structure, which is probably best known as the former home of WDSU-TV, is undergoing a renovation that will add more than 12,000 square feet for exhibits and programs, as well as a cafe and an expanded shop, said Daniel Hammer, the collection’s deputy director.
It is scheduled to open in the fall of 2018, he said.
“Art of the City” will include about 75 pieces that local artists have made since the 1984 world’s fair, said David Kerstein, president of the Helis Foundation, which is underwriting the show. Jan Gilbert is the curator.
This will provide “a unique opportunity to look at the relationship between art and history,” he said.
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