A Carnival krewe that raised more than a million dollars to support the city’s restaurants, health care workers and cultural community during the pandemic is turning its attention to what it knows best: Mardi Gras.
With the city’s edict that Carnival 2021 will not include the traditional parades, the Krewe of Red Beans is joining the movement to create “house floats,” in which professional Carnival artists design and install decorations on homes.
The new crowd-funding campaign, called “Hire a Mardi Gras Artist,” is designed to help provide work to designers and float builders who now find themselves out of work or struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The idea is the brainchild of Caroline Thomas, who works as a float builder, artist and parade designer for Royal Artists. The company designs and builds parades for several krewes including Rex, Proteus, Chaos and Le Krewe d’Etat, as well as several krewes in Mobile, Alabama.
The idea for a Krewe of House Floats gained popularity on Facebook in recent weeks as homeowners began planning their exterior Mardi Gras decorations. Thomas said she realized such a concept might help provide work for some of her fellow artists.
“I’m excited to see what people do with the do-it-yourself house float idea, but I thought it’d be great to see an actual ‘float’ on a house, so to speak” she said. “And it could also pay these artists who are out of work. A lot of us are kind of invisible and not in the spotlight, so we’ve tried to come up with a way to support them.”
Devin DeWulf, the Krewe of Red Beans founder, was quick to endorse the idea.
“I thought she had a really smart idea,” DeWulf said, “because our city’s economy right now is in shambles because we’re so dependent on tourism. So we have to be really creative on how we can possibly create jobs for people right now. And that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
The goal is to decorate 40 homes across the city. Organizers plan to raise $10,000 per house to pay the artists involved. The group estimates each house will create eight jobs for artisans, carpenters, installation teams and project managers. Houses and businesses that are selected for the project will be chosen at random from among the donors.
“If you own your home in New Orleans and you support our effort, we will basically choose at random one of those houses,” DeWulf sadi. “So we’re excited because they could pop up anywhere.”
Homeowners will be encouraged to offer ideas for the designs.
Also, companies and individuals can commission a house by donating online at hireamardigrasartist.com.
“We want to hire sculptors and flower makers and painters and really bring all of those crafts to the house designs,” Thomas said. “I also think people don’t always appreciate that the way that we build floats in New Orleans is not like anywhere else in the world. It is a unique regional art form, and we should celebrate it,” Thomas said.
One design has already been completed, and artistic elements, including papier-mâché flowers and figures, are being finished for the first decorated house. Thomas hopes to unveil it in the next two weeks. The house is near a large mural of Dr. John on Toledano Street, so Thomas’ design employs a voodoo theme, with a large skull, snakes, moss-draped trees and other foliage to grace the front of the home.
In addition to the Krewe of Red Beans, the Hire a Mardi Gras Artist project is endorsed by two other spirited and inventive Carnival krewes: Krewe du Vieux and the Krewe of Chewbacchus. It also has support lined up from Rouses Markets, NOLA Craft Culture and Merchant House.
The Krewe of Red Beans, which typically parades on Lundi Gras, is actually three parades in one, with two sub-krewes: the Dead Beans parade (whose members create and wear suits inspired by mythology or folklore that deals with death or the afterlife) and a Brazilian-themed Feijao parading group.
With this new project and all their 2021 activities canceled, members will instead continue the philanthropic work they have earned a reputation for over the past year. The krewe’s “Feed the Front Line NOLA” campaign raised $1.2 million to support some of the city’s restaurants by feeding health care workers. The effort also created jobs for unemployed musicians who were hired as gig delivery workers.
Another ongoing project is called “Feed the Second Line.” DeWulf said it has created $250,000 worth of gig-work for some of the city’s musicians, Mardi Gras Indians, Baby Dolls and artists. To date, it has purchased more than $100,000 in groceries for 150 elderly members of those groups. The krewe also organized a Mask Up Sweepstakes over the summer that promoted mask-wearing by giving away a $10,000 prize.
With the “Hire a Mardi Gras Artist” initiative, the krewe returns to its roots. DeWulf and Thomas said that has them most excited about the work.
“The whole idea is we have these professional artists who have incredible skills, and we’re just going to unleash and tap into their skill set to make Carnival magic,” DeWulf said.