Arts and Culture

July 2017

From voodoo temples to arts venues, NOLA's spirit shines

by Mark Chesnut

  • Southern Food & Beverage Museum


    Southern Food & Beverage Museum | Stephen Binns

    Southern Food & Beverage Museum
  • The French Quarter


    The French Quarter | GTS Productions

    The French Quarter
  • /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2017/0717/NewOrleans3.jpg

    The George & Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art | Coleman

As New Orleans prepares to celebrate its 300th anniversary in 2018, the city is commemorating a rich and unique history that represents centuries of diversity and unique cultural traditions. And even as locals and visitors alike prepare to honor the Big Easy’s roots, they can also witness the continued progress of a city on the move, as an upgraded airport, new and renovated hotels and award-winning restaurants and other venues up the ante for groups and individuals alike.

This year, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu formed the 2018 NOLA Commission to oversee a variety of special events, concerts and infrastructure projects for the tricentennial. Meeting planners, meanwhile, can already make good use of the city’s array of museums and cultural institutions, many of which provide one-of-a-kind settings for group events.

“New Orleans has retained so much of its authentic architecture and history,” said Cara Banasch, senior vice president of business development and strategy for the New Orleans CVB. “It really is a living, breathing museum and cultural venue all on its own, which from arrival to departure allows groups to experience something different than most major American cities.

“We have world-class partners that creatively bring their spaces to life for groups with both meetings and special events.”

Nancy Trosclair, president of DMC Destination New Orleans, agreed about the allure of the Big Easy’s cultural attributes.

“New Orleans is unlike any other city in the U.S. because of its unique historical and cultural diversity that still thrives today in our cuisine, music, art, architecture and festivals,” she said. “This is evident in the tremendous number of interesting and unique museums and venues that celebrate this wide range of cultural elements.”

Trosclair said that the city’s diverse number of museums and cultural institutions makes it easy to customize the experience for each group.

“Often we can even find a museum or historically significant site that relates right back to [a client’s] own industry,” she said. “We have worked with groups in the pharmaceutical industry that have hosted events in the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, which is housed at the site of the apothecary of America’s first licensed pharmacist. We can do teambuilding activities based on the history of jazz, conducted by renowned jazz musicians in the New Orleans Jazz Museum at the Old U.S. Mint, or with a local author and historian that takes place at the Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture.”

Culture for Every Taste

Meg Baird, president of NOLA DMC, praised the wide variety of possibilities for matching culture with meetings and incentive groups in the Big Easy.

“New Orleans museums offer unforgettable experiences, and offer visiting groups the opportunity for exceptional events,” she said, noting the opportunities for activities ranging from World War II scavenger hunts to dinners where the Louisiana Purchase was signed. Cocktails can be served among displays of legendary musical instruments like Louis Armstrong’s coronet.

The Louisiana State Museum, which operates nine venues throughout the state, is among the top choices for many groups. Its top sites include The Cabildo—a Spanish colonial building—and The Presbytere, which dates to 1791.

“The Presbytere and The Cabildo are right on Jackson Square, right in the French Quarter, within walking distance to most hotels,” noted Yvonne Mack, director of events at the Louisiana State Museum. “When you leave an event you can easily walk to Bourbon Street, or go to Cafe du Monde and have a beignet.”

Mack said that peak months for bookings are March through May, and also October and November.

Jody Halter, vice president of sales at Accent DMC, said that the Louisiana State Museum’s offerings are a noteworthy example of how the city can cater to groups seeking experiential meetings.

“We’re working with younger groups that want to have more of an experience, so the museum component really fits in well because it’s more educational,” she explained. “When we take them to the Louisiana State Museum, for example, they’re just amazed about the history.”

Another venue that gets rave reviews is the National WWII Museum, which the New Orleans CVB reports was the city’s No. 1 attraction in 2016, for the fourth consecutive year.

The museum’s U.S. Freedom Pavilion, which features exhibits of actual war planes and other vehicles, is what everyone seems to love, especially the incentive client, according to James B. Williams, associate vice president of group and event sales for the museum.

“It’s a premium experience,” he said. “You don’t even require a lot of decor, because you have the planes above you.”

Williams touts the venue’s multiple spaces, which together can accommodate 5,000 for receptions.

“The museum is technically four city blocks and it’s growing,” he said. “We still have some buildings that are incomplete and will be finished in 2020.”

Destination New Orleans’ Trosclair said that events at the facility make a big impression on attendees, especially those from the U.S.

“Events at the National WWII Museum are always memorable and moving,” she said. “The many exhibits, displays and interactive elements leave attendees with a lasting and memorable impression. Having speakers who relate stories of hardships and challenges but who persevered can leave guests with renewed motivation and inspiration. We have had groups that never really interacted with each other on a personal level, then come together here and sing and dance together to World War II-era big band music, and leave with a sense of pride and unity never before felt by colleagues and coworkers.”

With everything from exhibit halls to auditoriums and boardrooms, as well as an on-site entertainment department that can provide live music and performers, the National WW II Museum is a “Grade A, premium facility,” according to Williams. “There’s nothing else here of this level. We make it a one-stop shop for planners, because we have everything here. Planners really enjoy the fact that they don’t have to do a lot.”

Accent DMC President Dyan Lyons recommends the venue frequently.

“If you put a group on the whole museum campus, you can host 6,000 people,” she said. “You can block the street, so that’s really amazing, and you can put cocktails in different rooms. They have dog tags they can make for participants, and they can move the big tanks onto the street and have Uncle Sam stilt walkers.”

Bonnie Boyd, president and CEO of BBC Destination Management, a local DMC, noted the museum is especially good for tailored programs.

“I had a small Canadian group that was interested in the museum, and gave them a behind-the-scenes experience,” she said.

Boyd noted that it’s easy to combine multiple venues for one group. Among the venues that fit together well, she said, are the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which hosts receptions amid a collection of original artwork from around the South, and the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), with a private boardroom that overlooks City Park, as well as a 220-seat auditorium and capacity for receptions of 1,200.

Smaller venues can host group events, such as the George & Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art, while the Guardians Institute’s Donald Harrison, Sr. Museum, focusing on indigenous cultural arts, is available for off-site exhibitions.

Trosclair likes to highlight various elements of New Orleans culture and history.

“We welcome opportunities to educate groups by incorporating several voodoo museums as well as the Voodoo Spiritual Temple and cemeteries among our offerings for teambuilding, tours and events,” she said. “Once visitors learn the truth about this beautiful form of positive spirituality, they are stunned to learn they have been vastly misinformed by inaccurate movie depictions and myths. For many clients, this is a unique and fascinating highlight of their visit to New Orleans.” 

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