From congressional art contests and student art shows to book signings and gatherings of scholars, Le Musee de f.p.c. and The George and Leah McKenna Museum of African America Art, are both quickly emerging as hubs for the vibrant exchange of culture, history and art for New Orleanians and visitors alike.
In early May, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond chose The George and Leah McKenna Museum as the site to showcase entries into his annual congressional art contest. The museum, located on Carondelet Street, also recently hosted an art exhibit that featured the work of John McDonogh High School students in May.
In late May, Le Musee de f.p.c., a house museum dedicated exclusively to preserving the material culture of and telling the story of free people of color, hosted a book signing for Tulane associate professor Emily Clark’s latest offering, “The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World.”
In fact, both facilities have continued to host a number of significant artistic and cultural events since opening their doors, including art shows featuring the work of Ulrick Jean-Pierre, Gustav Blache and Charles Simms as well as a number of book signings and discussions.
Le Musee de f.p.c. hosted one of its more provocative gatherings in April as doctoral students, historians and professors–some from as far away as France, Canada and Senegal–visited the Esplanade Avenue museum as part of a conference that examined the relationship between New Orleans and Saint-Louis Senegal.
The conference, titled, “Saint-Louis, Senegal and New Orleans: Two Mirror Cities,” was held at Tulane University April 22-25 and featured such distinguished scholars as Emily Clark, Ph.D., who served as associate professor of American Colonial History at Tulane and was a co-organizer of the event; co-organizer Cecile Vidal; and Hilary Jones, assistant professor of history at the University of Maryland.
As the Tulane University shuttle bus pulled up to the museum, the conference attendees appeared enamored with their host city.
“I see a similar architectural building style,” said Genevieve Dieme through Jones, who also served as an interpreter.
Henriette Yague, also of Senegal, talked about the similarities in cuisine.
“We eat a lot of rice and gumbo in Senegal,” she said. But her experience ran deeper than her taste buds. “From our discussions, (we) were getting a sense of New Orleans. Now that we’re here, we can feel it.”
While several of the attendees seemed short in their responses, the intensity in which they studied the museum’s artifacts, writings and furnishings took up a significant part of the evening.
A highlight of the event was a performance by the five-piece musical group, Njum Walo, featuring a small wooden guitar-like instrument called a pulaar. As people sat in the courtyard, band members called out names and did a simple dance for those who came up and placed dollars in a tip jar.
“Hey Jeanne-e-e,” was their first show of appreciation. That was followed by “Hey Elizabeth!” Finally, the group spread its pronunciation abilities over several syllables when one prominent New Orleanian approached with a tip.
“Hey L-i–d-d-i-a!” the group said in unison as local New Orleanian Lydia Boutte showed her appreciation for the band’s performance.
While there was an air of levity at the reception, there was also a keen awareness of the importance of the conference.
“What we were trying to do is to shed light on the connected and cooperative histories of Saint-Louis, Senegal and New Orleans,” said Clark. “The two cities have an obvious connection.”
That connection was augmented by the trans-Atlantic slave trade, where it is estimated that two-thirds of enslaved Africans were brought to Louisiana through ports in New Orleans and elsewhere. As both New Orleans and Saint-Louis were French capitols, they were equally important ports.
“It’s just interesting to get other perspectives, to see the continent of Africa in its own context, and also to see the connections between North American culture and the places of origin,” said Sarah Zwierzchowski of Student Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada. “I literally feel the history. You look around and see the connections.”