Money Shows: The Historic New Orleans Collection

One of the weekends in New Orleans my mom, younger sister, and brother-in-law drove down from Alabama to hang out for a couple of days.  We didn’t have much time, but managed to eat some good food and check out one really interesting museum.

The Historic New Orleans Collection wasn’t on my radar before this.  It’s housed in an old mansion in the French Quarter, and if you’re in town I strongly recommend swinging by.

It’s not huge.  In fact it feels like a good size for a single visit, and admission is free.  The permanent collection is housed on the third floor which used to be the residence of the rich guy who owned the building, and still has the original pipe organ that was installed around the 1920s.  I don’t know if this is an every day thing, but when we were there we got to see and hear a demonstration of the organ (courtesy of the organ’s automatic playback functionality which had been one of its selling points) at 11.

The pipes here are decorative, the real pipes are installed in the walls throughout the floor

The permanent exhibit is mostly focused on the history of the French Quarter with an eye toward everyday life.  Transportation, demographics, and so on.  They also have some sections focused on the slave trade with some harrowing-to-read advertisements for local auctions that are chilling in how “normal” they read.  The business-as-usual tone when advertising a list of humans by name, and with one-sentence biographies, for sale says a lot about how ingrained and accepted the practice was.

Reading this advertisement for an auction of human beings was pretty chilling

They also had some broader discussion of the free Black population of New Orleans.  The city was apparently a major gathering point for free Blacks in the south, possibly influenced by an influx of immigrants following the Haitian Revolution at the start of the 19th century.  This part of the collection was interesting in the way it tried to drive home this Black American experience that doesn’t get much attention.

This discussion of racism in the field of art preservation and restoration was fascinating

In addition to the permanent exhibits, the museum was also hosting a temporary exhibit focused on the art of Fraternal Orders of New Orleans (like the Freemasons and the Odd Fellows).  A subject I know almost nothing about.  Which meant that in addition to learning about the art produced by these societies, I also learned some about the societies themselves.  It was an interesting enough introduction that I’m going to see about hinting down some writing on the subject for a deeper dive.

All that said, and having found the content of the museum pretty fascinating, one of the the biggest impressions I came away with was “they have so much money, I wonder where it comes from?”

The funding was evident pretty much everywhere: free admission, an over abundance of staff, the obvious high levels of training that staff had, and the state of the facilities (both recently updated and incredibly well maintained) all pointed to it.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, or something nefarious, but any time I see that kind of money in a museum I always wonder where it comes from.

In this case, while I probably won’t ever find out more about the museum’s funding, I can say that the money felt well spent.  The exhibits were well thought out and presented, and I really enjoyed my visit.






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