I’m in New Orleans this week, staying at a hotel down in the French Quarter. After dinner last night at the Court of Two Sisters, I decided to take a walk down Bourbon Street. I always remember New Orleans as a city filled with history, mysterious and a little dangerous. Even Bourbon Street which has always been a little “out there” had a number of interesting little places that were worth exploring even though they might be tucked away in an alley.
And now? The street is littered with cheap Mardi Gras beads even though it’s September, the shops are filled with “tourist trash” that trivializes the deep history and cultural significance of Mardi Gras and voodoo, and the street is full of middle-aged “frat boys” who are only interested in their own narcissistic behavior. The mystique is gone.
But not all change is bad. The city has the New Orleans Arts District, an increasingly vibrant art scene that includes world-class restaurants and live music.
The Warehouse District, known today as the New Orleans Arts District, was originally established as an industrial area in the 19th century to store grain, coffee and produce shipped through the Port of New Orleans. As commerce, trade and industry practices evolved over time, the area's prosperity faded and the once busy streets became deserted and eerily quiet.
The transformation from an urban wasteland to what many have called the "Soho of the South" began in 1976 with the opening of the 10,000-square-foot Contemporary Arts Center (CAC). After the CAC's opening, the art community recognized the massive potential of the neighborhood. The abundant and open spaces of the warehouses were perfect for artist studios, art galleries, and museums. Today, more than 25 art galleries call the district home. Most of the galleries are located on Julia Street, which is also the scene of an evening gallery hop on the first Saturday evening of every month.