The galleries of Royal Street and the Warehouse Arts District have long drawn culture vultures to the New Orleans art scene. Having one of the nation’s oldest active art colonies doesn’t hurt the city’s credibility either. But museums and private collections aren’t the only places to find great works of art; it also spills out into public parks. Step away from the velvet ropes and take a stroll through the Crescent City’s many green-space galleries.
By far the city’s most famous and most visited park is Jackson Square, located in the very heart of the French Quarter. The four-acre plot, laid out so that the corners align with the four compass points, houses five separate statues with the most prominent being the one in the center of President Andrew Jackson, for whom the park is named (one of four such bronzes cast by Clark Mills in 1856). The four others are frequently noticed by visitors, but their connection to one another is often missed. Installed during the early 1850s, the white marble statues are located in each corner of the square and represent the four seasons. In the south section is Autumn, a woman holding a sickle; in the north is bearded old man Winter bundled against the cold. Spring, represented by a woman with a bouquet of fresh picked flowers, is in the east corner of the park, while the west corner holds young man Summer eating grapes and leaning against a tree. Visitors should take a page from his book: Good food and shade are key to exploring New Orleans.
Each August music lovers from around the world gather in the Tremé neighborhood to celebrate the life and lasting musical legacy of the late New Orleans jazz great Louis Armstrong in the park that bears his name. The recently revamped public space is the perfect setting in which to honor Pops and other jazz pioneers. Situated on the outskirts of the French Quarter, Armstrong Park is home to Congo Square, a Sunday meeting place for people of color during colonial times. Known as “the birthplace of jazz,” it was here that traditional African dances and song styles met with European instruments and influences, eventually giving rise to jazz music and second-line parades. Fittingly the park includes a number of music-themed works, from Elizabeth Catlett’s iconic sculpture of Armstrong to depictions of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, ragtime cornetist Buddy Bolden and jazz saxophonist Sidney Bechet, among others.
Once lined with crumbling warehouses, Woldenberg Park now fills the space at the “bottom” of the French Quarter between Decatur Street and the Mississippi River, attracting tourists and locals alike with its scenic views of the river, great people-watching and a steady supply of street musicians. Opened for the 1984 World’s Fair, the riverfront promenade gets its name from philanthropist Malcolm Woldenberg, whose life-size bronze is one of many sculptures dotting the riverfront promenade. Perhaps the most powerful is Franco Allesandrini’s 1995 “Monument to the Immigrant,” honoring the influence that the early European settlers had on the city’s development. Just in front of the Natchez paddlewheeler’s dock is Robert Schoen’s 18-foot “Old Man River,” whose thick and rounded arms symbolize both the power and the beauty of the mighty Mississippi.
Anchoring the Eastern end of Magazine Street, Audubon Park contains fewer statuary than other parks in New Orleans, but is no less beautiful. Commissioned in 1871, Audubon was originally laid out by landscape architect John Olmstead (son of Frederick Olmstead, the designer of New York’s Central Park), and was the site of the 1884 World’s Fair. Divided into two sections by Magazine Street, the upper part of the park is home to the Audubon Golf Course and a 1.8-mile, walking/biking/running path. The trail, shaded by tall and twisted oaks, features several different sculptures. Just inside the park entrance in front of Loyola University is Jane DeDecker’s “Jean Pierre,” which depicts a boy and his grandfather going fishing. The Audubon Zoo, on the other side of Magazine, features even more great artwork, including the Odenheimer Fountain’s likeness of Hygeia, the Greek goddess of health, and Anna Hyatt Huntington’s 1922 sculpture of Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt and animal welfare. Greeting visitors to the zoo is Edward Virginius Valentine’s 1910 sculpture of the man who lent his name to the park, artist and naturalist John James Audubon.
Nearly double the size of New York’s Central Park, the 1,300-acre City Park is New Orleans’ biggest, as well as one of the largest urban parks in the country. Dating to 1854, the site grew out of what was once the Allard Plantation and became known for the infamous duels that were played out under its ancient live oaks. In 1938, a Works Progress Administration project developed the park’s infrastructure, creating shelter houses, pathways and bridges, and commissioned various sculptures and bas-reliefs by Mexican-born artist Enrique Alférez, whose lasting legacy is celebrated in the Helis Foundation Enrique Alférez Sculpture Garden, located within the park’s Botanical Gardens. Also in the park, the New Orleans Museum of Art, widely regarded as one of the best fine-art museums in the South, houses works from Degas, Monet, Picasso and O’Keefe, to name a few. Just to the left of its main entrance is the museum’s outdoor Besthoff Sculpture Garden. More than 60 pieces line the lush footpath that meanders through the garden, with the oaks, pines and magnolias providing welcome shade. Highlights include statuary by Renoir, Henry Moore and Fernando Botero, as well pop artist Robert Indiana’s famous “LOVE” sculpture and abstract pieces by modern-day greats.