“Bringing people joy is one of my goals in life,” says Jonny Liss, as he ushers folks into JAMNOLA (Joy-Art-Music/New Orleans), which opened in early August in the Marginy neighborhood. Part Crescent City cultural museum/part Pee-wee’s Playhouse, the innovative, immersive attraction is 100 percent fun…and 99.9 percent safe, strictly adhearing to current Covid-19 guidelines.
Initially set to debut in April in time for French Quarter Fest, the project’s months-long delay made Liss and cofounder Chad Smith even more determined to move forward with their “love letter to this amazing city.” Joining forces with Collin Ferguson and Cat Todd of the local Where Y’Art collective, the team enlisted 20 area artists, along with 29 additional culture collaborators (George Porter Jr., of the Meters fame, served as music curator, with bounce diva Big Freedia pitching in on Shel Roumillat’s “Costume Closet”), to envision the 5,400-square-foot space.
Tucked behind the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the 12-room maze takes visitors on a vibrant, visual journey through local life, touching on everything from Lil Wayne to the African roots of Southern “spirit trees.” Wyoming Quinn and F. Scott Greenfield’s "Bling Bayou" gives a playful nod to swamp chic, while Kari Lee’s “Umbrella Strut” celebrates the Baby Dolls Mardi Gras masking troupe and a shotgun-house stoop pays homage to second-line parades.
Instagram opportunities abound: Snap a shot pulling back a faux-painted curtain, donning virtual headresses or emerging from a giant crawfish pot. Highlights include Smith’s “The Bead Goes On” installation, incorporating 22,000 recylced Mardi Gras baubles (and Jon Sherman’s hyper-hip Flavor Paper); Skye Erie and Jacob Reptile’s “Garden of Legends,” populated with oversize busts of Louis Armstrong, Professor Longhair and other homegrown musical greats; Charles Hoffacker’s go-cup portrait of James Booker; and Marcus Brown’s “Adinkrahene Sound Wall,” which lets you make your own kind of music hands-free. Pre-registered personalized microsites provide access to photos and avenues for further exploration.