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Soundtracks from South Louisiana: An Experimental Musical Ethnography

In the spring of 2021, students in our Storytelling & Culture course in the Department of Anthropology & Sociology at the University of New Orleans created a series of podcasts to share complex stories about their lives and communities throughout South Louisiana--one of the most culturally diverse areas of the American South. Woven through them is music from the region as well as around the world. Taken together, the series is an experimental form of cultural criticism that explores topics such as immigration, natural disaster, gender & sexuality, faith, tradition, and community-based institution building. 



Le Kér Creole: Old and New Songs in Louisiana Creole.

Based on a collection of original compositions and historical songs in Louisiana Creole by written and arranged by Bruce Sunpie Barnes and Leroy Etienne, Le Kér Creole is a CD and book that shares the history of Creole language and music in South Louisiana. In partnership with the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park and L'Union Creole, the project will be released in the spring of 2019.


All Saints Day Parade with

the Backstreet Cultural Museum 

In the fall semester, students in Rachel Breunlin's New Orleans Public Culture course in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of New Orleans work with Sula Evans of the Temple of Light, Ile' de Coin Coin and Sylvester Francis and the Backstreet Cultural Museum to create an All Saints day altar for the museum's annual parade. The parade honors important culture bearers who have passed away throughout the year, and the interactive altar invites anyone who has lost a loved on to make an offering. The course follows curriculum developed by the neighborhood-based institution, Tambourine & Fan, in developing a "moving classroom."


Fire in the Hole: The Spirit Work of Fi Yi Yi and the Mandingo Warriors.

​Since 1984, Victor Harris, the Big Chief of the Mandingo Warriors, has worked with his tribe to create a new way of masking that has “changed the game” of Mardi Gras Indian masking by creating designs and suits that are inspired by his community’s African heritage. Instead of the full headdresses known as “crowns,” Victor wears a full facial mask. In collaboration with the Committee of Fi Yi Yi, photographer Jeffrey David Ehrenreich and the Backstreet Cultural Museum, the NSP created an in-depth life history of the tribe and its relationship with the museum. 


In the Company of San Malo: Lithopanes by Francis X. Pavy

While working on Le Kér Creole, we've developed a wonderful friendship with the artist Francis X. Pavy. After working with us on the cover of the book and a broadside dedicated to Juan San Malo, Francis was inspired to create a series of work"In the Company of San Malo." The lithopanes were exhibited at the NSP during the winter of 2018 courtesy of Arthur Rogers Gallery.


Traveling San Malo Altar

As part of our work around Le Kér Creole, we have created an altar dedicated to Juan San Malo, a well-known maroon leader outside of New Orleans during the 1780s. The altar has moved around the city, debuting at the grand opening of the Music Box Village before being installed at the New Orleans Jazz Museum for Black History Month in February of 2018, Bullet's Sports Bar for St. Joseph's Night, the Backstreet Cultural Museum for the Krewe de Karnaval parade, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival for their Nola 300 pavillion in 2018. 


Sacred Talks: Women and Healing Arts in New Orleans  

In partnership with Temple of Light Ile' de Coin-Coin, we are hosting a monthly series dedicated to highlighting the work of women healers in New Orleans. We began on All Souls Night with a talk with Oshun priestess and author of Jambalaya, Luisah Teish, and will continue to host talks through the spring of 2019. The recorded series is open to the public, and will form the foundation of a collaborative ethnography on women and healing arts we are co-producing with Sula Evans. 


Botanica: Public Talks & Events   

Botanica is a multi-racial/ethnic collaboration with the Land Memory Bank and Seed Exchange that pulls together storytellers, scholars, herbalists, museums, artists, and gardeners to cross-pollinate knowledge of ethnobotany across communities in south Louisiana. At the heart of this project is the idea of reciprocal sharing—introducing traditional Indigenous knowledge of plants that Houma communities have been preserved in gardens with the region, and for healers in other communities to healing plants within the bayou communities.

It is our hope that this project will create bridges between communities who have been segregated from one another to create long-lasting relationships. The work will include oral histories, portraits, photographs of plants and their healing properties, and recipes. Artwork by Jonathan Mayers.


Return to Yakni Chitto: Houma Migrations 

In this collaborative ethnography, Monique Verdin, a multi-disciplinary artist who is a member of United Houma Nation, shares 20 years of photography from Terrebone and St. Bernard Parishes with her family, friends, and art organizations to witness the impact of climate change, coastal erosion, and the environmental justice movement that have confronted indigenous communities in South Louisiana. 


Roots in the Water: Remembering Manila Village

The NSP's exhibit of Shelbey Leco's oral history and visual ethnography of her family’s Filipino heritage in South Louisiana--one of the oldest Asian settlements in North America. The Lecos believed in the importance of storytelling and documenting their own histories, and for this exhibit Shelbey worked with their archive of interviews, images, and paintings, while also conducting interviews to learn more about her family’s involvement in Manila Village and the fur-trapping camps around the Barataria Bay. She then created a series of prints that responded to the material she was collecting. 


MUSICAL HOME PLACES: Environmental Portraits by Bruce Sunpie Barnes at the New Orleans Jazz Museum at the Old U.S. Mint opened in the spring of 2017, and was relaunched for Luna Fete and PhotoNOLA in December of 2019. Images and interviews from Talk That Music Talk: Passing on Brass Band Music the Traditional Way. Curated by Rachel Breunlin for the Neighborhood Story Project. 



Tune Your Ear to the City:

L'Union Creole Concert Series

Corner spaces are important to the deep musical connections that have been created in New Orleans. Musicians continually point to them as places where they have tuned their ears to the rich traditions of the city. Sunday evenings, in particular, have been a time when musicians have gathered after church and second line parades to play music and catch up with one another. To honor this important intersections of time and place, we will hold our second L'Union Creole concert series from January through May of 2019. In partnership with Preservation Hall and the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South, the concert series is curated with Bruce Sunpie Barnes as live recordings that begin with interviews with the musicians about their musical lineages, inspirations, and connections to place. 


If Those Bricks Could Talk

As the old Lafitte Public Housing Development was torn down and Faubourg Lafitte began to go up, Cornerstones, the Neighborhood Story Project, and Spyboy Productions were commissioned by the Federal Historic Preservation Act to document what the development had meant to New Orleans as part of the Section 106 mitigation.  Working with former Lafitte residents, artists, archaeologists, ethnographers, community activists, musicians, and archivists, we reconstructed the history of an area deeply tied to the cultural and social movements of the city. Artwork courtesy of Bruce Dapper Lafitte. 


Queer Cartography

Queer Cartography and the Neighborhood Story Project celebrate  moments, people and places that have been part of the queer fabric of our city, including jazz pianist Tony Jackson, drag performers at the Dew Drop Inn, James Baldwin at the C.O.R.E. house, street protests, Radical Faeries and LAST CALL: New Orleans dyke bar history project, to name a few.


Letters from the Backside

​Each year in October, more than 700 workers arrive at the New Orleans Fair Grounds for a winter season of horseracing, and leave again after the Louisiana Derby at the end of March. In 2011, the season also included writing workshops to prepare an exhibition of open letters from the backside by those who know it best—the jockeys, trainers, grooms, hotwalkers, veterinarians and track employees. The writers involved in this project are now working on a book about the joys and struggles of the horse-racing world in and out of Louisiana.


Entre Yakni Et Oké | Between Land and Water

​In 2009, the United Houma Nation’s tribal council commissioned the NSP to create a series of posters to map their complex cultural identity across southern Louisiana. Featuring photographs from the tribal digital archive, as well as portraits by photographer Maya Haviland, the posters weave historical and contemporary images of different bayou communities with oral histories from tribal members. The project was funded by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Blue Moon Foundation.


The House of Dance & Feathers:

A Museum by Ronald W. Lewis

​From 2007-2009, the NSP worked on a catalogue of the House of Dance and Feathers, a museum in the Lower Ninth Ward dedicated to the culture of the neighborhood and the parading and masking traditions in African American communities in New Orleans. The museum was created in 2000 by director and archivist, Ronald W. Lewis, and has grown into an important neighborhood institution. The book project drew heavily on the collection, and worked for over a year to repatriate photography from the museum back to the cultural groups being represented. The project was funded by a Public Humanities grant from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.


Cornerstones: Documenting New Orleans Everyday Monuments and Meeting Places

In partnership with the Tulane City Center, the NSP worked with Cornerstone, a cultural preservation project, to create a book about places that hold history and nurture community in New Orleans. The project continues. Nominate places that you have called home, that tell the story of your community, or that serve as neighborhood landmarks. The places where you danced all night, were led to by a parade or Mardi Gras Indian tribe, were taken to by your grandparents or next door neighbor, or were claimed through a story all your own.


Coming Out the Door for the Ninth Ward

In June of 2005, members of Nine Times Social and Pleasure Club began writing a book about growing up in the Desire Public Housing Development and the creation of one of the first second line clubs in the Ninth Ward. After the turmoil of Katrina, with the help of a Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities grant, they reunited with the NSP to finish their book while also rebuilding their lives and club. The November 2006 release of Coming Out the Door for the Ninth Ward was a historic event, Nine Times is the first club to write a book about the second line community and the first to organize a parade in the Ninth Ward after Katrina. In 2007, the book was chosen as the One Book One New Orleans citywide reading selection.


Talk That Music Talk: Passing On Brass Band Music the Traditional Way

A collaborative ethnography produced by the Neighborhood Story Project and the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park with Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club, civil rights leaders from the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, and an intergenerational group of brass band musicians who were a part of a music program developed by Bruce Sunpie Barnes. The 312 page book has more than 500 black and white photographs that trace the lineage of social justice organizing and brass band music in the city. 

Talk That Music Talk: Passing On Brass Band Music the Traditional Way

A collaborative ethnography produced by the Neighborhood Story Project and the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park with Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club, civil rights leaders from the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, and an intergenerational group of brass band musicians who were a part of a music program developed by Bruce Sunpie Barnes. The 312 page book has more than 500 black and white photographs that trace the lineage of social justice organizing and brass band music in the city. 


High School Documentary Projects

The NSP has collaborated with a number of public high schools around the city to support documentary projects that range from photography poster projects to investigations into racial justice and history, to life histories. Photograph of photography teacher Aubrey Edwards with her students from Lake Area and Clark Senior High at their NSP exhibit "Snapshots," which opened at Antenna Gallery. 

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​Documenting the Now

Between 2007-2009, five writers from a public high school in New Orleans took worked on ethnographies that reclaimed communities important to them before Hurricane Katrina and documented the places where they found a sense of home after after the storm. In the process, they documented their families’ lives before and after the closure of public housing, as well as migrations between the Caribbean coast of Honduras and New Orleans. Woven throughout are explorations of youth cultures found in schools, bounce clubs, beauty salons, rap cliques, and Americorps. This project was supported with a generous grant from the Lupin Foundation.


Singing Out: Aboriginal Ladies' Stories from the Northwest Kimberley

The NSP collaborated with two Australian organizations, Side-by-Side Community Projects and the Jalaris Aboriginal Corporation, to run a three-week writing workshop with a group of Aboriginal women in Derby, Western Australia. The book weaves their writings about education in and out of school with interviews with other women with similar experiences. Beautiful black and white portraits and maps provide other ways to get to know the writers and the women they interviewed. Rachel’s involvement in the project was supported by a June Scholar research grant from University of New Orleans’ College of Liberal Arts.


Seventh Ward Speaks: Creativity & Activism in Our Neighborhood

In collaboration with the Porch Seventh Ward Cultural Organization, Rachel Breunlin and Helen Regis created 24 posters  with residents of their neighborhood. The location ranged from the edge of the Mississippi River back-a-town to North Broad, and from Esplanade Avenue downtown to Elysian Fields. Residents interviewed each other about their experiences living in the neighborhood, and what they hoped they would be able to hold onto after Hurricane Katrina.The posters were exhibited at the Original Big Seven's annual second line and at the grand opening of the Seventh Ward Community Center. They are on permanent display at Louisiana State University. 


Neighborhood Story Project at John McDonogh Senior High

In 2004, the NSP began in a public high school located in downtown New Orleans. The first year, we worked with a small group of high school students every day to teach them creative nonfiction, in-depth interviewing and photography to document their neighborhoods. In June of 2005, we released the first five books with a city-wide book release and block parties in the neighborhoods. After Hurricane Katrina, many of the neighborhoods were devastated and John Mac did not reopen. It took us a number of years to get the ethnography program began up and running (See Documenting the Now) Photograph of Mark Damico being interviewed by his neighbor, Jana Dennis, from her book Palmyra Street.

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