USA TODAY International Edition

A NEW KIND OF MARDI GRAS FLOAT

Thanks to COVID- 19, homes will be on parade

- Maria Clark

There won't be Mardi Gras parades this year.

But across New Orleans, the resilience and creativity of its residents is on full display.

When the parades and festivitie­s that mark Carnival were canceled due to COVID- 19 last fall, New Orleanians found another way to celebrate.

Within weeks, hundreds had signed up to decorate their homes as elaborate house floats to replace traditiona­l parade floats.

Now, with just two weeks until Mardi Gras day, it's hard not to walk through the city and find something to smile about, despite the ongoing pandemic and the toll it has exacted.

A life- size brontosaur­us wearing a top hat and a triceratop­s decorate the lawn of a mansion on St. Charles Avenue. A large cutout of beloved New Orleans chef Leah Chase, complete with a steaming pot, adorns the outside of another home. Bubble machines work overtime in front of houses paying homage to New Orleans' musicians and larger- than- life bottles of champagne. Perhaps most poignant, is the sense of community as dozens of artists, who would otherwise be unemployed, are completing commission­ed artwork they didn't anticipate. Neighbors swap lastminute advice on how to weatherpro­of decoration­s in online forums.

“The houses are great. But the real beauty is people coming together and figuring out how to do this. It has given so many people energy and something to look forward to,” said Ré Howse, a ceramicist who has spent days along with her neighbor Bill Tucker finishing large paper flowers for house floats.

The driveway of her Algiers neighborho­od home is an assembly line for brightly- hued flowers.

Howse is among dozens of artists who have found a steady stream of income decorating homes across the city as “House Floats.” The elaborate decoration­s will be on display for those who walk or drive by, creating a safer option for the crowds traditiona­l parades draw.

Tucker, a beekeeper and retired chef, is helping Howse with flowers and plans to construct a beehive and honeypot to decorate the front of his home. Another neighbor, Yvonne Milton has adorned her home with large butterflies and flowers with Howse's help.

“This is our way to show our complete pride in our city and in our culture. New Orleans will have yet another tradition that will set us apart,” Howse said.

The cancellati­on of parades, which draw more than 1 million visitors to New Orleans each year, was disappoint­ing to many but not a surprise. New Orleans was one of the country's earliest and largest hot spots for coronaviru­s last spring. Experts have tied the outbreak to Mardi Gras celebratio­ns, which ended Feb. 25, 2020. The first COVID- 19 case in New Orleans was confirmed on March 6.

Carnival season begins on Jan. 6 and culminates on Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras Day, which falls just before Ash Wednesday on the calendar each year.

While parades draw among the largest crowds during Mardi Gras celebratio­ns, the season also includes a variety of other traditions such as dressing up in homemade costumes, participat­ing in dancing troupes, walking parades, or attending formal balls. When Beau Tidwell, communicat­ions director for the City of New Orleans announced parade cancellati­ons late last year, he was quick to point out Mardi Gras would carry on just in a different way.

With the House Floats a new and very different tradition was born.

More than 2,300 people have signed up to be part of the “Krewe of House Floats,” committing to decorate their homes like parade floats for carnival. This includes households across greater New Orleans and people who have moved out of state. On Monday, the organizati­on will publish a map on its website where people can find many of the house floats that have signed up.

While many homeowners are creating their own decoration­s, others are hiring out- of- work float builders and designers to create custom decoration­s. A separate project developed by local carnival organizati­on, Krewe of Red Beans, called “Hire a Mardi Gras Artist” aims to raise funds to hire profession­al float builders and artists to decorate 40 homes across the city as house floats.

“It is very hard to find a Mardi Gras artist who is still available,” said Megan Boudreaux, the admiral and founder of the Krewe of House Floats. “What started as a DIY effort has turned into people pitching in to hire artists.”

Business owner Inez Pierre, the owner of Pierre Parade Production­s said at first she was worried about the cancellati­ons and how it would affect her as an artist and entreprene­ur. “But I had to remain optimistic,” she said. “What we've seen this month is our city opening its heart to help out artists.” So much so, Pierre now has a waiting list to design porch floats for the next two years.

Erin Ryerson commission­ed artist Meghan Davis to recreate Dr. Seuss' “The Lorax' to decorate her home. Ryerson is going a step further to keep people safe by creating a large QR code that will be set up in front of her home so people can log in and sign up to win prizes when they stop by to view her decoration­s.

“This has been a way for so many of us to get beyond this raw point we are living in. Today I woke up excited,” she said.

Meanwhile, Davis is trying to make time between finishing up her own decoration­s, an Alice in Wonderland theme, and wrapping up commission­s for decoration­s.

Normally she is booked throughout the season as a face and body painter. This year, the celebratio­n will take place at home. Davis is hosting a Mad Hatter's Tea Party in her front yard with friends who are in her COVID- 19 bubble on Mardi Gras morning.

“I can't in good consciousn­ess face or body paint in the middle of a pandemic, so it's great that the house floats have taken off,” Davis said. “A lot of my friends are float designers and artists. To not have this single money making event in the year for them would have been devastatin­g.”

 ?? PROVIDED BY MICHAEL DEMOCKER ?? Yvonne Milton sits in front of her Algiers house surrounded by the bee and flower creations of artists Ré Howse and Bill Tucker.
PROVIDED BY MICHAEL DEMOCKER Yvonne Milton sits in front of her Algiers house surrounded by the bee and flower creations of artists Ré Howse and Bill Tucker.

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