New Orleans, known for its easy-going living and unforgettable food, is finding a way to let the good times roll during this year’s Carnival season. Though the parades have been cancelled due to coronavirus lockdowns and gathering restrictions, the spirit and celebration of Mardi Gras will continue on — just a little differently this year.
Every year leading up to Fat Tuesday, New Orleans artists, suppliers, and businesses come together in the name of celebration, building grand, masterful floats that serve as the focal point of the 70-plus, city-wide parades. Unfortunately, on November 17th of 2020, the city announced that the 2021 parades would be cancelled due to the continued spread of COVID-19.
That’s when one local was inspired to create a new way of celebrating Mardi Gras – house floats! Megan Joy Boudreaux turned to Twitter to share her idea, posting: “We’re doing this. Turn your house into a float and throw all the beads from your attic at your neighbors walking by.” Although at the moment Boudreaux saw her post as more of a joke, nothing could have prepared her for the outpour of support for the idea.
Soon after, Boudreaux started a Facebook group, the Krewe of House Floats, expecting only a few friends and neighbors to join in. The page quickly grew, however, and soon there were 39 subgroups that had evolved for individual neighborhoods to discuss their plans. By the time Carnival season officially started on January 6th, the original Facebook group had more than 9,000 members.
“I didn’t think I was starting a Mardi Gras krewe,” said Boudreaux. “Here I am. I’ve got myself a second full-time job.” The plan is for all participating homes to be decorated at least two weeks before Fat Tuesday, which falls on February 16th this year. Hopefully, this will provide enough time for everyone who wants to participate in gawking at the amazing decorations to be able to do so safely, with a minimized crowd.
Many of the homeowners and businesses hoping to fully transform the exteriors of their buildings were not left to become artists and decorators overnight. On the contrary, the discussions on Boudreaux’s Facebook group include ads for Mardi Gras props, helpful tips and tricks, how-to videos, and theme ideas for neighborhoods. Some artists have even live streamed outdoor lessons for those who wish to create artistic wonderment on their front lawns. Seeing how the parade-building community came around Boudreaux’s house float project so quickly, she wanted to find a way to help those who would normally be working during Carnival season.
So, she created a spreadsheet of artists and vendors, encouraging others to buy from or hire those taking an immense financial lose since the parades were cancelled. In fact, one artist named Dominic “Dom” Graves was able to book more than 20 five-person papier mache classes, at $100 per person, thanks to the shared publicity from the Facebook page. Additionally, inspired by an urge to help other out-of-work artists, members Devin DeWulf and Caroline Thomas came together to create “Hire a Mardi Gras Artist” crowdfunded lotteries. These lotteries collected enough money to pay crews to decorate 11 houses, as well as complete commissioned work on seven businesses and two additional houses.
Tom Fox’s wife, Madeline, dove headfirst into her house float, donned with a painted scene from Spongebob Squarepants and jellyfish made from bowls found at the Dollar Store. Fox is convinced that the new tradition of house floats is here to stay, saying, “Even when Mardi Gras comes back, I think people are going to keep doing this.” A map of all the participating house floats has been created and published online, allowing locals and visitors alike to plan out their own personal parade and celebrate a very special Mardi Gras.