1116 Saint Claude Avenue
New Orleans, LA
The Museum’s mission is to present and preserve the unique cultural traditions of New Orleans’ African American society, including Mardi Gras Indians, Jazz funerals, and Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs. Through its programs and exhibitions of artifacts, memorabilia, photos, and videos, the Museum endeavors to protect these treasures of the community. The Backstreet Cultural Museum is the only museum dedicated to these rich folk-life and musical traditions. The Museum’s goal is to promote a deeper and more widespread understanding of the New Orleans African-American heritage through exhibits and presentations of the art and music surrounding the celebration of these traditions.
The Museum serves as a repository for the cultural traditions of New Orleans’ urban society. The Museum contains exhibits, artifacts, memorabilia, films and videos depicting Mardi Gras Indians, Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs, and Traditional Jazz Funerals. These three elements represent cultural institutions born from the spirit of the community in an effort to define and express itself. These unique aspects of the African American heritage in New Orleans are guarded by those who still practice these traditions.
The Museum is housed in a creole cottage in the heart of a New Orleans neighborhood known as the “Treme”. The Museum and the Treme are cemented in history by a cultural legacy. The Backstreet Cultural Museum is perfectly at home in its surroundings and serves as a focal point of the Treme and the cultural community it represents. The Treme, located directly adjacent to the French Quarter, has been and continues to be a vibrant enclave of musicians and artists in New Orleans.
Much of the city’s musical history, plus other largely African-American New Orleans traditions like skeleton gangs, jazz parades and the Mardi Gras Indians with their handmade, proto-Vegas costumes have been lovingly collected by Sylvester Francis at this museum. It is tucked inside a former funeral home in the Tremé (pronounced trem-AY) a historically black part of town where generations of the city’s musicians grew up and learned to play. In a city where history is still happening, little shrines like Backstreet are legion and their sole proprietors, like Mr. Francis, are oracles.
(From: New York Times, December 16, 2007)
Part private obsession, part cultural jewel, this small facility is off the beaten path but a must-stop for anyone interested in the true history and culture of New Orleans. The city would be nothing without the rhythms of such rituals as brass bands, second lines, social clubs, jazz funerals, and the wholly unique Mardi Gras Indians, and this collection gathers remarkable examples and explanations for all of them in one place. It’s not as slick as similar efforts at the Presbytère, but it contains even more special examples of such art as the feathered and sequined wonders that are Mardi Gras Indians’ handmade suits. It’s also located right in the heart of the Treme, the neighborhood that spawned so much of what is celebrated here. The owner, Sylvester, is an eccentric trip, but not only has he carefully documented this vital culture, but he’s also the real New Orleans, so spend some time with him.
One part of the Backstreet Cultural Museum is the front section of a home (past funeral parlor) that has been converted to house a collection of artifacts from Jazz Funerals, Mardi Gras Parades, Second Lines, and the historic citizens of New Orleans. The other part of the museum is a repository of knowledge that lives within and on its walls and with its executive director, Sylvester Francis. We visited the Museum later on a rainy day and were treated to a tour of the collection, a absolute must as it brings the rich artifacts of these performances to life. Admission is $8, perhaps a bit steep for the collection itself, but with the tour, very reasonable. If you want to participate in a second line ask the Director for a copy of the upcoming route schedule.