Museum Moves

Three local favorites are growing, and a new player is starting to take shape.
Perspectives Realestate

New Orleans, a cultural cauldron of history and artistic expression, has long been celebrated for its enchanting museums that preserve the essence of the city’s rich heritage. But like any cultural tradition, museums must be maintained and preserved for the next generation to enjoy. And sometimes, there needs to be space for new players on the stage. 

For museums, that maintenance takes the form of renovations and expansions that not only preserve their historical charm but also breathe new life into the experiences they offer. 

In the heart of the French Quarter, the renowned New Orleans Jazz Museum is harmonizing its storied past with cutting-edge interactive displays, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the vibrant evolution of jazz music. Located in the Old U.S. Mint, the museum celebrates the history and evolution of New Orleans jazz music and is currently in the beginning stages of an expansion that includes new educational initiatives, exterior lighting, entrance, museum store, café, sculpture garden — in addition to the interactive exhibition elements. 

Meanwhile, at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), nestled in City Park, a seamless blend of architecture and natural surroundings is taking shape, offering an awe-inspiring experience that bridges the gap between art and nature. In 2020, NOMA completed the renovations of the Lapis Center for the Arts, the Coleman Courtyard and Café NOMA. 

NOMA is also regularly developing and bringing in new exhibits, like Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour — which runs from July 21 to November 26— that celebrates and explores fashion history, emphasizing the “spirit of innovation and the diversity of the United States’ fashion heritage.” If you or someone close to you is interested in fashion history, this is a must-see.

And the transformations extend beyond the museum walls. The construction sites themselves have become artistic spectacles, with local talents adorning exterior walls with captivating murals, symbolizing the city’s resilience and cultural tapestry. 

Engaging the community in this symphony of renovation has been instrumental in bringing these projects to life. Local artisans, craftsmen, and historians have infused their expertise and passion into the process, ensuring that the museums remain deeply connected to the community they serve.

Like the music of New Orleans, so many of the city’s iconic museums began as small local projects that grew and grew, becoming world-renowned for their unique offerings. A case-in-point is The National WWII Museum, which traces its founding back to 1990, when University of New Orleans professors Stephen Ambrose and Nick Mueller discussed plans to develop a modest museum as a permanent home for the artifacts and oral histories Ambrose had collected for his then-forthcoming book on D-Day. 

A decade later, The National D-Day Museum opened with great fanfare and much enthusiasm. Plans were quickly developed to dramatically expand the museum to tell the full story of the American experience in World War II, and Congress designated it as America’s official museum for the war.

“Over the past two decades, the museum has been on a journey to transform its original one-building National D-Day Museum into The National WWII Museum with seven pavilions across 7 acres,” said Keith Darcey, the museum’s director of communications. “Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, the museum’s $400 million Road to Victory capital campaign has made it possible to quadruple the size of the campus and grow our collections, endowment and educational programs.”

Darcey said the museum’s mission is to tell the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today—so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. 

“World War II is one of the most significant stories in human history,” he said, “and it is a great responsibility and privilege for The National WWII Museum to preserve and share the stories of World War II with audiences of all generations.”

As part of that mission, the museum announced the opening of its final permanent exhibit hall on November 3. The three-story “Liberation Pavilion” explores the end of World War II, the Holocaust, the postwar years, and how the war continues to impact our lives today. The new hall concludes the museum’s “Road to Victory” capital expansion campaign and marks the most significant milestone in the museum’s history since its 2000 opening. 

The November 3 grand opening will be part of a weeklong series of events to honor the WWII generation and thank the museum’s many supporters. 

“With only about 1% of WWII veterans still with us today, this will be a special moment for the museum and nation to pay tribute to the last surviving members of the WWII generation,” Darcey said.

As one long-established museum completes its final permanent exhibition, another is just getting started. Spearheaded by social entrepreneur and lifetime New Orleanian Chris Beary, The Louisiana Music and Heritage Experience seeks to tell the story of the city’s music — all of the music.

“Our mission is to use the story of Louisiana music from Congo Square all the way until today, to lay it out in order to educate and inspire people from around the world,” Beary said. “We look to not only educate about our story, which is basically the American music story, telling them the story of roots music, gospel music, jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and rap to a certain extent.”

With a team of developers that includes Bob Santelli, the curator behind nine music museums — including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — and CEO Terry Stewart, who was the CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for 15 years, Beary envisions a $160 million, 120,000-square-foot area that is going to tell those stories in a grand way. 

“It will be a state-of-the-art experience using all sorts of digital walls, and it will be involving all age levels, so that when you come into it, it’s not just an old school museum,” Beary said. 

The Music and Heritage Experience will allow visitors to explore their favorite genre of New Orleans music or learn about one that’s less familiar to them. For Beary, he’s excited about the funk exhibit — it’s also how the idea for the museum first came about. 

“I am the captain of the Funky Tucks group that parades with the Krewe of Tucks,” Beary said. “And all the charity work we did over COVID is how the museum idea grew — from listening to all of the stories being told by the musicians.”

The project is set to be complete by the end of 2027 and open by early 2028, and Beary said that they hope to fit neatly into the rich tapestry of museums that calls the city home — to not compete with anybody. 

“I think we bring another worldwide institution to New Orleans, like the World War II Museum. And that’s going to bring 700,000 people a year and $150 million with economic development, which is a huge fuel and engine for the city together,” he said. “I think it will help bring more people to the city that are also going to go to other museums.”

Did you know? The state with the most museums per capita is Vermont, with 47.88 per 100,000 people. The state with the least is Florida, with only 6.57.