Purple, Green, Gold & Sold
This Carnival season showcased entrepreneurism at its best
Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.
Entrepreneurism has its practical definitions and applications, but underlying it is a spirit — an essential conviction that success is possible no matter the circumstances. That entrepreneurial spirit was displayed spectacularly during Carnival 2021, turning what might have been a very melancholy time into plenty of opportunities for festivity and appropriate celebration.
One early example of this was Krewe du Vieux, the satirical and bawdy marching group that usually meanders through Marigny and the French Quarter. Many of the krewe’s subkrewes created stationary installations riffing on their theme of “Krewe du Vieux Has No Taste.” Satirical expression prevailed, and some of the subkrewes used their installations as fundraisers for musicians, grocery store workers and others.
This notion of stationary Carnival and moving people was also embraced by City Park, whose “Floats in the Oaks” lined up more than 40 iconic floats from across the spectrum of New Orleans parades — from the Muses shoe to the Rex Boeuf Gras. Flambeaux and socially distanced dancers added to the spectacle. The drive-by event was a fundraiser for the financially beleaguered park, and it sold out, thus helping to sustain a New Orleans institution while giving thousands of people at least a small taste of parading.
For sheer scale, nothing surpassed the house floats. This concept seemed to emerge from several sources, including the Krewe of Red Beans and Mardi Gras World, and rapidly took on a life of its own. Formally, funds were raised to hire float artists whose income dried up with the parade cancelations, and a lottery was held to identify houses to be decorated by these talented artisans.
Informally, people everywhere in the city and region caught the spirit and decorated their own homes. More than 3,000 houses registered with the Krewe of House Floats just in the city, with a similar number across the metro area. Reports came in of Mardi Gras houses as far away as Atlanta and California.
This is the entrepreneurial spirit at its best: One of our greatest cultural traditions got shut down, and our response was to create a new cultural tradition. House floats will undoubtedly become a permanent part of Carnival going forward.
Mardi Gras creativity and entrepreneurism were also expressed in the world of commerce. Face masks — COVID-19 style, not Carnival style — with Mardi Gras themes were widely available. All kinds of clever T-shirts and other apparel, both lamenting and making light of the situation, popped up everywhere. Perhaps none of them expressed it all better than one from Dirty Coast, which featured a purple, green and gold version of a certain beer logo and read “Mardi Lite: half the crowds, double the fun.”
King cake sales went through the roof, as people sought any opportunity for a taste of typical Carnival. Bakers offered a wide variety of flavors, from tiramisu and Cajun Mud on the sweet side to crawfish and boudin on the savory side. King cake doughnuts and keto diet-friendly king cakes were available, and there was even King Cake Rum from Happy Raptor Distillery. Not all were successful; sales of the “peel and eat shrimp” and “sushi” king cakes failed to meet their inventors’ expectations.
The old saw about turning lemons into lemonade is the core of the entrepreneurial spirit — and a real entrepreneur comes up with six flavors of lemonade, some alcoholic versions (at least in New Orleans), and, in this case, a line of Mardi Gras-themed lemonade pitchers, glasses and cocktail napkins. Despite the severe but necessary restrictions on how we could all enjoy our Carnival traditions, we collectively made the most of it, hopefully safely, and showed the world, once again, that no one is as resilient as the people of Southeast Louisiana.
Besides, who wanted to go out for Mardi Gras in an ice storm anyway ….