Located in the heart of Treme, the Backstreet Cultural Museum is a New Orleans treasure. Technically opened in 1999, the museum had its origins years earlier in 1988 when Sylvester Francis, who used to march with the Gentlemen of Leisure Social Aid & Pleasure Club, began displaying photographs and other memorabilia in his two-car garage. Mardi Gras Indian tribes then began donating costumes and before long, tour groups started showing up.
Today, the Backstreet Cultural Museum holds the world’s most comprehensive collection related to New Orleans’ African-American community-based masking and processional traditions, including Mardi Gras Indians, jazz funerals, social aid and pleasure clubs, Baby Dolls, and Skull & Bone gangs. The museum’s filmed records of over 500 events constitute the most cohesive archive documenting these cultural traditions.
In addition to its permanent exhibits, the Backstreet Cultural Museum hosts public performances of music and dance, provides outreach programs, and creates an annual book, Keeping Jazz Funerals Alive, that chronicles the year’s jazz funerals.
The Backstreet Cultural Museum collaborates with other institutions to share New Orleans’ culture with a wide audience. The museum provides annual exhibitions at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Essence Festival. Backstreet’s collections were featured in the Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s exhibition, “Mardi Gras Indians, Jazz Funerals and Second-Line Parades: Works from the Backstreet Cultural Museum.” As part of Prospect.1 New Orleans, the largest biennial of international contemporary art in the United States, the New Orleans Museum of Art’s exhibition showcased Chief Victor Harris’ Mardi Gras Indian suits as well as Sylvester Francis’ photographs and films from the Backstreet Cultural Museum.
The Backstreet Cultural Museum is a pillar in the Treme community. Second-line parades begin and end there. The North Side Skull & Bone Gang and Mardi Gras Indians congregate there on Mardi Gras day. And schoolchildren identify family members in the photographs on its wall. The museum is active in Treme and promotes art & culture as important to the neighborhood’s identity and future.
The Backstreet Cultural Museum is located at 1116 Henriette Delille Street. The museum is open Monday through Friday, 10:00am—3:00pm, Saturday, 10:00am—4:00pm, and closed on Sunday.