The Backstreet Cultural Museum in New Orleans

I’ve been to New Orleans twice, and I loved the city right away. Something about the New Orleans gelled with me. On my first trip, I traveled alone (my favourite way to travel), and I spent my time wandering around, listening to music, eating delicious food, taking photos, and writing. It was like my version of heaven.

The Backstreet Cultural Museum

One place I had wanted to visit in New Orleans was The Backstreet Cultural Museum. It’s a local museum run by New Orleans resident Francis Sylvester. The museum details some unique pieces from the African-American community in New Orleans. I learned about this museum when I watched the documentary When The Levees Broke. In the background of one scene of the film was a sign saying “Backstreet Cultural Museum.” I went online and read about the museum and its mission to preserve a unique part of New Orleans culture. One day I knew I would visit The Backstreet Cultural Museum.

History and Culture

If anyone has watched the television show Treme, or knows a bit about New Orleans history and culture, then you may have heard about the Mardi Gras Indians. Here’s a little bit of about The Mardi Gras Indians from the website Mardi Gras New Orleans. “Mardi Gras is full of secrets, and the Mardi Gras Indians are as much a part of that secret society as any other carnival organization. The Mardi Gras Indians are comprised, in large part, of the African-American communities of New Orleans’s inner city. They have paraded for well over a century, yet their parade is perhaps the least recognized Mardi Gras tradition.”

My Visit to The Backstreet Cultural Museum

On my first trip to New Orleans, I procrastinated and tried to go to The Backstreet Cultural Museum on my last day in the city. Good point to note – if you want to see or do something on your travels you probably shouldn’t wait until the end of your trip. By the time, I got to the museum it had closed for the day.

Enter my second trip to New Orleans, which was an all expense weekend trip that I won (true story). As the contest winner I was able to bring a guest, so I invited my friend to join me. Our trip was very short. We only had 36 hours in New Orleans, but since I’d been to New Orleans before (she hadn’t), I wasn’t stressed about trying to see and do everything. I told my friend the only thing I really wanted to do was visit The Backstreet Cultural Museum.

Our trip to New Orleans was short and very busy. We didn’t get to The Backstreet Cultural Museum until an hour before they closed. One thing I didn’t know on my previous trip was that the museum operates out of Mr. Sylvester’s home. Even with the hours of operation listed on the website it’s best to phone ahead and confirm you’ll be able to get in when you are planning to visit. Although I would have liked to spend more time there the fact, I got another chance to visit the museum (and only a few months after my first trip) was fantastic. The Backstreet Cultural Museum is small, but the amount of items on display is pretty incredible. Here are just a few photos I took during my visit.

Outside The Backstreet Cultural Museum in New Orleans.

Outside The Backstreet Cultural Museum in New Orleans.

Tribute for Lionel Batiste at The Backstreet Cultural Museum in New Orleans

The Backstreet Museum has information about jazz funerals. There are tributes to several New Orleans residents at The Backstreet Cultural Museum like this one for Treme Brass Band drummer Lionel Batiste.

Display on the Sudan Social Aid and Pleasure Club at The Backstreet Cultural Museum in New Orleans

The Backstreet Cultural Museum has displays on other important aspects of African American traditions in New Orleans like the Social Aid and Pleasure Club

Mardi Gras costumes at The Backstreet Cultural Museum in New Orleans

Talking briefly to museum owner Frances Sylvester we learned the chiefs of the Mardi Gras Indians come up with the design for their costumes in their head. Nothing is ever drawn out.

Mardi Gras Indian suits at The Backstreet Cultural Museum in New Orleans

Each Mardi Gras Indian suit is hand sewn using only new materials and beads. A new suit has to be created for each person in a tribe every Mardi Gras.

Close up of a Mardi Gras Indian costume at The Backstreet Cultural Museum in New Orleans

The level of detail that goes into making these costumes was pretty amazing. It can take up to year to create each one.

If you are going to New Orleans, I highly recommend a visit to The Backstreet Culture Museum. It will show you a unique side of New Orleans culture and history that you might not know about.

The Backstreet Cultural Museum is located at 1116 Henriette Delille Street in New Orleans, and admission costs $8/person. Make sure to phone the museum to ensure they will be open when you plan to visit.

All opinions are my own. This post also contains a bookable activity through Yonderbound. If you choose to book this activity I receive an affiliate fee at no extra charge for you so it is a win-win situation.

Have you been to The Backstreet Cultural Museum?

10 Responses to The Backstreet Cultural Museum in New Orleans

  1. Lizzie February 7, 2014 at 2:33 AM #

    Wow, looks like a fascinating collection! I particularly love the colourful suits.

    • Alouise February 8, 2014 at 9:15 PM #

      Thanks for the comment. It’s a really unique museum, and definitely worth a visit if you’re in New Orleans.

  2. Mary @ Green Global Travel February 9, 2014 at 7:34 PM #

    New Orleans is very rich in culture and history. This is a great post. Thanks for sharing!

    • Alouise February 10, 2014 at 4:34 PM #

      Thanks for the comment Mary. New Orleans is a fascinating city, and definitely worth exploring.

  3. Lance | Trips By Lance February 11, 2014 at 11:17 AM #

    I’ve been to New Orleans many times but have never heard of this museum. I’ll be there next month. Maybe I’ll be able to make a visit.

    • Alouise February 12, 2014 at 12:08 AM #

      It’s a small museum and completely off the tourist trail, unless you know where to find it. Worth a visit if you want to learn more about New Orleans culture, which I find pretty fascinating.

  4. Lindsay February 11, 2014 at 12:26 PM #

    OK- this is too cool! Being from the area, I’ve never even heard of this museum! When I get back to Nola, I’m going to check it out! I’m a culture addict… this is perfect!

    • Alouise February 12, 2014 at 12:10 AM #

      Lindsay this museum would be totally up your alley then. It’s a smaller museum, but there’s a lot to see there. I wish I would have had more time, but then again that’s what a third visit to New Orleans is for.

  5. Boomergirl February 23, 2014 at 3:11 PM #

    Off-the-beaten track. My kind of find. Looks fascinating. If I’m ever in New Orleans, I’m looking up Mr. Sylvester and his Backstreet Cultural Museum. Thanks.

    • Alouise March 2, 2014 at 2:49 PM #

      It is a really great museum, and definitely off-the-beaten track. You should definitely check it out if you’re ever in NOLA.

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