Celebrating the Lower 9th Ward at the House of Dance and Feathers

Dance, Museums, music, musicology, Travel

A few years ago, when I visited the Backstreet Cultural Museum in Treme, I was unaware of the existence of another museum dedicated to the African-American cultural practices of the Lower Ninth Ward. Indeed, Ronald Lewis’ amazing House of Dance and Feathers, located in the back yard of his residence, was nearly destroyed by the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina, and many priceless artifacts were lost, but volunteers and donors helped rebuild the museum and restock it with photographs and objects that preserve a record of the neighborhood’s unique culture, a culture that at times seems more Caribbean than American. When the Neighborhood Story Project published a beautiful book about the museum, many people around the world (including myself)became more aware of the great work that Lewis has done to preserve a record of the Lower Ninth Ward and its significance to New Orleans as a whole. The museum contains artifacts of Black Indian culture, of social aid and pleasure clubs, and of brass bands and musicians. It also contains articles and books that deal with the history of New Orleans and related Afro-Caribbean cultural practices which resemble those of New Orleans, such as those of the Garifuna people of Central America. Mr. Lewis was very gracious in opening up the facility for me, his only visitor on the afternoon I was there, and explaining many things to me. A visit to the House of Dance and Feathers (as well as the Backstreet Cultural Museum) is a good place to begin to get an understanding of the culture which produced jazz, brass band music, R & B and even bounce music.