The New Orleans Public Library Board appointed Emily Painton interim executive director and city librarian Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.
Library Partners with Local Museum to Increase Access to New Orleans History, Culture
The Library has partnered with Hermann-Grima + Gallier Historic Houses in order to increase public access to New Orleans’ culture and history.
Starting Friday, October 15, the Library will add Hermann-Grima + Gallier Historic Houses (HGGHH) to the Culture Pass Program, which provides the opportunity for Library cardholders to visit a variety of attractions across the city for free. Two Library locations will later host “Artistry in Iron,” HGGHH’s newest exhibition, which tells the often overlooked story of New Orleans’ enslaved blacksmiths and free blacksmiths of color.
The two houses are both National Historic Landmark properties located in the French Quarter and built in the 1800s. Visitors can tour the houses and learn about the daily life of the properties’ inhabitants, including enslaved and free people of color, and wealthy New Orleans families.
HGGHH Executive Director Tessa Jagger said she first learned about the Culture Pass Program by using it herself and thought it would be a fantastic way to expand their reach.
“As a non-profit museum, our goal is to serve the public good; and, if our ticket price is preventing people from attending, then we’re not living up to our full potential to do so,” Jagger said. “We also recognize that we aren’t on everyone’s radar who could use the financial support. So, by partnering with the Library, we’re making sure that when we offer free entry, it’s actually going to the people who would need it most.”
In early 2020, HGGHH received the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Rebirth Grant to create “Artistry in Iron.” Jagger said she immediately knew she wanted to work with the Library in order to bring it to the public.
“We’re aware there are several things that keep people from coming to our museum,” Jagger said. “The entry price is one thing, but also the transportation to and from the French Quarter can be a huge barrier for people. There are also a lot of people who are brought up with this sense that museums don’t want them there. That museums are only for the elite or highly educated, versus being a space for the general public.”
Jagger said there was a time in her life when she felt that way, too.
“I grew up poor; I lived in a trailer park in Wisconsin. I never felt comfortable going to museums, and that lasted until I was in college,” she recalled. “But growing up, I spent a lot of time in the library, and I knew libraries were very much a safe and welcoming space.”
Which is why HGGHH is bringing their newest exhibit out of their museum and into the Library.
In December, “Artistry in Iron” will travel to Nora Navra Library and then to East New Orleans Regional in January. The exhibit showcases the Black and enslaved artisans who built much of the French Quarter’s iconic iron work, but have rarely been acknowledged for or profited from their efforts.
“We wanted to take the opportunity to change how we talk about architecture,” Jagger said. “So often, the only person we talk about is the architect. And that’s obviously very important, but there’s so much more that goes into taking it from paper to building it.”
HGGHH and the Library worked together to determine which locations would host the exhibit.
“We wanted to have libraries that were in neighborhoods that are typically culturally underserved, especially by museums. We were also looking for neighborhoods with a lower percentage of people with access to a vehicle,” Jagger said, explaining why they landed on East New Orleans Regional Library.
Nora Navra Library is located in the 7th Ward, one of New Orleans’ historic and culturally significant Black neighborhoods.
“That area is where blacksmiths have traditionally lived throughout the history of New Orleans and is where quite a few still-practicing blacksmiths today live,” Jagger said. “So we also wanted to connect with that history.”
HGGHH Curator Katie Burlison used the Library’s City Archives & Special Collections to build “Artistry in Iron,” which is another reason they felt it was important to deepen their partnership with the Library, Jagger said.
“We always knew we would need to partner with the Library in some way in order to get the information that we needed to create the exhibition in the first place. So, being able to give something back to the Library as well was very intriguing to us,” Jagger said.
Archivist Amanda Fallis helped facilitate the project, which she saw as a fantastic opportunity to bring history out from the confines of a museum and into the hands of the public.
“‘Artistry in Iron’ celebrates African-American contributions to the building of our city that in the past have been neglected by the gatekeepers of history,” Fallis said. “Working with a fellow historic and cultural institution in New Orleans is always gratifying. It allows the City Archives and the Library to bring more of the city’s history directly to our patrons.”
In short, Jagger said partnering with the Library helps to further HGGHH’s inclusivity, which is one of their four values.
“To us, that means confronting bias, engaging diverse communities, and furthering the inclusion of historically overlooked stories, stakeholders, and audiences,” she said. “By bringing our exhibition to the Library –– which is a place that people already know, already trust, and already feel welcomed in –– we hope to forge a relationship with the communities that built New Orleans. By starting that engagement through content and showing them that we aren’t just a pretty old house for tourists, we hope they feel comfortable and welcomed enough to come to the museum in the future.”
Culture Passes are only available to New Orleans Public Library cardholders who live in Orleans Parish and are at least 18 years old. Each pass can be used for up to two adults and between two to seven children, depending on location. Reservations must be made in advance at culturepass.nolalibrary.org.
In addition to Hermann-Grima + Gallier Historic Houses, partners include Audubon Nature Institute, National WWII Museum, New Canal Lighthouse Museum, New Orleans Museum of Art, and Ogden Museum of Southern Art.
For the past few weeks, 7th graders Gracie Hodes and Sophia Vernier–Molinario have spent every Monday afternoon building their coding and creativity skills at the New Orleans Public Library’s Girls Who Code Club.