New Orleans has become one of my favorite artistic destinations in recent years. Yes, there’s more to New Orleans than drunken revelry and beignets. It could be argued New Orleans is the cultural capital of the South. I love the galleries and antique shops along Royal Street. A lively recent addition to the arts community is JAMNOLA.
Jonny Liss seemed destined to make a big splash on New Orleans’ cultural scene since moving there four years ago. He was all set to do so with his immersive, artistic funhouse JAMNOLA (Joy-Art-Music New Orleans).
Then COVID-19 hit.
So, he went back to the drawing board and did it all over again.
“Everything changed, so we changed everything,” Liss told Forbes.com of the project.
In launching JAMNOLA, Liss and co-founder Chad Smith ended up working with 20 local artists and nine collaborators on the 5,400-square-foot, 12 room fantasy land.
“We basically went to all of them and said, ‘change what you’re doing,’” Liss recalls of how COVID-19 impacted JAMNOLA’s vision.
A room originally designed to send guests through a feathered carwash was redesigned for the feathers to now encase, but not touch, visitors. Musical devices meant to be triggered by touch were converted to be triggered by guests’ proximity.
“We decided we wanted to be the museum of the new normal,” Liss said. “I would say almost every exhibit was transformed.”
So were the visitation protocols.
“We were originally going to be like 15-20 people all just rolling through like you’re at a festival,” Liss said. “We changed the entire thing to private and semi-private tours of no more than six people, timed ticketing, we basically reinvented every aspect–we looked at every aspect of a cultural museum and we changed it to be a very safe environment.”
To date, the changes are working beyond Liss’ expectations.
Blinged-out umbrellas, giant crawfish, feather chandeliers, a sequined alligator, a virtual costume closet, Liss’ love letter to his adopted hometown hasn’t suffered from its post-COVID-19 retrofit.
JAMNOLA opened August 1 as a partnership between Liss, Smith and Where Y’Art, a New Orleans-based artist collective that served as curator and artistic director. Liss and Smith imagined the exhibits, the mood and experiences they wanted JAMNOLA to present, Where Y’Art served as matchmaker between that vision and its roster of artists who were given total creative freedom to take Liss and Smith’s ideas and run with them.
What you’ll see at JAMNOLA
Who Dot? The Bead Goes On. Bling Bayou.
Each of JAMNOLA’s 12 themed rooms offers a slice of pure NOLA joy, celebrating the city’s iconic art, music, food and theatrics.
Joy of Crawfish. Yeah You Write. Umbrella Strut.
No city in America, perhaps the world, is more closely associated with joy, music and art than New Orleans; JAMNOLA shares it all under one roof in a “topsy-turvy, upside-down tour through some of the city’s cultural highlights” as Liss describes it.
What does he love most about New Orleans?
“You feel so welcome–whenever I used to come here before I lived here, everyone would always say, ‘welcome home,’” Liss remembers. “There’s a huge community in the city, there’s always something surprising to see here; I love the spirit, I love the way the city bounces back from anything. I love all the different people, the characters.”
JAMNOLA intends to add special exhibits and programming around holidays and big events, with the 12 fixed exhibits changing up every year or so.
The JAMNOLA experience extends beyond its walls in the hipster, mural-filled Marigny neighborhood, a 15-minute walk down NOLA’s premiere arts avenue, Royal Street. JAMNOLA offers all guests access to a “Cultural Concierge,” digital know-it-all curating content by local experts on everything from po-boy recommendations to outdoor adventures using proximity activation technology. JAMNOLA has also partnered with WWOZ Radio to provide guests with music guidance after the tour.
My favorite travel guides are DK “Eyewitness” travel guides. As someone how is “directionally challenged,” I love the detailed, street level illustrations. Their brief reviews of attractions are always spot-on as well. Check out their New Orleans guide if you’re traveling there.
A percentage of JAMNOLA’s proceeds will be donated back to New Orleans charity partners Trombone Shorty Foundation and Feed the Second Line.
“I’ve been on a quest to make people happy and bring them joy for most of my life–my whole life I suppose,” Liss said. “My adult life has always revolved around New Orleans’ art and music; we started on a quest with this mission to combat the negativity of the world with large doses of joy, art and music.”
JAMNOLA Tickets, Hours and Directions
JAMNOLA is located at 2832 ROYAL ST. NEW ORLEANS, LA 70117. General admission adult tickets are $29, kids (3-12) $20, kids under 3-years-old free, and $20 tickets for seniors, military, students and first responders. You can order tickets here.
JAMNOLA is opened Wednesday through Sunday with times varying by day. Check JAMNOLA’s ticketing website for details.