Yardi Gras New Orleans' New Tradition

New Orleans Invents a Glorious New Tradition with ‘Yardi Gras’

A fundraiser to help out-of-work artists turned into a movement that distills the essence of community during Carnival.

A mansion in Audubon Park pokes fun at the end of Trump’s disastrous presidency with a Wizard of Oz homage that casts him as the Wicked Witch of the East that the house has fallen on. Six-foot-long paper mâché legs in striped stockings and ruby slippers are perched at the edge of the house; on the opposite side are a giant witch hat and Trump’s head, painted green. Students from the local art high school NOCCA created this house float.

Since 1857, Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans have been called off only 14 times, because of war, mob violence, or labor disputes. Not even the last great pandemic could quell the street parades. Mark the history books: This year will be the 15th.

“Greatest Show on Earth” brightens the day with handmade cut-outs of circus animals and a trapeze artist.

A house float decorated in bright colors and giant fish add festivity to this block in the Marigny.

Much as the city came together after the devastation of Hurricane Katina, turning Carnival into a celebration of hope amid the mourning, Crescent City citizens are still letting the good times roll and supporting each other while they’re at it. What started as a fundraiser by the Krewe of Red Beans to help Mardi Gras float artists generate an income after all the parades were canceled, “house floats” have boomed with a joyful DIY spirit.

“Krewe Du Shroom” at 2825 N. Rampart St. in the Marigny is a brilliant, black-light house float that glows at night. The mushrooms are constructed from paper mâché, plaster, and chicken wire.

The psychedelic "Krewe Du Shroom,” when lit at night.

A house float memorializes the the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—and other “Wonder Women”—at 3221 N. Rampart St. in the Marigny district.

The house floats movement was born on November 17, 2020, the same day New Orleans announced there would be no parades during the 2021 Carnival season due to the coronavirus.

City officials have taken to calling it “Yardi Gras.”

Map of the thousands of House Floats in the New Orleans area.

The Krewe of House Floats is another organization building and documenting them and raising money for the community in the process. There are well over 3,000 now, with more being added ahead of the Feb 16. holiday. They can be found as far west as Lake Charles as well as southern parts of Louisiana such as Houma.

Mardi Gras float artists already have houses booked for next year, so the new tradition is sure to stick around. Here are some of our favorites.

The houses on this block on Bouny St. in Algiers Point were all decorated as ‘80s movies, including this one, the Krewe of Audrey’s Little Shop of 2020 Horrors.

The artists added several Covid-19 twists to the 1986 flick Little Shop of Horrors.

COVID-19 and a massive roll of toilet paper dangle from the balcony of Audrey’s Little Shop of 2020 Horrors.

The house float movement has given birth to a mini economy, putting laid-off musicians and artists back to work, saving businesses and fundraising for New Orleanians in need.

This traditional double shotgun house in Bayou St. John is decorated with beautiful paper flowers and the names of Greek gods and goddesses.

Across New Orleans, thousands of homes like this one — the "Queen of Bounce House" — are decorated for Mardi Gras. People drive from house-to-house because the city canceled parades due to COVID.

There are no large gatherings or official tours sponseored by the Krewe of House Floats. Instead, locals are encouraged to visit house flats on their own time, either by car or on foot.

On the West Bank of the Mississippi, this house float recreates the usual Mardi Gras scene: Street vendors sell toys from a shopping cart, garbage litters the ground, barricades restrain spectators, and a BBQ grill smokes endlessly.

Between labor and supplies, a custom design can cost thousands of dollars. The new industry has created a lifeline for local artists, like Coco Darrow.

Darrow and her husband own The Stronghold Studios, a commercial art company. They normally create hand painted props and backdrops for concert tours and movies.

House floats are floating artists an economic life raft during the COVID pandemic. Coco Darrow (L) and Maddie Stratton (R) work on Mardi Gras decorations at The Stronghold Studios in New Orleans.

The pandemic eviscerated their business last year when they completed only a single paid project.

"I actually thought that it might be a good way to make a little extra money to help cushion the cost of closing the business down and as time went on I thought maybe we won't have to close," Darrow said.

In two months, they've crafted more than two dozen house floats and their team of two has grown to nine.

The "Birds of Bulbancha" house float made by the Krewe of Red Beans in New Orleans.

Devin De Wulf is founder of the Krewe of Red Beans, a Mardi Gras group that's been fundraising for locals throughout the pandemic.

They've raised $300,000 for the house float movement — employing laid-off artists and transforming more than 20 homes and businesses.

Inez Pierre, of Crescent City Artists, stands in front of her family's home. It's one of 63 house floats created by the family's business. "All we want to do is make people happy, make people smile."

While some of the floats have been commissioned by businesses, others have been raffled off, like a tiny house float in the city's 7th Ward.

The float honors Louisiana's wildlife, complete with giant spoonbills and pelicans. Paper mache flowers blossom from the front porch.

De Wulf said while the spirit of the season can be difficult to grasp, it's often found in the unexpected.

"You know the magic of Mardi Gras is ephemeral and it comes and it goes, but in that moment when you're there, it's just pure bliss, it's pure joy."

This year, house floats have brought that magic back.

A mansion on Prytania Street in the Lower Garden District is decorated with giant Mardi Gras props that would ordinarily be borne on floats in the parade.

Life-sized cutouts of the Bernie Sanders mitten meme are a very popular addition to house floats across the city, such as this one in Algiers Point.

The Llama Rama house float in the Marigny suggests many new catchphrases.

Paper cut outs of this couple are ready to party 24/7.

The house float vividly depicts a Mardi Gras day as a glorious mess—port-a-potty and mannequin included.

At 1009 Montegut St. (above) in the Bywater, a house float with possums, a gator, Trump, and a blow-up doll make a frenetic mise-en-scène of “Trump’s Da-mise.”

In the Marigny, neighbors came together to enliven a little yard between their homes. The painted hedges are a really nice touch.