The Ella Project proudly celebrates Big Queen Rukiya of the Creole Wild West Mardi Gras Indian tribe for her enormous achievement in having her amazingly intricate and profound artwork selected for exhibition at the Musee du quai Branly in Paris. We were happy to work with Rukiya on the legal mechanisms required to ensure she secured a fair, equitable and favorable arrangement, which ultimately took her fabulous Indian suit from the streets of New Orleans to one of the world’s finest art institutions. As a result, Rukiya’s White Buffalo suit will be on display for art lovers around the world to observe and appreciate while getting a taste of some of what makes New Orleans so special.
The Mardi Gras Indians, or black masking Indians, are unique to New Orleans and one of America’s oldest, urban, indigenous cultures that continues to thrive today. We have worked intimately with many Mardi Gras Indians since our organization was founded in 2004. We have also had the privilege to represent the Mardi Gras Indian Council since day one of our legal clinics, going back 16 years now. We are honored to have served the Queens of the Nation and the Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame, which awarded us a Golden Feather in 2016. In 2010, we worked with Mardi Gras Indians to secure recognition by the U.S. Copyright Office of the their elaborate suits as works of sculpture, which extended the rights afforded to these authors beyond photographs alone. Because their underlying work, their suits, are subject to copyright protection as works of sculpture, Mardi Gras Indians have greater recourse to protect and enforce their rights. Our Co-Founder Ashlye Keaton often says that working with Mardi Gras Indians continues to be the highlight of her professional life, and she credits the Indian community for continuing to inspire her to commit to public service. We are blessed with the good fortune to collaborate with creators like Rukiya to tell their own stories and to spread the joy of New Orleans culture across the globe. Cheers to Big Queen Rukiya for being an inspiration to us all!
The Ella Project was proud to produce a panel at the 2018 Music Cities Toronto: New Orleans: a Case Study on Cultural Heritage, Economic Development and Audience Development was moderated by Ella Project’s Ashlye Keaton, and featured Big Chief Howard Miller of the Creole Wild West discussing community engagement, Jordan Hirsch discussing A Closer Walk NOLA, and Melanie Merz discussing the latest developments with WWOZ.
This Summit was spearheaded in 2016 around the release of MusicCanada’s landmark Mastering a Music City report in 2015. This year, a follow up, Keys to a Music City, was released on May 12th. This new report focuses on many issues discussed recently in New Orleans, including the merits of a Night Mayor, revamping boards, and music offices, such as an export office.
A major takeaway is that while New Orleans music continues to be celebrated worldwide, many cities and small towns across North America are devising their own deliberate music and culture strategies, and that our city has an opportunity to exchange with others and lead the dialogue around overarching music and culture policy. We also leave Canada so honored and humbled to speak on behalf of the amazing musicians, non profits, and audiences that make up our unique, strong culture. We look forward to working with our partners to enact positive changes to support an ecosystem where culture continues to thrive.
The Ella Project was proud to work with Chief Howard Miller of the Creole Wild West, the Mardi Gras Indian Council and the Shreveport Regional Arts Council to co-produce the first-ever comprehensive exhibition of Mardi Gras Indian suits at ArtSpace in downtown Shreveport. This immersive exhibit and parade through downtown Shreveport was part of the Shreveport Regional Arts Council’s Unscene creative placemaking project. January 27-28th was a beautiful weekend, and it was kicked off Friday night with a gallery exhibit of ten Indian suits, followed the next day by a standing room only artist talk presented by Chief Howard Miller. On Saturday afternoon, Chief Howard led the parade with help of other Mardi Gras Indians, including Chief Victor Harris of Fi Yi Yi, Chief Keke Gibson of the Comanche Hunters and Chief Lil’ Charles Taylor of the White Cloud Hunters. A diverse crowd danced alongside the Indians throughout Shreveport Common to the parade’s end at ArtSpace Shreveport.
With the National Endowment for the Arts in the national spotlight, it’s important to note that this project was supported by the NEA, and is exactly the kind of important work that the Endowment specializes in. This project worked with Chief Howard Miller from the very beginning, and identified how he and his tribe wanted to present this cherished New Orleans culture and then presented it in a way where people of all ages and ethnicities could experience the beauty and integrity this culture brings to those who are fortunate to embrace it. We talk about art creating common ground, and, for Ella, it was a pleasure to be a part of. It was also too much of a success to just do one time, so right now, we’re working on our next project to promote and share our beautiful culture.