With Mardi Gras Parades Canceled, Floats Find a New Home


Annie Flanagan and

NEW ORLEANS — The sunset streamed through the warehouse windows where René Píerre carved float props out of Styrofoam, carefully adding details to dozens of decorations for this year’s Mardi Gras celebration on Tuesday.

Mr. Píerre owns Crescent City Artists and has worked as a Mardi Gras float artist for 34 years. But he needed to figure out a new way of doing things this time. Parades were canceled by the city to prevent large crowds from gathering, so he and other celebrants decided to build floats in front of people’s houses instead.

It was mid-January, and with just weeks to go before the celebration, Mr. Píerre’s clothes and hands were covered in paint. Two float artists he mentors and a veteran float carpenter worked alongside him. “I’m running on fumes now,” Mr. Pierre said.

Ms. Boudreaux formed the Krewe of House Floats, which is keeping track of the number of installations that they and others have been building around town. There are roughly 3,000 house floats in the greater New Orleans area.

“I think it just really speaks to how desperate people have been for something positive to look forward to,” said Ms. Boudreaux. “It doesn’t matter if your budget is zero and you’re recycling cardboard boxes, or whether your budget is tens of thousands of dollars and you’ve got a mansion on St. Charles. We want everyone who wants to do this to participate.”

Five house floats, all within a matter of blocks, will each feature an eight-foot portrait of a Mardi Gras Indian who died.

For Mr. Píerre, 54, house floats brought hope.

His wife, Inez, had already lost her job as a mental health specialist when the parades were canceled in late November. “We were trying to find work that would be safe for us to do to survive,” Inèz said.

But while the parades couldn’t go on, the floats could. Mr. Píerre began to offer to build house floats for others. “The light bulb went off,” he said. “That’s our ticket out.”

With just less than a month to go before Mardi Gras, three of Mr. Píerre’s employees squeezed into a U-Haul truck and crisscrossed the city to build installations. Mr. Píerre has worked on 60 house floats in greater New Orleans.

At a house with a float dedicated to the performer Dolly Parton, Inez Píerre leaned on the fence and watched as workers put large painted panels in place.

“Sometimes I have to sit and think about how easily tradition changes,” she said. “We’re a part of it; our names are down in the books. This is a dream come true.”

Annie Flanagan and Akasha Rabut are photographers based in New Orleans.

Correction: Feb. 13, 2021

An earlier version of a picture caption with this article mischaracterized one of the krewes. The Krewe of Muses is an all-female krewe but is not the largest of all-female krewes.


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