The Historic New Orleans Collection presents
The 26th Williams Research Center Symposium
Virtual Presentations February 8–March 22, 2022

Months before the scent of fresh king cake, the glow of flambeaux, and the driving beat of marching bands fill New Orleans, artists, makers, and culture bearers across the city are planning, designing, and building. Their inspiration, hard work, and collaboration result in awe-inspiring creations. Much more than just a celebration, Carnival and its rich, diverse, and complicated history invite the world to our streets. 

This year’s Williams Research Center Symposium, presented in conjunction with the exhibition Making Mardi Gras, celebrates the makers who carry the history and traditions forward, who shape their evolution, and who, every year, bring us “The Greatest Free Show on Earth.” 

This year's event is generously sponsored by Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World and Kern Studios.


Due to health concerns, the Williams Research Center 2022 Symposium will be presented as a virtual event. Anyone who paid registration fees for the original experience has received an email with information on refunds. As a virtual program, the 2022 WRC Symposium will be free, with content released weekly every Tuesday, beginning February 8, 2022. Registration is encouraged, and the schedule of talks is available below.

In addition, the opening reception has been rescheduled for Wednesday, February 16, 2022. Admission is free, and registration is required.


February 8, 2022

(Un)Making Mardi Gras: Alternative Responses to Carnival's First Century in New Orleans
Dr. Rien Fertel, and Lydia Blackmore

Historian Dr. Rien Fertel will converse with Lydia Blackmore, curator of the Making Mardi Gras exhibition, about the first 101 years of Carnival organizations in New Orleans, from the founding of the Mistick Krewe of Comus in 1857 to the Krewe of Yuga a century later. Dr. Fertel and Blackmore will also discuss marginalized groups—including Black masking Indians, flambeaux carriers, and gay Carnival revelers—that have democratized Mardi Gras.
View presentation on YouTube


February 15, 2022

Made by Hand: The History and Artistry of Mardi Gras
Dr. Stephen Hales, and Caroline Thomas

The art of Carnival embraces many disciplines and draws upon the long and rich history of this New Orleans celebration. Dr. Stephen Hales, historian and archivist for the Rex Organization, describes their early parades and takes us inside the Rex den for a look behind the scenes as the rolling tableaux of the Rex parade are constructed.

Caroline Thomas, float designer for Royal Studios, explains the process of decorating the floats, from design all the way to the exquisite final products. Thomas also details some of the traditional materials and techniques she uses that make New Orleans Mardi Gras a unique regional art form.
View presentation on YouTube


Curator Talk: Costumes of the Making Mardi Gras Exhibition
Lydia Blackmore
This program has been postponed and will be presented as an in-person event in the exhibition hall when conditions allow. Please register for the symposium at the link above and watch your email for an announcement of the new date and time.


February 16, 2022

Extended viewing hours for Making Mardi Gras (in-person)
6:30-8:30 p.m. | 520 Royal Street
Reservations required. Admission is free. Food and drink will be available if conditions permit.



February 22, 2022

Making the Masked Balls of Mardi Gras
Frank Perez, Errol Laborde, and Tracy Thibodaux
moderated by Arthur Hardy      

Arthur Hardy leads a panel discussion on the world of Mardi Gras balls. Historians Errol Laborde and Frank Perez, and Tracey Thibodaux, president of the Original Illinois Club, discuss the origins, history, and traditions of the more exclusive Carnival societies.
View presentation on YouTube


Bonus Content! The Children of Yuga: A Brief History of the Birth of Gay Carnival

Historian Frank Perez takes us beyond gay balls with a detailed history of gay Carnival in New Orleans. From Marc-Antoine Caillot’s account of dressing in drag on Lundi Gras in 1729 to today’s elaborate costumes at the Bourbon Street Awards, Perez offers little-known information on the evolution of gay Carnival in New Orleans.
View presentation on YouTube


March 8, 2022

Making Marching Bands: How Music Education Creates the Heartbeat of Mardi Gras
Michele Brierre, Dr. Daryl Dickerson, Adonis Rose, and Dr. Michael Torregano 

Michele Brierre leads a panel discussion on music education in Orleans Parish. Brierre, founding director of the Ellis Marsalis Center, joins Dr. Michael Torregano and Dr. Daryl Dickerson, music educators and former band directors, and Adonis Rose, director of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, for this important session. The panel’s discussion will extend beyond the crowd-pleasing marching performances in Mardi Gras parades and delve into the need for a more comprehensive curriculum for music education in New Orleans.
View presentation on YouTube


March 15, 2022

In Conversation with Big Chiefs: Traditions and Music of Mardi Gras Indians
Romeo Bougere, Jermaine Cooper, Clarence Dalcour, and Victor Harris
moderated by Bruce Sunpie Barnes
featuring Big Chiefs performing Mardi Gras Indian music and an appearance by the 79rs Gang

In a rare gathering, Mardi Gras Indian chiefs tell the story of masking traditions through their lived experience. The conversation, moderated by Bruce Sunpie Barnes, addresses the origins of Black masking traditions and the history of each of the chiefs’ tribes, the year-round community responsibilities of a chief, and the future of the Mardi Gras Indians. Next, the program dives into Mardi Gras Indian music, exploring how each gang performs traditional chants. The presentation culminates in a performance by the 79rs Gang, a group founded by two young chiefs from opposing gangs who came to together and updated Mardi Gras Indian songs with New Orleans funk and hip hop.
View this presentation on YouTube


March 22, 2022

Making Mardi Gras for All
Lydia Blackmore and Dr. Rien Fertel

From super krewes to walking clubs, there’s an opportunity for everyone to participate in modern Mardi Gras. Lydia Blackmore, curator of the Making Mardi Gras exhibition, talks with historian Dr. Rien Fertel about the steps towards the democratization of Mardi Gras during the second century of New Orleans Carnival.


Learn more about the traditions and lore of Mardi Gras. Visit the exhibition webpage.