Saturday will bring white seersucker suits and fancy hats as far as the eye can see as the 17th annual Whitney White Linen Night takes place down on Julia St. But gallery owner, George Schmidt, remembers a time when hordes of people walking around in their Southern finest would have been out of place.
"I've lived here since 1980 when it was skid row," said the artist, who will display new oil paintings in his gallery at 626 Julia Saturday night. "I saw a guy kicked to death outside a bar right on the corner when I first lived here.”
Initially Schmidt was hesitant about the city's plans to start an arts district in the area, comparing the process of persuading artists to all move into one area akin to herding cats. However, he is proud of the way that Julia St. has developed and the scene that has sprung up not only there but in the St. Claude Arts District as well.
“This place has changed because we moved down here," he said. "We defended this place like nobody ever had before. Now it's the more the merrier. We're artists. We go into the neighborhoods and then the more timid people follow.”
Now, there are two full-fledged museum spaces, more than 20 galleries, and the annual culminating crawl, White Linen Night. The huge event brings close to 20,000 people to the “Soho of the South,” and gives patrons a chance to enjoy libations while taking in art openings at all of the thoroughfare's art spots.
“The thought behind the Whitney White Linen Night was to get people to come downtown during a very hot month and visit the galleries," said Jean Bragg, a Julia St. gallery owner and the President of the New Orleans Arts District Association. "Initially the idea back then was that the event was held in individual galleries, but as it grew we took it to the streets and made it into a party.”
This year marks the 17th time visual art lovers will don the lightweight, light-colored threads. Among the work on display: a group of paintings and mixed media titled Minimal Glam at the Mallory Page Studio Works (614 Julia) a collection of new mixed media works at Perchance to Dream, box assemblages by Audra Kohout at Heriard-Cimino Gallery (440 Julia); and, at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery (400a Julia), the latest work from "Art Cops" and Generic Art Solutions founders, Matt Vis and Tony Campbell, Anarchadia.
The event, which is raising funds for the Contemporary Arts Center, will take place in the 300-700 blocks of Julia and will feature music by Alex McMurray's Old-Timey Revue, Ingrid Lucia and The National WWII Museums's Victory Belles. To avoid the crowds when trying to grab a bite, the CAC is offering advance food and drink ticket purchases all week on their website.
"We're getting bigger crowds every year, it keeps growing every year and it's a CAC fundraiser so that's great for us!” said Lindsay Ross, communications director at the CAC.
There will also be an after-party from 9-11 hosted by the CAC with performances by Alligator Chomp! Chomp! And Mod Dance Party's DJ Matty as well as art in the CAC Galleries and a cash bar. Tasty treats will be provided by GW Fins, Lucy's Retired Surfer's Bar, New Orleans Ice Cream Co, Theo's Pizza and more. There will also be special cocktails served to mark the event. The nearby Ogden Museum of Southern Art will also have music by Mississippi bluesman Lightnin' Malcolm during the event.