A trip to New Orleans demands a visit to the historic Arts District. The former Warehouse District has rebuilt itself into one of the sleekest parts of town, bustling with art galleries, restaurants, museums and a vibrant nightlife scene. Here are four spots that illuminate the greatness of the reborn neighborhood, whether you’re an exploratory local, or an adventurous traveler.
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JONATHAN FERRARA GALLERY
Describing himself as a “connector between the artist and collector,” gallery owner and artist Jonathan Ferrara opened his first experimental art space in the mid ’90s across town. Gaining experience as both an entrepreneur and artist, he eventually purchased his current location on Julia Street in 2007, as New Orleans -- and its vibrant arts scene -- were still in recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
“The addition of my gallery kind of added to the critical mass of abundant art havens in the area,” he says. And yet his space stands out. Ferrara prides himself on the gallery’s cutting-edge, forward-thinking, and progressive art that sends messages and questions the status quo regarding sociological and political topics.
“I’ve pushed the envelope of what’s acceptable on Julia Street,” he says. “As an artist and cultural producer, I firmly believe in using art as a catalyst for social change… I don’t have much of a filter.”
The gallery is an avenue for emerging and established artists hailing from all over. “It’s an ideas-based environment,” he adds. “We are the only gallery that’s doing exhibitions nationally and internationally, producing and presenting and creating the inside-out dynamic. We did an exchange show at the Berlin Gallery. I do a lot of work at the Aspen Institute every year, as well as projects across the country.”
He estimates that 90% of his clientele hails from from out of town, though Ferrara is an integral part of the local scene and participates in multiple arts initiatives and events throughout the year, including the annual Art for Art’s Sake and White Linen Night.
After a busy day at the gallery, Ferrara says he often stops by Carmo, an innovative, vegetarian-friendly restaurant, or Emeril’s, the flagship restaurant of famed chef Emeril Lagasse. If you’re in the area and need a quick jolt of caffeine, there’s also Revelator Coffee Company, a nearby coffee shop.
STELLA JONES GALLERY
Stella Jones and her late husband Harry, were avid art collectors who turned their passion into a business after they recognized that New Orleans was lacking spaces that featured and promoted fine art by people of color. In 1996, the couple opened Stella Jones Gallery on St. Charles Avenue in the Central Business District, which offers art by “modern masters from around the world,” explains Jones, a retired physician.
Specifically, the gallery features the diverse art of the diaspora, which includes African-American, Caribbean and contemporary African art, made of a wide range of media for public and private collections. Harry Jones passed away in 2013, but his legacy lives on in the success and ongoing cultural contributions of the space he helped create.
By establishing the art space and connecting with the community, Jones is also motivated to raise the aspirations of black youth by providing them with a deeper understanding of their heritage through art. The gallery endeavors to be a site of both cultural and economic development in the local, national, and international art scene.
The gallery draws a wide mix of clientele, though Jones notes that many of them also happen to be local residents, further enriching the community.
“I am a black female owner who has played a pivotal role in highlighting the historical relevance of black art,” she says. The gallery, she believes, is a “unicorn in the art gallery market.”
Currently, the Stella Jones Gallery is showcasing an exhibition of oil paintings in the main gallery and large mixed-media works on paper in one of its side galleries. It’s a must-visit for anyone interested in art and one of the truest artistic expressions of the neighborhood.