Tulane alumnus finds her Muse in Mardi Gras

Alexa Christianson, Associate News Editor

For most of Mardi Gras history, men in masks have been the central figures on floats. Tulane alum Staci Rosenberg was determined to find a place for herself in this tradition, and in 2000, the Krewe of Muses was born.

“I started thinking about the ones I could be in and, overwhelmingly, they were just men,” Rosenberg said.

Since its first parade in 2001, the Krewe of Muses has grown to 1,030 parading women this Mardi Gras season, and is revered as one of the most well-known all-women’s krewes in Carnival. Diversity, philanthropy and an enduring love of New Orleans outline Muses’ operations as the group prepares for its newest line of floats to roll on Thursday.

“Many of our members have made their closest friends through the krewe,” Rosenberg said. “There’s an incredible sense of camaraderie and, actually, sisterhood.”

Rosenberg, who completed her undergraduate, MBA and law degrees at Tulane, decided she wanted to join a parade after being enchanted by the Druids parades, but struggled to think of one she could see herself in.

She contacted her friends and received enormous support for her idea of an all-female krewe. They managed to get a city ordinance amended, allowing them to obtain a permit to establish their new parade. Together, they decided to put a satirical twist on each year’s theme.

“We’re fortunate to have people who are very attuned to both national and local politics and have a great sense of humor,” said Nancy Maveety, a Tulane political science professor who has rode with Muses every year since its founding. “We have cool themes that allow for interesting visual displays and ways we can deploy the satire.”

The Krewe of Muses specializes in a mix of political and female-based satire. The Muses’ theme following Hurricane Katrina was “Super Muses,” intended to be a spoof on a superheroes. It told the story of “your average, ordinary” New Orleans woman who obtained superpowers after opening her refrigerator and having a toxic combination of champagne, old Chinese food, spoiled milk and nail polish explode.

“We try to have a very lighthearted spirit,” Rosenberg said. “We make fun of both local and national current events and politics but also women: men and women and relationships.”

The construction and themes of the sequential floats, as well as a variety of throws, are essential components to what differentiates Muses.

“I think of it as one joke with a whole lot of punchlines,” said Virginia Saussy, Muses’ creative director, who is also a 1988 Newcomb College alum. “So you have one joke, that’s the title, and then the punch line would be every float throughout the parade.”

Muses takes throws, any items handed off the parade floats to Carnival attendees, quite seriously. Uniqueness and sustainability are two necessary qualities for each year’s throws.

“[With] all of our throws, we try to create things that are fun, that are different, making things that you can use all year,” Saussy said. “We love that.”

Every year, Muses holds a plastic cup-designing contest at local high schools. The winning artist has their design printed on all the cups thrown during the parade and Muses donates $1,000 to the school’s art program. Past throws from Muses have also included small transistor radios, bandages, reusable tote bags, comic books and a decorated commemorative 2001 shoe. Since then, decorated or glittered shoes have become a Muses icon.

“The shoes are something that really just happened on their own,” Rosenberg said. “We were emphasizing girly things our very first year and we had beads with shoes on them, and we also had lipstick, compacts and some of the members, on their own, got the idea … that they would glitter shoes.”

Every year since, Muses has allowed its members to independently decorate and glitter shoes to give as throws. Saussy creates about 100 shoes for the parade for her and two other muses she rides with. Each member is allowed to make 30 shoes of her own.

While the biggest carnival events happen within the span of a week, preparations are year-long and require extensive planning by the krewe members.

“The day after the parade rolls, [we’re] already planning for next year,” Maveety said.

Saussy estimates that she spends at least 10 hours a week doing Muses-related work, increasing closer to 30 hours as Mardi Gras more closely approaches.

“By August, we know everyone who will be riding the following Mardi Gras, we know what our float themes are and we’re already working on art, so we do things very far in advance,” Saussy said.

Each of these Tulane women feel strong bonds towards New Orleans that keep them drawn to the city and continuing to participate in Mardi Gras festivities.

“It’s an amazing city,” Saussy said. “It’s like no other city in the world. I think most of the students at Tulane will realize that in their four years here.”

Mardi Gras is not intended to be a single type of experience, despite some carnival stereotypes. The unique aspects of Muses is no exception.

“I think the pluralism of carnival is what makes it fun,” Maveety said. “The pluralism of choice. The way you choose to celebrate carnival, to choose what you want to do.”