JAMNOLA offers safe yet engaging cultural experience

Meredith Abdelnour, Arcade Editor

jonny liss with artwork of george porter jr.
Jonny Liss, co-founder of JAMNOLA, shows a painting of New Orleans bassist George Porter Jr. (Josh Jessiman)

JAMNOLA, Joy Art Music New Orleans, is a new art exhibit located on Royal Street, in the heart of Marigny and a 20-minute drive from Tulane’s campus. With 12 unique rooms and art from 20 New Orleans artists, the project aims to bring a creative and educational activity to the city, while remaining safe and compliant with COVID-19 guidelines. 

JAMNOLA was first conceptualized in August 2019, with the artists for the project being selected in January of 2020. Although artists planned to begin working on their visions after Mardi Gras, many had to revise their concepts due to COVID-19. “I realized things were going to change,” co-founder of JAMNOLA Jonny Liss said. “We were a very touchy-feely concept.” 

The exhibit first opened in early August 2020, so they have never known business without a global pandemic. Despite the complications of operating during the pandemic, Liss is content with the way things played out. “Someone asked if this was the worst time to do it, I’m like ‘it’s probably the best time to do it,’” Liss said. 

In these stressful times, Liss is happy that his exhibit can be a source of joy for people. “We’re probably one of the only safe, fun things you can do at the moment,” Liss said.

JAMNOLA is not only an art exhibit, but a learning experience as well. As you move through the exhibits, there are scanners where you can scan your phone to get more information about any of the concepts explored in the rooms, such as Spirit Trees, Black Carnival, and the history of the po’boy. 

“What’s really cool for me is the generations that we’re teaching,” Liss said. “We’re not just a selfie exhibit … I’ve discovered that a lot of the musicians we feature here, someone going to Tulane doesn’t know who any of them are.” 

Tours are self-paced, though there are “storytellers” stationed along the route to elaborate on each room and answer any questions. Amber Samson, an artist herself, loves her position as a storyteller. “It’s so much fun working here,” Samson said. “You get to meet different people, you get to see different things.”

The exhibit has also taken many COVID-19 safety precautions, such as temperature checks, requiring face coverings and readily available hand sanitizer. They are only allowing six people on each tour and are still operating under Phase 1 guidelines, though New Orleans has moved into Phase 2. Tickets for students and teachers are $20 and available here.  

JAMNOLA has many exciting projects planned for the upcoming season, such as a Halloween exhibit called “The House of Eclectic Souls,” which will feature 13 performance artists on pedestals.