Artistic innovation finds home in new Music Box Village

Cam Lutz, Staff Reporter

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New Orleans’ quirky vibe and musical inclinations, combined with the community’s open and expressive nature, make for a city ripe for creative experimentation.

The Music Box Village, a collection of structures made from largely discarded materials that double as large musical instruments, brings together the city’s modern visual art and music in a stunning way. On Oct. 28, the new, permanent Music Box Village opened to the public.

The Music Box Village is open from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Admission is $5 for residents, including Tulane students, and $12 for non-residents. It is located next to the Mississippi River in the Bywater at 4557 North Rampart St.

Visitors are greeted by a strange cacophony of sounds, ranging from the clatter of pots and pans and squeaky hinges, to train whistles and wind chimes. Inside the high, scrap-metal walls surrounding the village, families, curious adults and artistically inclined young people wander from house to house trying their hand at the various instruments. The houses are carefully designed to add to the aesthetics of the village and encourage visitor participation.

New Orleans Airlift, a nonprofit organization founded by Delaney Martin and Jay Pennington in 2008, runs The Music Box Village.

“Every single person who comes into this space is a collaborator on the sound,” Martin, co-founder and district director of the New Orleans Airlift, said.

Some nights, the village hosts concerts in which various musicians play the modern instruments that make up the houses with impressive skill. A “conductor” directs the musicians while spectators watch, surrounded by a euphony of unique sounds. The organization’s first conductor was Quintron, a celebrated local musician.

To test out the idea of a musical village, Airlift created several temporary, roving music box villages, setting up sites in Tampa Bay, Florida, Atlanta, Shreveport, Lousiana, and in City Park. The success of the outposts convinced the Airlift to set up the permanent village in the Bywater.

The organization also seeks to discover new musical instruments.

Each house is an experiment in contemporary music, and the organization hopes that some may lead to new developments in the music industry. At the very least, they hope to add a more contemporary aspect to the visual art and music scene in New Orleans.

“I hope that [contemporary art] just becomes part of the conversation, but in a way that is not trying to be like New York or London or Paris, but a place that feels very New Orleans and speaks to our culture here,” Martin said. “I just hope it becomes a resource for the city.”

The Airlift also hopes to bring the entire community of New Orleans together, not just the art community.

“In a world of increasing digitalization, [where] everyone’s on their phones, it’s really nice to have a space where people are touching, playing [and] exploring,” Martin said. “It’s not a kid thing, it’s not an adult, it’s not a black thing or a white thing. It’s just an everybody thing.”

The Music Box Village has already begun to achieve its missions through the roving music box villages, and the permanent location in the Bywater represents the next step. But according to Pennington, the nature of a village is that it never really stops growing.

The village will continue to add new houses. The Airlift hopes that the Music Box Village will continue to grow and become engrained within the culture of the city. It will represent a place where budding artists and musicians can find their passions, discover new opportunities and potentially gain a following.