Treme Homecoming: A Treme Center Youth & Community Engagement Project

by Alphonse Smith

It’s a steamy Saturday morning in August, the kind that lends itself to sleeping in or finding the nearest pool, yet some 40 people spanning several generations are gathered at the Treme Center with all eyes and ears on Yellow Pocahontas Mardi Gras Indian Queen Gina Montana. Ms. Montana is the final guest in a series of workshop speakers that were invited to participate in the Treme Homecoming project, a Percent for Art Community Outreach and Education program of the Arts Council of New Orleans and the New Orleans Recreation Department at the Treme Center.

As Gina Montana shows off her ornately beaded and feathered suits, she fields questions from the audience. The younger members of the crowd are clearly transfixed by the dazzling suits – most of their questions involve the techniques used to fabricate these complicated, impressive, and heavy pieces. In contrast, the elders ask the Big Queen about passing the traditions and rituals of the Mardi Gras Indians down to younger generations. Not surprisingly, this pattern has emerged in most of the Saturday workshops, which included presentations from the Sudan Social Aid & Pleasure Club, Big Chief Victor Harris from FiYiYi, and Empress/Chief Elwin “Warhorse” Gillum.

Since April, Saturday workshops have engaged youth and community in storytelling and art-making activities to ignite the active imagination of listeners and provide an interactive experience for participants to share, learn, and preserve the history, tradition, customs, and artistry that make the Treme neighborhood distinctive. And while the workshops series concluded last month, the project continues through October 30, 2014, when a final piece of public art inspired by workshops, after-school sessions, conversations with neighborhood leaders, and images shared by community members will be installed in the lobby of the Treme Center.

Led by local artist and educator Jamar Pierre, the project is designed to activate the space of the newly-renovated Treme Center with engaging works of art conceived of and created during a period of authentic and thoughtful engagement with youth and other members of the community. Starting with the community center as a blank canvas, the artists and participants have developed artwork to animate the Treme Center. Weekly after-school programming for K-12 youth continues at the center on Tuesday and Thursday evenings until October. These after-school sessions promote creative expression and inquiry, build skills, generate excitement, and foster pride in the unique history and culture of Treme neighborhood through art-making.

Stay tuned for more information about the unveiling and dedication of the permanent work of public art at the Treme Center. For information about the project, including after-school sessions, please contact me at


Noni Clemens

Project Manager

Arts Council of New Orleans