The Donald Harrison Sr. Museum and Cultural Center is an outgrowth of The Guardians of the Flame Mardi Gras Indian tradition. Hearrest Harrison started Guardians Institute in 2006 in honor of her late husband Donald Harrison, Sr., a community leader who served as Big Chief of the Guardians of the Flame group for many years. The Institute not only promotes and preserves the cultural art forms of the Mardi Gras Indians, but, paired with Mrs. Harrison’s awareness of the need for additional resources for children in the 9th ward, the space also accommodates the neighborhood children’s literacy program.
Set back within a double residential lot, the structure celebrates the front yard as a community space for gathering. A metal sheathed shell covers an outdoor performance space, an enclosed classroom, washroom/changing room, and support space. The large performance pavilion celebrates the porch as an outdoor space, not just a transitional space between inside and outside. Its height and breadth are informed by the size of a fully “Masked” chief, which can reach heights of over 8 feet tall. On occasions when the performance is on the ground and in the streets, the stage and the oversized stairs become seating for a captive audience. Behind a double-layered surface of white poly-gal is an environmentally controlled classroom space equipped with counter space, bookshelves, and cabinetry for storage. This space is primarily used for the well-established literacy program and other teaching endeavors of the Institute.
Like the Mardi Gras Indian ceremonial “Mask,” the structure is a beacon of inspirational light to the community, inviting all to join in a celebration of collective culture. The Institute is vital to the preservation of some of New Orleans’ indigenous cultural art forms. It is conceivable that these art forms may be lost or altered if current tradition bearers do not disseminate their knowledge to the next generation.
The Guardians project took Tulane City Center and partners a little over two years from the initial RFP to project completion with the diligent work of faculty members, twenty seven students from two design/build studios, several summer interns, and a whole host of neighborhood and Guardians of the Flame supporters.
Mary Catherine Bullock
Mary Beth Luster