Hundreds pack the Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum for its annual Mardi Gras Family Day on Feb. 10. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Hundreds pack the Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum for its annual Mardi Gras Family Day on Feb. 10. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

The Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum held its annual Mardi Gras Family Day event last weekend, featuring elaborately dressed stilt walkers, living statues, balloon artists, fortune tellers, professional caricatures, activity booths and sweet-smelling “Bourbon Street” food.

The Saturday, Feb. 10 event — held for the first time inside of the museum’s 2,500-square-foot main gallery — entertained over 1,500 residents throughout the city, much to the delight of event organizers.

“This cultural event is actually in its ninth year,” said Jenelle R. Cooper, community services coordinator for the museum. “We’ve featured a lot of things this year including wearable art painted by hand on various materials, an elaborate Madame Marie Laveau character — the infamous Voodoo Queen of New Orleans — and live music and crafts, however I think what makes this event really unique is its beginning.

“We started this production from an exhibition we had on Mardi Gras Black Indians through the work of famous New Orleans photographer J. Nash Porter and it just stuck,” Cooper said. “To this day, we still have Mardi Gras Indian costumes in our collection, which to me makes events like these that much more special for Black communities, alongside our ever growing diverse communities we also serve.”

One activity that proved to be particularly popular was a reflective “key to the city” mural sponsored by the nonprofit The Key Idea, which allowed participants to draw their visions of what they felt makes a community successful. The finished product will be displayed in an upcoming exhibit in the museum’s Loggia gallery.

“What were doing here is allowing people to trace and design various keys on our pre-decorated cards and then allow them to write what they feel contributes to a successful community,” said Lenore Lyons, artist, art educator and founder of the Key Project. “We’ll then take these combined cards and use them to make an exhibit that will be seen in the museum from November through April. … We as people come in so many shapes and sizes, and to me, I believe the key to community is respecting what already exists and bringing in new things to add on to what already exists, through energy and new ideas and celebrating differences.”

A family-style second-line parade down a recreated Bourbon Street — replete with face painting and music by WPFW-FM DJ Cowboy Fred — closed out the festivities.

“Total family fun,” said Meghan McCoy, a parent of two. “I saw adults making necklaces, painting coconuts. … We’re about to take our photos. The food was tasty, so I knew I had made the right decision when I also invited my friend to come along.”

Lauren Poteat is a versatile writer with a strong background in communications and media experience with an additional background in education and development.

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