Black Men of Labor co-founder Fred Johnson Jr. with curator Claire Tancons at the Black Men of Labor parade Oct. 23.
Art curator Claire Tancons has explored the performance and art aesthetics of indigenous parade traditions in the Caribbean, Great Britain and Louisiana. She is planning a super parade of New Orleans parading groups on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., ending at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
“It has been my experience, museums, which are in the business of high culture, and which promote bourgeois values, tend to look down at these more popular African-American traditions," Tancons says. "Or when featuring them (they) do so in a rather traditional fashion, showing props, or in a pop spectacular fashion, and downplay the political and social core of these artistic manifestations."
Called The Umbrella Project, the plan calls for participation by social aid and pleasure clubs, Mardi Gras Indian tribes, brass bands, masking groups and local horse riding clubs that participate in New Orleans parades, as well as marching groups from Washington, D.C. The proposal includes social aid and pleasure clubs Black Men of Labor, Sudan and Divine Ladies; Mardi Gras Indian tribes Yellow Pocahontas, led by Big Chief Darryl Montana, Fi Yi Yi, led by Big Chief Victor Harris, White Cloud Hunters, Creole Wild West and others; Rebirth, Treme and Hot 8 brass bands; St. Augustine High School's Marching 100 and the color guard of McDonogh 35; Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes and North Side Skull & Bones Gang; baby dolls groups and others, Artists whose work incorporate masking, Carnival or processional elements would be invited, and the proposal considers New Orleans native Rashaad Newsome, Nice Cave, Christopher Myers and Daniel Bernard Roumain. The event would start in an African American neighborhood in Washington and include local marching bands and groups.
Tancons launched the project with Fred Johnson, a founder of the Black Men of Labor benevolent society, and Lolis Eric Elie, former columnist of The Times-Picayune and a writer for HBO's Treme. They solicited endorsements for the project from supporters including Spike Lee, Walter Isaacson, Branford Marsalis, Solange Knowles, Wendell Pierce, Terence Blanchard and others, Tancons would like to collaborate with the National Museum of African American History & Culture on the event, and at this point is building support for the project.
The Umbrella proposal notes that many of New Orleans' popular traditions have been embraced as fine art, including jazz and Mardi Gras Indian traditions. Big Chief Monk Boudreaux recently was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship.
The Umbrella project is both a celebration of the opening of the museum and a processional performance that would "set into motion the aesthetics of the African diaspora, weaving together the artistic, political, spiritual and civic threads that have helped define the African American experience."
Tancons is currently collaborating on a processional performance called Tide by Side in Miami Beach involving an international array of participants, with emphasis on Latin and Caribbean cultures. She also is working on a performance in Toulouse, France, based on civic rituals.