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Photo: Paul Broussard

A Roving Artists’ Village Found a Permanent Home

Imaginative collaborations and performances are born at the Music Box Village in New Orleans’ Upper Ninth Ward, an interactive space featuring musical architecture, art installations and all sorts of boundary-pushing, genre-bending artistic and structural experiments.

Once a “pop-up” art installation, the Village found a permanent home — just steps from the Industrial Canal — where it  flourishes amongst overgrown trees. A warehouse on the property serves as a fabrication and meeting space (and the home of an ever-expanding costume bin and several rescue dogs cared for by the collective).

Its founders are Delaney Martin and Jay Pennington of the artists’ collective known as New Orleans Airlift. The Music Box Village is constructed primarily mostly of salvaged materials, and reflects the city itself in its preservation and evolution of creative traditions.

At night, when many of the performances take place, the space, which features several architectural curiosities enchanting.

We are a place for experimentation —

a fine arts project, a community project.

Glittering with lights and emanating a blend of sounds that are both harmonious and discordant, the Music Box Village fosters an inclusive community. It has attracted a multitude of artists who work side-by-side to invent new works and experiment kinetically, visually, and sonically.

Martin has a knack for pairing up international collaborators who have often never previously met.

“We make people work together on hunches,” she says, pointing out a Dr. Seuss-like treehouse structure with built-in instruments, constructed by a Berlin-based artist and a local builder.

The Village, which can host up to 1,200 people (though it is generally capped around 900) has garnered the attention of world-famous acts including Wilco, Norah Jones, Peaches, Gogol Bordello and Thurston Moore, among others.

Local musicians like Helen Gillet and Quintron — who conducted its inaugural performance — are also frequent collaborators. A recent joint effort included an Alice in Wonderland-themed musical featuring Tank and the Bangas and Norah Jones, who performed along with a brass band, local dancers and a spoken word poet.

Photo by: Paul Broussard
Photo by: Paul Broussard

Most recently, The Music Box Village hosted an experimental opera and orchestral performance.

It’s clear that it’s not merely a venue.

Martin and fellow organizers invite artists to participate in at least a week-long residency so that they can explore all that the space has to offer and get to know the community.

In addition to hosting residencies, public viewing hours, concerts, performances and other ticketed events, the Music Box Village also prioritizes education and works with local children who can take classes and visit on school-sponsored field trips.

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