With its imposing, slate-gray façade, the 170-year-old U.S. Custom House may be the last building in which you’d expect to hear the delighted squeals of children. But behind the steely columns, the building erupts into 23,000 square feet of colorful displays and fluttering, scuttling insects, courtesy of the Audubon Society and Insectarium. In the Asian garden, hundreds of butterflies dodge shafts of sunlight to alight on tropical ferns and the shoulders of young visitors. And at the Insects of New Orleans gallery, visitors can ogle the pink katydids, cockroaches, and lovebugs that contribute to the city’s heritage.
These bug-filled displays are all part of the insectarium’s mission to conserve Louisiana’s indigenous species and inspire stewardship in its visitors. While adults can sate their curiosity with the vast array of exotic species, curators gear many displays toward young guests by making them lighthearted and interactive: the Field Camp’s entomologist answers questions about how to collect bugs or break up flea-circus strikes, and at Bug Appétit, chefs dole out insect-filled delicacies to adventurous palates.
Founded in 1976 by a group of ambitious visual and performing artists, the Contemporary Arts Center still keeps in touch with its roots as an artist-driven community organization. The award-winning design of its ever-changing gallery, atrium, and theater spaces juxtaposes the original architecture of a turn-of-the-century warehouse building with newer materials and aesthetics. Within its 30,000 feet of open event space, the CAC hosts a range of events, such as curated contemporary exhibitions, world and local music performances, and special galas such as the SweetArts Bash.
When not coordinating exhibitions and performances, the CAC staff also leads educational programs such as one-day art camps, which expose children and adults to the arts. In these programs, professional local artists train groups in drama, dance, music, visual arts, and creative writing.
Bursting from the retro ambience of a refurbished art-deco movie theater, the renowned hand-blown-glass art studio boasts a multihued array of gaffer-made accoutrements. Keep wine from escaping on a post-party spree with a decorative bottlestopper ($62), a hand-crafted sculpture complete with elegant metal fitting designed to hold in liquid and libation secrets. Showcase seasonal candies or secret-admirer notes in a fluted dish ($65), available in intricate designs of blue, salmon, white, and more. The New Orleans paperweight adds personality to desks and gravity to astronaut homework with the classic Big Easy fleur de lis etched in a heart shape atop a round paper anchor ($50). For a romantic shimmer, check out the pointed oil candle with a stand, a teardrop-shaped candle perched in a three-pronged mini-tripod that imbues romance with long-lasting light ($50), similar to a triple showing of Gremlins under an Alaskan summer sky.
Offering BYOB art classes in a welcoming, instructor-assisted atmosphere, Corks N Canvas provides a laidback setting for self-expression. Participants will receive step-by-step instruction to craft striking artwork they can take home at the end of the session and place above their mantle, secret trap-door bookcase, or army-men-figurine reenactment of the battle of Pork Chop Hill. Choose among several sessions (click on the address of your chosen location to see a calendar of events) that teach budding strokesters to paint vibrant doggie portraits, landscapes, or abstract-expressionist renditions of the DMV. The creative paintventure may finally spark the dormant artist within that’s been reclusively hiding like Boo Radley since the finger-painting period.