“We’re not a nightclub; it’s a museum,” says Greg Lambousy, Director of Collections at the Old U.S. Mint. He’s talking about the brand-new third floor performance space, which is part of the Mint’s new focus on New Orleans music. Though the gorgeous new multi-purpose performance space, gently lined with geometric wood paneling, may suggest otherwise, Lambousy affirmed that the museum’s purpose is to support the music and performing arts community, not to compete with neighboring Frenchmen Street venues, as evidenced by the missing bar.
The performance space is also a state-of-the-art recording studio with a secluded, smaller studio for recording oral histories, and it has video recording and broadcast capabilities. It is a partnership between US Park Service—who record oral histories as part of the mission of the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park—and the Louisiana State Museum, which oversees the Mint.
“It’s a 50-50 split,” Assistant Superintendent Ranger Joe Llewellyn says, referring to the cost of the space. The two entities will also plan the programming for the space, which is still looking for a name. The park service will move its musical performances and educational programming into the third floor space during the day, and the Louisiana State Museum will use it to augment its programming at night.
While the first floor of the museum will continue to be dedicated to coins in recognition of the building’s historic function, the second floor will focus on the breadth of New Orleans music, from jazz to R&B to country and beyond. The museum has in its collection Fats Domino’s waterlogged piano as a reminder of the post-Katrina flooding, and it has a second damaged Domino piano that Lambousy plans to restore when the funds can be raised. The second floor will reopen on Friday, November 4 when the Mint continues the year-long celebration of 50 years of Preservation Hall with a show of Hall artifacts and photos. Among the pieces in the show are photos of some of the more famous players and lineups of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, as well as instruments played by members, including a well-worn three-string bass played by Alcide “Slow Drag” Pavageau in the 1940s and ‘50s.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the third floor and the completed renovations will start Saturday, November 12 at noon with a press event with the requisite government officials, followed by a second line to the top floor led by the Treme Brass Band. It starts a day-long celebration in the renovated Mint, and admission will be free.