Changemakers: Jonny Liss


An immersive, 12-room experience, JAMNOLA celebrates New Orleans art, music and culture with works from over 20 local artists. Short for Joy Art Music New Orleans, JAMNOLA’s founders Chad Smith and Jonny Liss have redefined the museum in a post-pandemic world. Bright colors, costumes and, of course, plenty of beads are just a few of the attractions in this one-of-a-kind museum.

Wanting to spread joy throughout New Orleans, JAMNOLA founders Smith and Liss originally envisioned the museum as a sort of festival-type environment with touchable, interactive exhibits. The idea took off and, by January of 2020, all of the artists were signed on and ready to begin work. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, however, everything was put on hold. Then Smith and Liss decided to bring their creative vision to life while working within the new socially distanced world. So instead of the planned rollout, artists worked in the JAMNOLA building one by one for safety. Lastly, Liss and Smith reimagined the entire museum to fit COVID-19 health restrictions, switching instead to a touchless (but still spectacular) experience.

These restrictions in no way diminished the spirit of JAMNOLA. Exhibits that originally included tactile elements are now more visual. Sound fields and instrument walls are still a part of the experience, but they’re now touchless and triggered by a participant’s proximity. Hand sanitizer is readily available, and timed tickets help keep the building’s occupancy small.

Liss understood that this “Museum of the New Normal” had to be embraced by locals, and the city’s spirit is celebrated here. Some of JAMNOLA’s exhibits include “All On a Mardi Gras Day” (based on the documentary from Royce Osborn), which explores classic elements of Black Carnival such as Skeletons, Baby Dolls and Black Masking Indians. Electric “flavor paper” wallpaper designs from artist Jon Sherman represent both day and night parades with original artwork in blazing neon colors. More than 22,000 recycled Mardi Gras beads from the Arc of Greater New Orleans make up Chad Smith’s unique exhibit, while a costume closet from artist Shel Roumillat includes over 30 costumes made by 30 different makers for Mardi Gras.

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Descriptions alone don’t capture the magic of JAMNOLA, Liss explains. “You have to experience it in person to really understand,” says Liss. “We’re trying to give everyone some joy through large doses of music and art.”

2832 Royal St.


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