Partying and Previewing at Culture Collision

The weather that arrived in the wake of the stormy holiday weekend was so nice people were shutting down their air-conditioning units, throwing open their windows and all but bursting into song. But one friend of mine actually took offense. “It’s just a tease,” she protested, after the umpteenth person commented about the sudden temperate glory. “The season hasn’t changed yet, really. We’ll be sweating again soon.”

She’s right of course. But rather than a tease, I prefer to see it as a preview. Fall will be here for real in a matter of weeks, with all the busy schedules, double-booked events, annual festivals, football weekends and general seasonal gratitude the coming autumn augurs. That means another season is about to begin: the New Orleans cultural season. That’s culture in the grand, classical sense, with art exhibits, opera, ballet and theater; a special preview of this season will happen tonight.

It’s called Culture Collision, and it assembles a large and varied range of arts organizations and cultural groups from around the area for an evening at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Each group is on hand to show what they have coming up, and offer ways for people to access them or try them out with special promotions, giveaways and volunteer opportunities.

There’s always the threat that whenever so many folding tables and pamphlets are gathered in one place such an event will come off like a convention or trade show. But this is New Orleans, so instead it takes the form of a party, with an extended happy hour timeframe, free food, free specialty drinks and cash bars around the museum. That part of the event goes from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.; thereafter the party moves outdoors to the adjacent Sydney Besthoff Sculpture Garden, where DJ Matty will spin tunes, more drinks and food will be on hand and everyone will hopefully have a chance to appreciate this lingering break from the summer weather.

For the organizations taking part, the event is designed to stoke cross-pollination between the members and fans of different groups, art forms and art scenes. It works from the idea that people need to know about all that’s going on around town if they’re to participate in it.

For the public, it’s essentially a chance to go window shopping for cultural events coming up this fall (like productions planned by the New Orleans Opera Association, the Philharmonic Orchestra or the New Orleans Ballet Association), to learn firsthand about festivals (from the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival to Fringe Fest) and to get the scoop on year-round attractions and destinations (like Longue Vue House and Gardens or the Ashé Cultural Arts Center).

There are more than 50 groups participating, from big guns like the National World War II Museum to grassroots groups like the New Orleans Craft Mafia.

The programming across this range of participants certainly is diverse, which I suppose is what the “collision” part of Culture Collision is about. But there’s something important that they share, and that’s the social animal that is the New Orleanian patron. Give us a chance to see different corners of our city’s cultural riches in one place, package it as an easygoing, after work party, and the various tribes come out in force.

That should be in ample evidence as Culture Collision picks up tonight.

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