Backstreet Cultural Museum

Small Center worked with the Backstreet Cultural Museum to re-envision a renovation of the space.

Project Dates

January 2009–December 2009


Located in the historic Faubourg Treme neighborhood, the Backstreet Cultural Museum preserves and perpetuates New Orleans’ African American parading traditions through collections, exhibitions, publications, public programs, and performances. These cultural traditions include Mardi Gras Indians, Skull and Bone gangs, Baby Dolls, jazz funerals, social aid and pleasure clubs, and other related rituals.

Founded in 1999, the Backstreet Cultural Museum features a permanent collection of Mardi Gras Indian suits, parade costumes, photographs, and artifacts. The museum holds the largest collection of Mardi Gras Indian suits, which are gaining recognition for their aesthetic importance and artistic power. The museum is also the repository of a remarkable film collection created by the organization’s founder, Sylvester Francis, which is the world’s most comprehensive filmed record of New Orleans’ jazz funerals and second line parades.

Small Center Engagement

Housed in an altered residence and former funeral home dating to the 1930s, the Museum required significant renovation and modernization to support its growing collection and to alleviate the general disrepair of its facilities. Small Center partnered with Backstreet to propose modifications to the museum including the realignment of the museum entry sequence, expansion of its main gallery, addition of accessible restrooms, and environmental improvements such as a central mechanical system, weatherization, and building insulation.

To assist a growing local need, the proposal also includes a community gathering space. The design for this space involves replacing the unused rear section of the building with a new structure containing a large room and required support facilities. Conceived as a blank container, the community space provides accommodations for banquets, meetings, and gallery exhibits, as well as screenings of Mr. Francis’ films. In addition to the construction of this facility, the redesign includes general improvements to the exterior of the entire building and a new courtyard entrance connecting the street to the community space.


Partner Organization

The Backstreet Cultural Museum is a pillar in the Tremé community where second-line parades begin and end, the North Side Skull and Bone Gang and Mardi Gras Indians congregate on Mardi Gras day, and schoolchildren identify family members in the photographs on the wall. The museum is active in Tremé and promotes art and culture as important to the neighborhood’s identity and future. The museum educates diverse constituencies about New Orleans’ African American heritage. Each year, the museum attracts visitors from around the country and the globe.



Backstreet Cultural Museum

  • Sylvester Francis
  • Kimberley Waggoner

Tulane / Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research

Team Members

Project Lead

  • Jonathan Tate


  • Adriana Camacho
  • Whitney Huver
  • Kristian Mizes


  • Scott D. Bernhard
  • Dan Etheridge
  • Alison Popper