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The 18th star: Louisiana bicentennial on the horizon

As the days get shorter and the weather turns colder (as it has, at least, in the past week), thoughts turn to the holiday season. With the lighting of trees and menorahs alike, it is a time to celebrate and enjoy the festivities.

On the far end of the holiday season, however, another important celebration is on the horizon: the bicentennial of Louisiana statehood. Two hundred years ago, on April 30, 1812, our fair state joined the good ol’ U. S. of A.

In the upcoming months leading up to the official April 30, 2012 celebration day, NolaVie in partnership with The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) will feature a series of articles honoring 200 years of Louisiana history.

Though we are not quite into 2012 and the bicentennial year, THNOC has already kicked off this cause for celebration with “The 18th Star: Treasures from 200 Years of Louisiana Statehood.”

Items in the exhibition reflect the rich, multicultural history of Louisiana. The “Constitution ou Forme du Gouvernement de l’État de la Louisiane,” a document from January 22, 1812, written in French, in which the “US Congress authorized the territory of Orleans to pursue admission to the Union” reminds us of our native French and Cajun roots as well as our significance to our country’s early formation. “Christmas cards sent to the New Orleans Four (the first four African American girls to attend all-white schools after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision)” illuminate New Orleanians’ support of the Civil Rights movement.

More contemporary items, such as a map of the post-BP oil spill slick spread across our coast, or the cover of The Times-Picayune after the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2010, remind us of our more recent past. The curators of this exhibition can be commended for focusing more on the history of the state in this exhibition, rather than becoming too New Orleans-centric.

Photographs by Steven Wilkes of Katrina’s effects at the Williams Research Center

In fact, other than a drinking water can donated by Anheuser-Busch, Inc. after the storm, “The 18th Star” offers little to document Hurricane Katrina, a tragedy that forced the people of New Orleans to once again prove their ability to revitalize and recreate. 
For more about the city and the effects of Katrina on the Gulf South region, visitors can head a little farther down the road to “In Katrina’s Wake: Restoring a Sense of Place, Photographs by Steven Wilkes,” on display at the Williams Research Center.

Presented in conjunction with Photo NOLA 2011, this exhibition “tells the stories of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and the Holy Cross neighborhood of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward” as they attempt to rebuild and restore the “heritage and … social fabric” of their communities in the wake of the damage caused by Katrina.

Nearly six and a half years after Katrina, and with 200 years’ worth of tragedies as well as personal and community victories under our belts, we as New Orleanians, Louisianians, and Southerners have extra cause to celebrate this holiday season.

We can merge this year’s holidays with 2012’s upcoming bicentennial celebration by downloading THNOC’s “Historic New Orleans” app to see pictures of current locations around the city taken between 1900 to 1950. With the app, you can superimpose historic photos with current ones, creating your very own then-and-now images.

So continue your holiday celebration well into the new year, and remember: In NOLA there is always something to celebrate, so why not let it be us? Merry Happy, everyone!

Brianna Smyk has an M.A in Art History from San Diego State University. She lives and works in New Orleans and writes about arts and culture for NolaVie. Read more of Brianna’s articles at