As part of New Orleans art biennial Prospect 3, Bike Easy and Confederacy of Cruisers are co-hosting bicycle tours that take riders on interactive, 4 – 5-hour Sunday tours of many of the installations. The experience takes participants to P.3 venue highlights, sometimes visiting additional P.3+ venues, throughout the Faubourgs, as well as New Orleans’ historic neighborhoods, with a guide providing riders with background information throughout and a mid-ride lunch break.
The HUB, a NolaVie cycling-focused guest blog from the founders of local bicycling advocacy organization Bike Easy, recently spoke with Cassady Cooper, a tour guide at Confederacy of Cruisers, to learn more about P.3 Rides.
The HUB: You lead other tours for Confederacy of Cruisers. How did you start leading tours? How has tour guiding in New Orleans changed since you started?
Cassady Cooper: I’ve been doing it for 5 years. Confederacy of Cruisers is in its 7th year. When we first started, there was no one else doing bike tours – we were an oddity. People would see us and ask us, “Where did you get those bikes that are all the same?”
Now there’s industry built up around it, which has a lot to do with the growth of bike lanes and awareness and the hard work around bike advocacy in New Orleans.
Take the example of Esplanade Avenue – Holy Crap! Five years ago, it was filled with craters and it was horrific, but people had to use it to get downtown from Mid-City. With the repaving and bike lane, it’s a beautiful and easy ride. That’s changed things a lot!
The HUB: As a bicycle tour guide, a big part of your job is introducing visitors to New Orleans — our food, history and culture. How does P.3 Rides fit in to that? Is the tour also a way for you to reintroduce locals to the city?
CC: On the P.3 Rides tour, we’re riding through the heart of historic New Orleans neighborhoods. A lot of these neighborhoods were first settled by Creoles. Some neighborhoods flooded and some didn’t. Just by riding through these areas, we need to address issues of race and segregation – which is a lot of what Prospect.3: Notes for Now is also about. P.3 deals with searching for the self, and what this means in terms of race and place.
For visitors, the bike tours are an opportunity to get out of areas outside of the French Quarter and learn about some of this history while visiting the venues.
For locals, the P.3 Rides tours really are a way to see our neighborhoods in a different light and think more in depth about what it means to be a New Orleanian.
The HUB: In what ways do you think the P.3 bike tours change the experience of viewing the installations?
CC: On an art tour, we are giving people context that they can use while they look at the art and artists at the P.3 venues. The bike tour covers about half of the P.3 venues, and a lot of the artists we are looking at are established artists in the middle of their careers, who are reflecting on their role in society.
One of my favorite pieces, by Akosa Adoma Owasu at the Joan Mitchell Center, explores the idea of triple consciousness – the idea that an African immigrant in the US has to be aware of the self as an American, African and an African American.
Basically, this really sets the stage for how artists are viewing race in their city and their consciousness of this and provides context for the evolution in how we approach exhibits throughout the course of the day.
The HUB: Have you also learned from people taking the tours?
CC: The tour is a dialogue all day – when we’re on a tour, we’re out there trying to create a conversation with the folks taking a tour.
As a tour guide, if I just dictate, you’re in class. If we’re on a tour, my goal is to present history and then encourage people to put it in their own frame of thought or their experience.
The HUB: Tell us about some of the cultural history that you cover on your tour that folks are often surprised by.
CC: On the tour, we ride right through the heart of the Treme – the oldest African American neighborhood in the US.
A lot of the exhibits tie into this history, which is really French and Spanish history. We cover the history of slavery and caste systems under the French and Spanish. We look at the history of the 19th century Civil Rights Movement – including Homer Plessy and Paul Trevigne, the editor of the first Black Newspaper in the US and who worked to integrate streetcars in New Orleans in the 1870s. And we look at the cultural legacy of Mediterranean Catholicism at St. Augustine Catholic Church and the Tomb of the Unknown Slave.
We also talk a bit about Katrina and how this affected New Orleans. P.1 was a direct reaction to Katrina, so even though that’s not the focus of P.3, sometimes we need to start this conversation before we can broaden the tour and conversation into a larger one about race and identity.
The HUB: What lagniappes can folks who take a P.3 Rides tour expect? Between the P.3 venues, what else do you cover along the way?
CC: While we’re out there, we pass by P.3+ sites, exterior street art, the Degas house, Bayou Road and ride along Bayou St. John through City Park. We stop for lunch at a neighborhood Po-boy shop and chat about the history of that too.
P.3 bike tours ($80 per person – includes tour, museum admission and a bicycle rental /
$55 per person – includes tour and museum admission, provide your own bike) take place on Sundays through January 25. P.3 Rides will not be offered December 21 and 28 due to a holiday hiatus. The tours resume on January 4. Visit www.bikeeasy.org for more information.