Mardi Gras New Orleans

February 20, 2012 by staff 

Mardi Gras New Orleans, As Carnival builds toward the out-of-control crescendo of Fat Tuesday, Barry Kern and his team of float-builders and artists are already preparing for next year.

One of the biggest free parties in the world fuels a multimillion-dollar industry for the city of New Orleans and is the lifeblood of businesses like Kern’s studio, which has been operating for more than 50 years and makes or repurposes some 400 floats a year, or roughly a float a day, Kern said.

Mardi Gras season, which includes weeks of parades, fancy balls and parties leading up to Fat Tuesday, draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to New Orleans each year, says Kelly Schulz, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. Schulz said a recent study conducted by Tulane University estimated the direct economic impact of Mardi Gras at roughly $144 million.

Some studies estimate the economic impact at more than $500 million, said Arthur Hardy, a Mardi Gras historian.

“There’s no way to know for sure because we don’t sell tickets,” Hardy said. “Mardi Gras started small, in private homes and private balls, and it’s evolved into this festival that some estimate produces more than a half-billion dollars a year.”

Attendance is also hard to gauge, but hotels are full, or close to it, for every Mardi Gras, Schultz said. “The city will be virtually sold out. Mardi Gras and music, especially on the international scene, are our big sells.”

In the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras, more than 100 parades roll through New Orleans and its suburbs. The big parading clubs, like Rex, Zulu, Bacchus, Endymion, Orpheus and Muses, hire Kern’s studio to build their floats. Smaller clubs make their own by decorating trailers with paint and crepe paper.

Hardy said more than 100,000 people ride in parades each year, and each rider can spend as much as $2,000 to $3,000 in fees, costumes and throws. Thousands more are spent on king cakes and the grand balls and parties, he said.

“It’s a money-maker for the city, but that’s not why we do it,” Hardy said. “We do it because we like to celebrate. It’s a free party we give ourselves and our guests.”

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