Artists Stay Afloat with Mardi Gras House Floats

When New Orleans transitioned from traditional parades to house floats in an effort to celebrate Mardi Gras safely and responsibly, it created opportunities for Crescent City artists to find work in a year where that’s been hard to comeby, according to an article from The Times-Picayune and

One such group of artists thankful for the creative outlet is Stronghold Studios, as they’ve recently finished an extensive stint of building house float props for customers across New Orleans. Stronghold Studios is a perfect example of a quintessentially creative section of New Orleans, and this recent phenomenon of creating house floats has given a community of float builders, sculptors, painters, carpenters, and others craftspeople steady opportunities to work in a less than ideal (or profitable) year.

Stronghold Studios is owned by Coco Darrow and her husband Ian, and while they never intended to end up in the business of decorating house floats, they are more-than-thankful for the opportunity. While the studio typically produces movie props and party decor, their “bread and butter” is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The Studio, located in Mid-City and founded by Coco Darrow’s father-in-law Bill Darrow produces the signage over the food booths at Jazz Fest as well as the musician sculptures that adorn the stages and festival environment.

The team of artists at Stronghold has also been behind some of the most impressive house float examples. Two iconic examples of the studio’s work are the St. Charles Avenue mansion that features a cutout of a vaccine syringe-yielding Dolly Parton as well as the second story cutout of Chef Lea Chase stirring a giant gumbo pot in Mid-City.

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent cancelation of Jazz Fest, parties, movies, and all other events that would normally supply the artists with work, Darrow and her husband began to consider closing the studio in December 2020. Then, just after thanksgiving, the studio received a call from the Krewe of House Floats, and they were given an opportunity to sell their leftover props and begin working on outfitting houses as if they were themed floats.

Darrow told The Times-Picayune that the unexpected flow of commission requests “was like getting a last-minute reprieve from the governor. We were really hurting. The Krewe of House floats saved us. We knew all the spring events were canceled. This place holder gave us solid ground to stand on.”

In no time at all, the studio was booked up with countless house float projects with homeowners coming to Stronghold with ideas, and the studio bringing them to life with their materials and expertise. In an unexpected miracle, the Darrows were able to rehire the nine artists who had previously been out of work since the cancellation of Jazz Fest. Many of the artists had been out of work since the start of the pandemic, but the house float phenomenon had brought them back into the game in January.

While building iconic house floats was a surprise this year, the Darrows reported that they wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t stick around and be an important part of the studio’s calendar in the future. Ian Darrow had said, “This was never a season for us, we were usually just waiting around for Jazz Fest.”

Coco Darrow said that Stronghold is already booking float jobs for 2022, and she’s quite confident that this newfound custom of house floats will continue. She even went on to propose that the city declare a sub-holiday called “Skinny Tuesday” wherein citizens can tour house floats on the Tuesday preceding Mardi Gras.

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