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Arts Post
Posted at 09:58 AM ET, 02/21/2012

Fat Tuesday floats: The art of the parade

The biggest Mardi Gras parade floats aren’t just a background for drunken revelry, or a vehicle for dispensing beads — they’re works of art that, in some cases, take nearly an entire year to plan and build.


Fleambeaux Carriers march along side the Captain's float in the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, Monday, Feb. 20, 2012. (Bill Haber - Associated Press)

Though some Mardi Gras parade floats stay true to their homemade roots, they are increasingly commissioned and built by teams of professional artists, resulting in spectacular displays that light up, move and shoot beads at the crowd. Mardi Gras celebrations reach their peak on Fat Tuesday, but float builders are already thinking ahead to next year, the Associated Press reports.

Some studios, like Blaine Kern’s, make nearly 400 floats a year — approximately one a day, for prices ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. Visitors can see Kern’s work at Mardi Gras World in New Orleans.

Mardi Gras parade floats are sponsored by local krewes who choose the themes and commission the art. They are judged by a panel of local celebrities who evaluate the costumes and creativity of the displays. Krewes are expected to offer the judges “bribes” in the form of king cake or a special performance of a song. The bribes were put in place by parade chairwoman Meegan Whitehead as a safety measure, she told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“It's not essential but it's stopped the pelting,” said Whitehead. “I've told krewes, ‘If you throw beads at judges, you are not getting votes.’”


The Krewe of Centurions makes its way through the streets with the theme “Games Centurions Play.” (Brett Duke - The Times-Picayune/Associated Press)

Floats are known for their artistry, but also for their sense of humor. One parade that’s gotten a lot of buzz this year is by Le Krewe d'Etat based on the theme “Tell It Like It Is,” inspired by the Aaron Neville song. A float in that parade mocked the Louisiana State University’s loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship game nearly two months ago.


Le Krewe d'Etat’s parade "Tell It Like It Is," is based on a song by Aaron Neville, and shows a float mocking the LSU defeat to Alabama and figures of the dictator, Richard XVI, on the uptown route on Magazine and Napoleon Ave. in New Orleans, La. (Brett Duke - The Times-Picayune/Associated Press)

Check out some other intricate parade floats below.


The Krewe of Hermes float "The Caravan Embarks" makes its way up Napoleon Ave.,in New Orleans. (Matthew Hinton - Associated Press)


The Muses Mardi Gras Parade rolls through the streets of New Orleans, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, helping to celebrate the carnival season. This float is referencing the BP oil spill. (Bill Haber - Associated Press)


Actress Patricia Clarkson holds on as she rides in the Muses Mardi Gras Parade through the streets of New Orleans, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012. (Bill Haber - Associated Press)


The Ancient Krewe of Druids parade rolls down Magazine Street in New Orleans on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012. The parade features 18 floats carrying more than 200 riders and 26 marching units. (Rusty Costanza - Associated Press)


The "SS Aquarius" float moves up Seawall Boulevard during the Mystic Krewe of Aquarius 25th Annual Mardi Gras Kick-off Parade in Galveston, Tex., on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012. (Kevin M. Cox - Associated Press)

By  |  09:58 AM ET, 02/21/2012

 
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