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.
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.’”
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.
Check out some other intricate parade floats below.