If you weren't at the Porch/7th Ward's new home on St. Anthony Street around 7 pm on Saturday night (October 23), you missed a great time: steppers from the Porch's Original Big 7 broke out their finest moves as the Big 7 Brass Band played their hearts out as part of the 6 t' 9 Halloween parade, a costume spectacular that delivers a Halloween experience - candy and all - to children whose still half-vacant neighborhoods preclude actual trick or treating.
"The neighborhood has really welcomed us" notes Lana Mars, the Porch's co-director. In the short time since the Porch moved their cultural center from around the corner, the neighborhood has been treated to several such events: two weeks ago the Porch screened a triple feature as one of the sites chosen for the New Orleans Film Festival, and on October 4th, members of three 7th ward Mardi Gras Indian Tribes --the Yellow Pocahontas, 7th Ward Creole Hunters and Blackfeather-- led Porch members and neighbors on a ceremonial walk through the ward, paying respects at key locations along the way: the home of artist and Porch co-founder Willie Birch, the Porch's community garden (where the Indians stopped to chant and perform a few Indian standards). Through such pageantry, Mars explains, "we wanted to send the message to the community that our focus is on the particular culture of the 7th ward - we're not your usual neighborhood center. To this end, the procession included a farewell to the Porch's former location on Pauger and Urquhart -also the long-ago headquarters of the Monogram Hunters under Tootie Montana. The historic connection befits an organization whose mission, in the words of council member Robin White, is to "encourage and perpetuate the cultural traditions of the Seventh Ward '.
The ceremony ended with a flourish outside the Porch's new home on St Anthony, where the Indians joined a circle of West African dancers and drummers, to the delight of a gathered crowd of neighbors, Porch supporters and assorted spectators -several of whom jumped into the ring of dancers and set forth some elegant moves of their own. In general, Mars observes, "neighbors seem to really want to be a part of this - and that's certainly our intention".
The 7th Ward's own Marilyn Barbarin performed R+B classics on the Porch's front porch, as dancing in the street gave way to drawing. "The kids are turning the street into a giant chalkboard", says Mars. "Which of course we love". Meanwhile the crowd lined up for a buffet spread served by Lil' Dizzy's Cafe, accompanied by herbs harvested from the Porch's community garden.
The Porch/7th Ward started in the wake of the flood as a way to revitalize a stricken neighborhood by promoting its greatest asset: its distinct cultural traditions. The children of the 7th ward are the privileged heirs to a rarified cultural legacy, which the Porch urges them to embrace. For starters, twice a week Chief Pie of the Mardigram Hunters teaches Mardi Gras Indian bead sewing in the demanding 7th ward style. The Porch also encourages music training for brass bands.
"Porch programs have something for everybody", stresses porch co-director and co-founder Ed Buckner. Adults can pitch in at the community garden or tutor area kids in the Porch's after-school homework program, for starters. For more information, visit the Porch/7th Ward's website: www.theporch-7.com