From Place d’Armes to a Place of Art: New Orleans’ Jackson Square Culture
The heart of the French Quarter is a Square. As a city, New Orleans bursts with life, activity and energy. From its construction in 1721 to its current events and guests, Jackson Square has played a large role in New Orleans culture, and continues to be the center of attention and a center for creative cultivation.
Walk down any of the streets in New Orleans and they will lead you to Jackson Square, the oasis in the middle of a busy city. Many historical events and cultural changes have been witnessed in this space, namely the Battle of Jackson Square in March of 1873.
Since its construction in 1721, the square has held events that create a tone that feels every emotion on the spectrum. It’s an atmosphere that is hauntingly beautiful, safe and electric. Gradually, its beginnings as the Place d’Armes—the armory and place of punishment and war—shifted. As the years passed, so did Jackson Square change into the incredibly eye-catching, beautiful and peaceful space that it is today.
Original uses of the Place d’Armes:
- A site of public execution
- A site of public punishment/humiliation (stock yard)
- Served as an arsenal (March 1873)
- The site of the Battle of Jackson Square
Current uses of Jackson Square:
- A site of wedding nuptials and receptions
- A gathering place of painters of widely varying talents
- A stage for local and traveling musicians, jugglers and magicians
- A home for tarot and palm readers
While not named Jackson Square until after the Battle of New Orleans, the area has maintained the same shape over the years: the square of wrought iron fencing with the St. Louis Cathedral flanked by the identical façades of the Cabildo and Presbytere in the background. The upper and lower Pontalba buildings close the square in on the left and right. This view has not changed for nearly 300 years, but the events and people you’d see within the space have changed a lot.
The Balance of Time
Jackson Square has been a place of celebration, triumph, humiliation, pain, creativity and (most importantly) strength.
The square’s past balances with its present role as an outdoor studio, theater and recreational park. Today, artists work and display their art pieces along the iron fence. Visitors can walk around and see the collection of art that New Orleans has to offer, as well as listen to the different musicians playing for tips and the good of their souls. It’s a space charged with energy. Tarot readers sit throughout the space, telling people of their inner hopes and what the world could offer them in return for honest work and clear convictions. Some can stop by a caricaturist and have their faces immortalized in charcoal and pastels. Others, sit and watch it all happen.
From its troublesome beginnings to its artistic present, one thing rings true about the transformation of Jackson Square: progress is controlled chaos.