Our “Meet the Neighbors” series gives you a closer look at the people and businesses that make us proud to call downtown New Orleans home.
Ariodante Contemporary Craft Gallery has been a Julia Street anchor for nearly 25 years, providing visitors with a revolving showcase of fine art, jewelry, crafts, and furniture. Ariodante’s Director of Fine Arts, Jessie Steen, works with Owner/Director Laurie Reed and the rest of the gallery team to create cohesive shows that highlight local talent across different mediums. Jessie, who is also the Secretary of the New Orleans Arts District Association, spoke with us about the history of the gallery and what makes the New Orleans arts scene so special.
Tell us a bit about Ariodante and how you ended up with the gallery.
The current owner, Laurie Reed, took over about five years ago. It used to strictly be a contemporary craft gallery — a lot of woodwork, ceramics, glass. Laurie worked with the original owners to spread their wings into fine art and jewelry, so now we have a good combination of everything. The gallery will have been here 25 years next October.
I’ve been with the gallery for two years. I was hanging a retrospective for an artist that had passed away — Susan Landry — and I was working at the gallery every day for a week. Laurie and I worked really well together, and in the end, when the retrospective was opening, she asked, “Do you want to work tonight?” I said, “Sure!” Ever since then … well, I became Director of Fine Arts in November .
Are you from here?
I’m from Ponchatoula [Louisiana]. It’s a tiny little town. Antiques and strawberries.
What’s special about the New Orleans arts scene? What makes it different?
I’d say the real sense of community — everyone’s looking out for each other. Coming from a small town and moving here, I was thinking it was going to be very intimidating, really hard to find something, that it was gonna be tough. And I was surprised by how welcoming and open everybody was. That’s special. Visitors love that feeling, that hospitality. When they walk into the galleries here, people engage them in conversation.
And the artists, we just have a lot of local talent. They’re such interesting people themselves, real characters. They’re in love with the city and they try to highlight all of the good things about it, the music, the culture — you see a lot of that in the art. I’m impressed with the creativeness and the inspiration that comes from the city itself.
What’s your favorite part about life at the gallery?
I love all of our artists. My favorite part is designing the shows, that’s what I’m good at. Hanging, placement, all the details, working one-on-one with the artists. And since we feature four different categories – we usually have a featured painter on the walls, we have a jeweler, we have a craft artist, we have furniture and lamps. To make all of that work together — it’s really challenging, but it’s fun. Every show is like a big puzzle.
How do you see the future of the neighborhood?
There’s a lot of new blood, new galleries, and it’s growing in a good way. As far as the New Orleans Arts District Association goes, we’re working to get more of an international audience. Trying to reach not only locals, but people from all over. Callan Contemporary is a good example of that – they have well-known artists from all over, and it’s good to be representing that too. We’re trying to make sure that we keep our locals happy as well as everyone else. We want to make it a hub.
Thanks to Jessie and Laurie for showing us that New Orleans Arts District hospitality! Ariodante Contemporary Craft Gallery is located at 535 Julia Street. Check out their website and Facebook page for more info.