Building Type: Community Center, Cultural Display, Education Facility – Day Care/Children’s Facility , Museum/Gallery
Themes: Context – Urban, Culturally Sensitive, Disaster Mitigation – Hurricane-resistant, Disaster Reconstruction, Education, Mixed Use, Non-Profit/ Community-based
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
The Guardians Institute’s prime directives are to uphold the distinct cultural traditions of New Orleans, promote literacy and encourage physical well-being. These directives are met through conducting educational workshops for K-12 students in New Orleans to teach them the traditional art of beading and crafting Mardi Gras Indian suits, holding drumming, song construction and traditional dance lessons as well as conducting book club meetings.
The Guardians Institute was founded by Herreast Harrison and her children in loving memory of their father, Donald Harrison, Sr., the celebrated Chief of the Mardi Gras Indian group, Guardians of the Flame. For the past twenty years the family has been heavily involved in keeping Mardi Gras Indian culture alive and exposing neighborhood children to all facets of this tradition through education and demonstration.
More than just learning crafts, the students take away a wide range of life skills and a sense of pride in their culture. For example, students earn a small fee for each performance in which they participate, teaching them the value of hard work and basic financial literacy. Children are instructed on the basic functions of banking and investments.
Herreast Harrison operated three daycare centers in her Ninth Ward neighborhood for 30 years before founding the Guardians Institute and devoting herself to the celebration of Mardi Gras Indian art and tradition. Two of her Mardi Gras Indian suits have been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institute.
The Harrisons seek to build a small recreational facility to serve as a central location to continue and expand the programs of the Guardians Institute. It is their desire that the institute serve as a safe haven for children in the community and as a place where reading, cultural traditions and physical fitness are supported, celebrated and encouraged. The Harrisons are donating the land on which the facility will be built. The facility will be a UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, site.
The architectural firm Rockwell Group joined this project in June 2007 and is currently creating a design concept based on the site and the specific needs of the Guardians Institute.