What would the liturgy be at a non-denominational neighborhood church of the arts?
Puppet festivals and dance festivals. 90-minute tuba recitals. Classical music. Plays. Singer/songwriter performances.
“Religion and art spring from the same source,” says Dave Hurlbert, the Executive Director of Marigny Opera House. “And this is a church I would actually join.” As soon as word got out, “I got a lot of emails from people saying they wanted to join, they wanted their kids to join, did we have any kind of Sunday school?” There are currently 75 church members.
It’s a beautiful old building that would make a pretty sweet house; enormous vaulted ceiling, stately choir loft, dazzling good energy. It makes a home for all New Orleans’ re-burgeoning arts scenes. Hurlbert says that the very name of the Opera House is a throwback to the days when New Orleans had an extremely attentive opera audience and all attending ritual and circumstance. The main hub for opera, the French Opera House, a building that Hurlbert refers to a “jewel in the crown of New Orleans’ cultural ascendancy,” burned down in 1919. When that happened, he says, that was pretty much the death for high art in New Orleans. So the Marigny Opera House, of course, is not only reclaiming the name of cultural historical significance, it’s providing a platform for the phoenix of cultural revival.
Its renaissance in New Orleans could be a matter of neighborhood-level spiritual experience right now. Hurlbert is no stranger to the world of the arts, having been a pianist and the director of an opera company (housed in a former Methodist church in San Francisco) and maybe believes, at the core, that it’s a personal connection we all make to the divine. Is it an accident that New Orleans is an extremely creative city with a highly religious population?
And the Opera House’s liturgy? A variety of creative endeavors, that remain based in the community, proactive without fear of expectation. “The building will become what it wants to be. If I tried to plan too much, I’d be shutting out things I never even thought of,” says Hurlbert. “We’ve got some givens, like the yearly puppet and dance festivals, but otherwise, if you want to do a cello recital and you want to do it Wednesday night, then sure.”
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