Friday Night at NOMA: An evening of art and community engagement


Neptune Steel Orchestra performs at Friday Nights at NOMA. Photo provided by Crystal McCAy.

As New Orleans Museum of Art gallery attendant Matthew Germenis describes, Friday nights at NOMA serve “to make use of the very wonderful staff here at the museum that knows about and cares about everything that we have in here, and trying to give back. I think that’s what Friday nights are about, having the community share with us in different ways the passion for this art that everyone who works here has.”

The New Orleans Museum of Art hosts Friday Nights at NOMA with a range of activities for visitors to experience and enjoy every week. “Pretty much every Friday night,” Germenis explains, “with the exception of maybe three or four Fridays every year, we have [Friday Nights at NOMA] until 9 p.m. So we extend our hours three hours instead of closing at 6 p.m.”

The evening is filled with opportunities to learn about and experience art history through the extensive display of exhibits that the museum offers, ranging from pre-Columbian art on the third floor to European Renaissance and Baroque art on the first. Adding to the already immense array of offerings of the museum, Friday nights at NOMA brings in even more for visitors to experience.

“We always have a live musical act, we have an activity table for children, sometimes there’s also an arts activity for adults, we have an open bar, and we usually try to do either a gallery talk with one of our curators, especially when a show has just opened up, or we will get a docent to do a tour throughout the museum. We also try to do a screening as much as possible, mostly documentaries. Those are in our auditorium,” Germenis describes.

This past Friday’s musical performance featured a Caribbean steelpan group titled Neptune Steel Orchestra. The distinctive feature of the group’s performance was the various sizes and tones of the steelpans played by its members. The steelpan traces its origins back to Trinidad and Tobago, a pair of islands in the Caribbean near the coast of Venezuela.

“We started this particular group in 2016. We are all from Trinidad,” says group member Suzette Riley. “We live here now in New Orleans. The captain is the person who owns all of the pans. He is who we call a “pan man,” a person who has been involved in pan for a long time over the years, so he started that back in Trinidad, then he came to New Orleans and continued the tradition of beating pans.”

Neptune Steel Orchestra’s performance at NOMA captivated the attention of the crowd and even attracted a few dancers. As Riley explained the instrumental elements of the group, “we have a range of instruments that play different tones. The lead pan is the tenor pan that plays the melody. From there you have the supporting pans. . . they play the chords and some melodies as well. And then you have the triple cello, which plays a lot of the chords and countermelodies. It brings a richness and a deeper tone to the band. And then we have the rhythm section in the back, and that helps to bring the beat together. Then we have the drummer, which is a traditional set of drums.”

Other activities at the event included a guided tour of the full collection of the glass and ceramics gallery, a family activity table, a gallery talk with museum curator Mel Buchanan, and a film screening.

“All of this is designed to attract a much larger demographic depending on what your interest is,” Germenis said of NOMA’s engagement focus. “So if we have people that want to watch documentaries, we try to satisfy them. For people bringing families in, we have something for kids, and we try to do as many talks as possible as well to educate the community about what we have.”