The team of local experts that developed Vue Orleans, the interactive experience featuring one-of-a-kind exhibits that celebrate the confluence of cultures in New Orleans, made sure that “it’s all in the details.”
Located at “the foot of Canal,” 2 Canal Street in the former World Trade Center building that is now home to the Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans and Residences, Vue Orleans takes the visitor on a deep dive into New Orleans history, music and culture via a multi-level interactive cultural experience that brings New Orleans into sharp focus. The attraction offers an eye-popping 4-D experience with nine original films, seven interactive exhibits, and the city's only rooftop 360-degree panoramic viewing platform. It’s more than bells and whistles. Vue Orleans pairs style with substance, using technology to shine a focused spotlight on the vast array of art, music, food, history, and culture found only in New Orleans.
With the Emmy award-winning Cortina Group designing Vue’s digital storytelling, raves were a certainty. The company’s projects range from the National Geographic Museum’s Beyond King Tut and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., to the new Jackie Robinson Museum in New York City and the Anne Frank exhibit in the Museum of Tolerance in L.A. Under their brilliant direction, presidential libraries come to life, iconic sports are feted, and global cultures are celebrated.
Locally, the team who helped shape the Vue narrative is a veritable Who’s Who of New Orleans culture bearers. Lawrence Powell, a Professor Emeritus of History at Tulane University, brought historical gravitas to the table. Powell, who is currently writing a follow-up to his book The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans, was a critical linchpin. Powell has a deep understanding of Louisiana history, along with the evolution of the civil rights movement, the knowledge that came to bear in the writing of Rise Up, an original film detailing the struggle for equal rights in New Orleans and across the state. The captivating film was inspired and narrated by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., host of the television series Finding Your Roots since 2012. “Many people don’t know that our 1868 state constitution was the most racially progressive in the country,” said Powell. “There was so much lost with the rising up of Jim Crow laws and practices.”
Glenda McKinley, a successful local businesswoman and community entrepreneur, was also involved in connecting the Vue narrative with local culture. Her New Orleans roots run deep–her dad, the late Larry McKinley, was a record executive, radio host, and “the Voice of Jazz Fest,” which welcomed festgoers to the Fairgrounds each year.
Eric Cager was another critical participant in telling the New Orleans story. Cager, a St. Aug graduate, is the founder and director of Cutting Edge C.E. (formerly the Cutting Edge Music Business Conference) and the Music Business Institute. His voluminous knowledge of the local music scene helped to shape the breakout music scenes on the Confluence of Culture wall and populate the Music of New Orleans exhibit, which puts the visitor in the bell of a gramophone, with options to select 27 curated song clips showcasing seven different music genres, from jazz and R&B to bounce. New Orleans native Gwen Thompkins and NPR veteran and host of WWNO’s Music Inside Out provided another solid musical connection, as did Michael Gourrier, a longtime WWOZ DJ known as Mr. Jazz; and Ben Sandmel, author of the critically acclaimed biography Ernie K Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans and the producer of the Music Heritage Stage at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. “We worked so closely with the Cortina Group team, who did a spectacular job turning the city’s stories into immersive experiences,” said Powell. “We tried to bridge the gulf between popular culture and the historical foundation on which it rests.” At every turn, local talent and culture bearers were involved. The Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas, narrates the film in the River Vue Theater, an immersive presentation featuring Van Gogh-style “painted” animation to tell stories of the Mississippi River. Local musicians, including Wendell Brunious, perform in lively breakout sessions in the central gallery. Second liners strut and tribes of our Mardi Gras Indians explode from the screen in a burst of brilliant music, color, and plumage.
Around the corner, in the Story Café, native son Chef Kevin Belton, who hosts The New Orleans Kitchen on PBS, cuts up with local author, radio and television personality Poppy Tooker, telling the stories of 12 iconic New Orleans dishes such as red beans and rice and jambalaya. Visitors can purchase refreshments at the 34th-Floor Café, including drinks and some local dishes. Paul Flower, CEO of Woodward Design + Build, co-developer and contractor for the Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans; Henry Coaxum, President and CEO of Coaxum Enterprises, and his wife Karen Coaxum, a marketing and community affairs professional who grew up in Pontchartrain Park, were involved in the project from the start in 2015. Flower and Henry Coaxum are co-managing partners of Vue Orleans and equity partners of the Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans. Chairman and CEO of Jackson Offshore Operators Lee Jackson, another local equity partner of the hotel, is the face and voice of the interactive exhibit at Vue Orleans, where guests can pilot a riverboat along the Mississippi River.
“We wanted to capture the essence of New Orleans, to tell its cultural story. But how to do that?” After traveling around and visiting museums, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C., and seeing hologram versions of Elvis and Michael Jackson in Vegas, the Four Seasons Development Team knew they had made the right choice with Jim Cortina and the Cortina Group. “They are magical storytellers,” said Henry Coaxum.
It's that hologram technology that brings 12 important figures in New Orleans history to life in the Vue’s central gallery. Through an astonishing show of digital sleight of hand, visitors are introduced to voodoo queen Marie Laveau; Noel Carriere, a free man of color in the colonial period; Tillie Karnovsky, a Jewish woman who befriended and greatly influenced Louis Armstrong; and others. Each life-sized, historic figure speaks to the city’s history and the cultural gumbo central to the city’s identity. Tommye Myrick, a local director who has been the driving force behind Voices in the Dark Repertory Theater for 28 years and who has served as the artistic director of Southern University and assistant director of the Center for African and African American Studies, brought these figures to life as Vue’s casting director, acting coach and one of the writers. “I am very proud of what Vue Orleans has become and what it means to the City of New Orleans,” said Myrick.
“In New Orleans, we’ve built a culture together that is a result of historical circumstances and our geographic and geological destiny,” said Powell. “At the end of the day, we are a city that thrives because of our diversity.”
“Vue Orleans is a must-do for both locals and visitors,” said the Coaxums.