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A Royal Affair

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Dirty Linen Night lets you stroll the Quarter and support local artists (while drinking damn good martinis)

August, with its sweltering temperatures and hurricane warnings, has never been a prime tourist month in New Orleans. Of course, this doesn’t keep the locals from having fun themselves or from showing those who do visit a good time.

On the first Saturday of the month, the Warehouse Arts District hosts White Linen Night. For the fifteenth year, the galleries on Julia Street will throw open their doors between 6 and 9 p.m. and welcome visitors to enjoy the food and drink and the art on display.

Not to be outdone, some galleries on Royal Street—in particular, several members of RHINO (Right Here in New Orleans) Contemporary Craft Company, including hatmaker Tracy Thomson of Kabuki Hats and jeweler Linda Sampson—decided seven years ago to follow suit, promoting local artists but in a less formal fashion, and serving dirty martinis and dirty rice to boot. So the weekend after White Linen Night, the Quarter hosts Dirty Linen Night, an irreverent spin on the Warehouse District event. “What happens to the white linen after?” laughs artist and Royal Street gallery owner Fredrick Guess, a participant in Dirty Linen Night since its second year. “You wear your dirty linen.” Gallery owners and antique shops signal their participation in a similarly irreverent fashion, often by putting a laundry basket in front.

The first few years, there was no formal advertising campaign. Some of the original participants dressed up as old-time washer women and handed out fliers on Julia Street during White Linen Night, and allowed word-of-mouth to do the rest. “They started with just a few galleries, and it was not really a big event,” explains Guess. But it was well attended, and the next year, following its initial success, “they decided to turn it into something.” Approaching Guess, Robert Guthrie and other gallery owners on Royal Street, organizers expanded the event to cover two blocks of the street. The participants anticipated that perhaps 100 people would stop by, but instead about 450 people showed up. “We had set up a bar and put food out. I always overbuy everything, but we ran out of liquor and everything else before it ended,” Guess recalls. By the third year, Glazer’s Companies of Louisiana had come on board, providing both liquor and bartenders.

Over the years, Dirty Linen Night has expanded in popularity and in size; now there are participants not only on Royal Street proper, but around Jackson Square, on Dumaine Street between Royal and Decatur, and at the Dutch Alley Artist Co- Op at Dumaine and Decatur streets, which is RHINO’s current home. For the benefit of the crowds, the streets are closed to traffic during the event. “What amazes me is that it was all kind of word of mouth, but it really mushroomed,” Guess says.

This year, Dirty Linen Night should grow even more. It has joined forces with Better Opportunities Right Now (BORN), a nonprofit formed last year to provide training and opportunities to the socioeconomically disadvantaged. “BORN’s founders are allowing the group to produce the event, and make it a win-win for both groups,” says Tyra Brown, BORN’s CEO and founder. Among other things, BORN is promoting Dirty Linen Night by advertising, giving media interviews and formally spreading the word in other ways. Already, Brown points to positive results; by early July, a record 50 galleries and shops had signed up to participate.

In addition to the gallery owners and BORN, there are plenty of other collaborators. The Red Dress Run, a walking/running/drinking event through the Quarter, coincides with Dirty Linen Night, and the runners—members of the New Orleans Hash House Harriers— have livened up the night since its first year. The Big Easy Rollergirls, a local roller derby league, will also skate on through. Street musicians and other entertainers will be performing throughout the area. This year, for the first time, participants, musicians and local krewes will lead a second-line parade that starts in Dutch Alley and ends at Bourbon Street.

Finally, the event offers another huge perk: The music, food and beverages (both alcoholic and nonalcoholic) are free. “All of the participating galleries will have free wine, dirty martinis, of course, and different nonalcoholic beverages,” Brown says. “And each gallery will feature signature items, whether it be hors d’oeuvres or a signature dish for their venue.” And naturally, RHINO participants and founders will still be serving up dirty rice to go along with the dirty martinis.