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New Orleans Artists Prepare for Mardi Gras

New Orleans explodes into a carnival every year for Mardi Gras. And on that final day before the beginning of Lent, giant colorful floats parade down the city's streets. Groups known as "krewes" are responsible for planning and paying for the floats, but the hard work of building them is left to artists. Ninety percent of the floats are created in Mardi Gras World in New Orleans.

The Mardi Gras festival in New Orleans may only last days, but it takes a whole year to prepare.

Artists are hard at work getting ready for next year's parade on February 21. Mardis Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday" and marks the last day of feasting before Lent, the 40-day period before Christians celebrate Easter.

Sean Lanny is making flowers at Mardi Gras World that will adorn some of the floats.

"We started in September making the flowers," said Lanny. "But the whole process starts earlier. It starts with the idea-making process then they have to draw pictures and it continues on. The art director and the artist get together and decide what is going to be the theme for the year and what each float is going to look like."

Mardi Gras World artists shape the props from Styrofoam or fiberglass. Then they're covered in papier-mache and painted. Many are recognizable: historical people or characters from films and popular culture. Some are more than five meters tall.

Mardi Gras World is a family run-business started by a man named Blaine Kern in 1947.
His grandson, Brian Kern, says that a lot has changed since then.

"The original floats of New Orleans carried 12 riders on, now we are doing floats that with multiple sections can carry up to 250 people," Kern noted. "My father just wanted to push the envelope, make things larger, bigger prettier, more lighting, everything; it's just something we do."

The floats are central to New Orleans' world famous parades, which have been taking place for around 150 years. Some of the floats are as long as 15 meters.

Kern says the floats have helped to make Mardi Gras a major tourism attraction.

"Mardi Gras, I think it defines the city," Kern added. "It's a billion-dollar industry. About 40,000 or 50,000 people actually participate in carnival krewes either in the parade or in the ball so it is a large part of our culture."

Mardi Gras World doubles as a workshop and a museum where tourists can look behind the scenes.

One visitor from New York said her partner had advised her against going to the festival.

"He goes, "Oh no, you are not going to be happy with Mardi Gras.' So I said. 'OK,' but after seeing this, it just seems like a lot of fun, a lot of color, just a good time," she said.

A good time that takes a lot of hard work. The artists at Mardi Gras world will be working seven day weeks before the festival begins.