Although the fancy shoes handed out by the Krewe of Muses possess an almost mythical quality, every cup thrown by the krewe also has a unique story to tell.
Each year, Muses sponsors a design contest for its cups that’s open to all New Orleans public school students in junior high and high school. This year’s winner, Roya Brinkman, 17, a senior at Ben Franklin High School and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, won the contest with a colorful depiction of the Muses gathered in celebration reminiscent of a party straight out of ancient Greece.
The Muses cup theme, which always aligns closely with the parade theme, is the Mouseia Festival, which was a celebration held every five years on the lower slopes of Mt. Helicon in honor of the graceful goddesses of the arts, literature and science.
“I wanted to create something that shows celebration of community,” Brinkman said. “I was hoping to capture that feeling of contagious joy that flows through New Orleans during Mardi Gras.”
Brinkman is proud that the art she created is now printed on 50,000 cups and will soon be in the hands (and kitchen cabinets) of her friends, family and countless people she doesn’t know.
“Honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it at first. I wasn’t confident that I could make a piece that I would be proud enough to send in,” Brinkman said.
Kathy Conklin, Muses chairwoman for community involvement and founding krewe member, runs the contest and is the creative mind behind every cup theme.
“I just love this year’s design,” Conklin said. “It looks like a Muses festival, and I selected it because it has a celebratory feel.”
Conklin gets help narrowing down the selections, but ultimately, she and Muses captain Staci Rosenberg make the final decision.
A design dilemma
Brinkman spent a considerable amount of time pondering the design, and her research included reviewing the Muses cups in her kitchen from past years and studying photos of ancient Greek statues to get a feel for their poses and the way their robes flowed.
Her design went through several versions, with her first drawings centered around two Muses in flowing robes dancing arm-in-arm.
“I couldn’t come up with a background I liked, the colors weren’t right, something was missing and I knew it was incomplete,” she said.
With the deadline less than 24 hours away, Brinkman wiped the slate clean and started over.
“I spent seven or eight hours working on it the night before it was due,” she said. “Then the next day my teachers let me finish the draft in class so I spent another five or six hours on it. It was crazy.”
She added seven more Muses to the party, a background of white clouds against a blue sky and a banner across the top. In the end, Brinkman had two designs she liked, and the one she submitted happened to use the same colors as the official colors for this year’s parade.
“The one I selected was brighter and more provocative,” Brinkman said. “They are celebrating, swinging each other around, dancing, making music and having fun.”
How the competition works
Conklin contacts teachers and principals across the city every fall to inform them of the contest, and she sends a lesson plan on an aspect of Greek mythology, a template for the drawing because it has to fit properly when printed on a cup, and basic rules about the art.
This year, the krewe was given a very tight deadline from its cup manufacturer in China, so the contest was open only to NOCCA students because the selection committee didn’t have time to review thousands of submissions from across the city.
“We’re very proud of the fact that the artwork on every cup we’ve thrown has been designed by a student winner of our contest,” Conklin said.
Starting this year, the contest will be held in the spring to get ahead of any deadlines and will again include all public middle schools and high schools. Another change for this year, Conklin said, is that the $500 prize money now goes to the winning student instead of the school.
“The students do all the work, so we felt they should be properly compensated for what they’ve created,” she said.
Conklin said the cups were traditionally blue and white for the first 20 years, but they went full-color several years ago.
Looking for a festive feel
Susan Gisleson, a member of Muses since 2005, coordinated the contest with NOCCA.
“This year’s winning entry has a celebration vibe that fits perfectly on the cup,” Gisleson said. “We wanted that fun festival feeling, and this year’s winner really captured it.”
Gisleson said picking the winner is always difficult, but the quality of work produced by NOCCA students makes it especially challenging.
“When you’re looking at NOCCA students’ art, they’re all incredible,” said Gisleson, director of Country Day Creative Arts and a co-designer of Muses “Goddessy” float and “Sirens” float. “But we have to choose one, and ultimately how it fits on the curve of the cup is a big factor in the selection.”
Last week, Gisleson brought a king cake and a stack of cups to Brinkman’s class for a small celebration.
“I’m happy I won, but I want to say that there were lots of other really beautiful candidates for this contest,” Brinkman said. “Lots of love and energy went into every design.”