With the blessing of some local officials, Mobile’s Mardi Gras — the United States’ oldest Carnival celebration — now has a uniform banner representing the various mystic societies and parading groups that have helped make it a defining event for the Port City.
Designed originally as a flag, the logo features a pair of jesters adoring the side of a crowned “M” and is marked by Mobile’s traditional Carnival colors, which unlike New Orleans’, include purple and gold, but not green. At the bottom of the flag it reads: “Mobile Mardi Gras Est. 1703.”
The flag was a passion project of Stephen McNair, the founder of McNair Historic Preservation consulting. As a graduate of Tulane University, McNair has “laissez le bon temps rouler” in Mobile and New Orleans, but after returning home, he noticed something was missing.
“Moving back to Mobile, it became apparent that we lacked a uniformed symbol to promote our largest and most celebrated cultural event,” McNair told Lagniappe. “As locals, we boast the fact that Mardi Gras in the U.S. was founded in our community, but there wasn’t a unifying symbol that could be used to promote the annual celebration.”
Since establishing Michael Kraft LLC, which is named for the founder of Mobile’s first masked mystic organization, the Cowbellion de Rakin Society, McNair said he’s spent two years working with the Mobile Carnival Association, Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association (MAMGA) and other Mardi Gras organizations to gain support for the idea of a unified flag in Mobile. He said their support is vital to its success.
All of the mystic societies those groups represent have their own history and culture rooted in Mardi Gras, but McNair said they also share in the overall experience Mobile has found a citywide identity in. He said it’s important — especially when trying to sell outsiders on Mobile’s Mardi Gras — to show that the event is bigger than any one organization or parade.
“Tourists who visit for the parades, balls and events more than likely don’t understand the complexities associated with a Mardi Gras organization, but instead view Mardi Gras as a monolithic public celebration,” McNair added. “The design of the flag is intended to represent Mardi Gras as a unified event and not individual organizations. At the end of the day, tourists just want to catch moon pies, enjoy parades and purchase a unique souvenir.”
McNair said having a unified brand that could be printed on flags, T-shirts, cups, koozies and memorabilia will give visitors a way to remember and share their overall Mardi Gras experience in Mobile, comparing the concept to the iconic “I love New York” T-shirts.
Aside from parading organizations themselves, McNair has also sought support from city and county officials as well as Visit Mobile. On July 8, the Mobile County Commission voted unanimously to accept the design as the “uniform Mardi Gras flag and logo in Mobile.”
McNair said he’s spoken with the city of Mobile about the possibility of a similar resolution, which would ultimately have to be approved by the Mobile City Council. Councilors have not discussed their opinions on the flag publicly, but city spokesman George Talbot thinks “everybody likes it.”
“There seems to be great support for it, and we’re receptive to the idea,” Talbot said of Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration. “We think it could be beneficial to the city to have one flag. It helps with the branding.”
The city’s legal department is currently reviewing the proposal, and it could be submitted for the council’s consideration as early as July 16.
McNair told Lagniappe support from the county and city, which has backed previous Mardi Gras flags, is important to help legitimize the current effort, but his organization also plans to partner with them in the future.
That’s one of the reasons the Michael Kraft LLC was not set up as a for-profit enterprise. According to McNair, after all of the costs of creating and securing the design are covered, any revenue generated from licensing products using the logo will go back to the local community.
Those funds, whatever they might be, are planned to be filtered through city and county grants set up for the expressed purpose of “promoting Mardi Gras.” So far, the logistics of how that will operate in practice aren’t entirely clear, but Talbot said there have been discussions about any funds the city receives going toward future development at Mardi Gras Park.
David Clark, the president and CEO of Visit Mobile, has backed the idea of a unified Mardi Gras flag since it was first touted in 2018. This week, he told Lagniappe he doesn’t think the number of visitors who come to Mobile for Mardi Gras is going to skyrocket simply because of a new flag, but he did say that branding is important — especially for a tourism destination.
“Any destination is most successful when it has place esteem — when it has an iconic imagine. Think about that one selfie… that one place, that one thing,” Clark said. “We have more than a million visitors come watch our parades, and think about all of the images associated with that.”
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