Mardi Gras Parade With A Purpose: We Have The Beads, You Bring the Beans

Mardi Gras Parade With A Purpose: We Have The Beads, You Bring the Beans


Mardi Gras Parade With A Purpose: We Have The Beads, You Bring the Beans

Dateline: January 24, 2018

Seven years ago, Athens State University Art Professor Gail Bergeron challenged her art sculpture students to help bring Mardi Gras to Downtown Athens.

The New Orleans native created a block party where students, dubbed the Athens State University Artheads, created head pieces based on a parade theme and encouraged the community to march, catch and throw beads and enjoy the Mardi Gras tradition.

The Mardi Gras Block Party and Parade has grown and includes a collaboration with Athens Arts League and Athens High School Dixieland Band. This year, the party includes a parade with a purpose.

“I wanted to include floats, and during at Athens Arts League meeting, we discussed getting shopping carts, which led to inviting the community to come decorate carts, push them in the parade, and collect canned food for our food bank,” Bergeron said. “We have the beads, you bring the beans.”

The Mardi Gras Block Party and Parade will be Tuesday, February 13, in Downtown Athens with activities starting at 5:30 p.m. and the parade starting at 6:30 p.m. Spectators are encouraged to bring canned beans or other canned food to put in the shopping cart floats. The Artheads and Athens Arts League will donate the items collected to the food bank at Limestone County Churches Involved.

“Gail enjoys having fun, and she and her art students have helped establish a free community celebration that grows each year,” Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks said.

Lowe’s is among the stores donating use of shopping carts. From February 8-10, groups that want to adopt one of the ten shopping carts can go to High Cotton Arts at 103 W. Washington Street to decorate them. This year’s theme is “Things That Fly.”

“Athens Arts League is doing a cart, and ours will be a tribute to Julia the Pig and will include wings so she can be an example of ‘when pigs fly,’” said Athens Arts League board member Holly Hollman. “Since this is the city’s bicentennial, we thought it was also a fun way to celebrate a unique story in our city’s history.”

In the 1980’s, the city fathers wanted to run Julia out of Athens because her owner was violating the city ordinance regarding farm animals. The fight to keep Julia in the city limits made her the city’s unofficial mascot and led to her becoming queen of the Athens Christmas Parade. Her photograph was in newspapers and on television, not just locally, but nationwide. In one photograph, she is sipping Sun-Drop from a can as her owner holds it to her lips.

In addition to the shopping cart floats, the block party will include wagon decorating and a free Mardi Gras mask making craft at High Cotton Arts. At Athens State’s Center for Lifelong Learning, there will be booths set up for bead making and information about the International Crane Foundation. The parade will kick off at 6:30 pm in front of the Center for Lifelong Learning and will continue down Marion Street and Washington Street. The Artheads and Athens High School’s Dixieland Band will march in the parade. Family friendly groups are invited to participate.

High Cotton Arts and the Center for Lifelong Learning will be accepting donations of Mardi Gras beads now through February 13 to use during the event.

For more information about adopting a cart or participating, email Gail Bergeron at

Mardi Gras Block Party Event Line-Up

High Cotton Arts, 103 W. Washington Street
5:30-6:30 p.m.

  • Free Mardi Gras mask making craft for children
  • Free wagon decorating for children who want to participate in the parade

Athens State University Center for Lifelong Learning, 121 S. Marion Street
5:30-6:30 p.m.

  • International Crane Foundation information booth
  • Free bead making station

March with the Artheads and Athens High Dixieland Band
6:30 p.m. in front of the Center for Lifelong Learning

  • Will march on Marion and Washington Streets
  • Theme: “Things That Fly”
  • Please bring canned beans or other canned goods to put in the shopping cart floats for donation to the LCCI food bank