NEW ORLEANS – With the boom of a howitzer cannon, the National D-Day Museum has officially changed its name to the National World War II Museum, sparking hopes of busier days ahead for other institutions in this city's museum district.
Since Hurricane Katrina hit nine months ago, tourism has dropped off and left many museums struggling to make ends meet.
The D-Day Museum, which opened six years ago, has become an anchor of a burgeoning museum district that includes a collection of highly prized Confederate artifacts, one of the only art museums dedicated to Southern art and a children's museum, which remains closed.
Before Katrina, about 700 people visited the war museum a day and attendance has slowly crept back to half that, museum staff said.
With the designation as being the nation's World War II museum, conferred by Congress in 2004, the museum will undergo a multimillion-dollar expansion that officials hope will triple the number of visitors.
That infusion of money may spark a much-needed rebound in the district.
"What I tell people is that, 'You've got the place to yourself — enjoy it,'" said Pat Ricci, the curator of Confederate Memorial Hall's Civil War Museum.
Business, she said, has been up and down — but mostly down.
"We've had as few as three or four people, and as many as 150 a day," Ricci said. Expansions have been put on hold and a few staff members had to be let go, she said.
The 115-year-old museum, across the street from the World War II Museum in a Romanesque and churchlike building called "The Battle Abbey of the South," is home to about 5,000 artifacts, including Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard's uniforms, a crown of thorns given to imprisoned Confederate President Jefferson Davis by Pope Pius IX and letters and photos of black Confederates.
Next door, the sunny and bright galleries of the modernist Ogden Museum of Southern Art were empty, a child's laughter echoed from one floor to the next.
"It's going to be a long summer," said David Houston, the chief curator.
The hot sticky summer months were slow for the tourism business before Katrina. Now, he said, there are signs that this summer will be far worse with senior travel groups and conventions holding off from coming because of the hurricane season.
To make up for the lack of tourists, the Ogden museum has had to be creative and come up with events to attract local residents, Houston said.
On Thursday nights, for example, people pour in for musical performances. Jazz musician Ellis Marsalis brought in 650 people one Thursday, he said. "That Thursday night is very important to us," Houston said.
Also, the museum has focused on Katrina-related exhibits and is holding forums and discussions on the future of the city. For example, over the coming months it plans to display the ideas of architects, urban planners and neighborhoods on how the city should be rebuilt.
"We're getting involved, we're not passively taking things in," Houston said.