If industry is the life blood that sustains our communities, arts and culture are surely the heartbeat that nourishes and heals our souls. Organizations that sponsor music festivals, art events, dance and theatre productions provide entertainment that draw in locals and tourists and add colorful, eclectic vibes to our hometowns. Artists and art organizations took a hard hit last year – first from the pandemic and later from the storms. But recently, signs of cultural life are springing up all around the Lake Area. Record-breaking crowds for recent arts and entertainment events have felt like community-wide reunions. Historic City Hall has been repaired from Hurricane Laura’s devastation and is once again hosting national traveling art exhibits and opening receptions. Banners is back with their annual Rouge et Blanc fundraiser. Theaters have a full slate of shows planned, and music fills the air. It’s an exciting time in our region’s recovery efforts. In this special section, we welcome and celebrate this return of arts and culture to our communities.
by Angie Kay Dilmore
Historic City Hall Arts and Cultural Center – a Lake Charles landmark – suffered substantial damage from Hurricane Laura. Matt Young, the city’s Director of Cultural Affairs, says the destruction was primarily limited to the second and third floors due to rainwater pouring in after the roof blew off. Six weeks later, Hurricane Delta caused flooding on the first floor. The Center has been repaired and is now re-opened, but there is lingering work to be done. “The bell tower at Historic City Hall is particularly of concern,” says Young. “Initial structural assessments revealed two compromised brick columns on the western-facing side.”
The City of Lake Charles administration has wisely used this reconstruction opportunity to rebuild with efficiency and purpose in mind. “Historic City Hall, a crown jewel in our downtown district, is being reconfigured to utilize the building’s front entrance, so that visitors enter and exit through the front doors on the front plaza,” Young says. “That way, we’ll also be able to better program the front plaza with outdoor concerts, performances, and mid-week lunch events.”
Young says the pandemic and hurricanes were a double-whammy for all local businesses, but especially arts organizations. “But there’s been some bright spots. Last year, we implemented ‘Art 6-Feet Apart’ to promote our talented organizations and provide entertainment in some of our underutilized public venues like the Transit Center Pavilion and Central School’s front plaza. The series featured ten events that spotlighted music, dance, theater, poetry, and live art demonstrations. We also curated several virtual exhibits and hosted online music events to help uplift and inspire our community.”
Currently, all three floors’ gallery spaces have reopened with some incredible exhibits on view including a Smithsonian travelling exhibit called “A New Moon Rises.” Two local art shows are also on display: Gallery by the Lake’s group show features nearly a dozen artists, and McNeese professor Larry Schuh’s “Retrospective” is a collection of his life’s work.
Young says the Center will kick off a new event in September. “For more than 15 years, the Charlestown Farmers Market has operated on Saturdays at Historic City Hall. Next month, we’ll launch “Meet Me at the Market” each first Saturday of the month. The expanded market will include an art market on our front plaza in addition to the farmers market in the back. We’ll also have live music and children’s programming inside the Center each first Saturday.”
“Public gallery spaces like Historic City Hall are vitally important to the City of Lake Charles,” says Mayor Nic Hunter. “The recovery and restoration of these spaces is critical to our community’s long-term recovery. Significant both historically and culturally, Historic City Hall offers diversity, richness, and educational value to our community and greatly enhances the quality of life in the City.”
Historic City Hall Arts and Cultural Center is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Admission is free. After-hours events and group field trips available. For more info, call 337-491-9147 or find them on Facebook.
Southwest Louisiana wouldn’t be the place it is today without its rich culture and colorful art. Thanks to recent events like Spring Art Walk, Downtown at Sundown, and Live @ the Lakefront, we have seen that our arts and culture is still thriving. Live music at bars and restaurants have returned, and we can now see exhibits at Historic City Hall, Imperial Calcasieu Museum, and The Brimstone Museum. Those are all signs that our creative community is coming back in a strong way. All of that success is ushering in a fall schedule full of amazing events!
The Arts & Humanities Council alone will host five of their regular events and co-host a brand-new event with Big Brothers Big Sisters this season. Gallery Promenade, ArtsFest, Living History Cemetery Tour, Mayor’s Arts Awards, and Holiday Art Walk are all returning in person, ready to add to the quality of life of SWLA! Farm to Tableaux, a partnership with BBBS, will take place on October 14. This will be a new and unique event to the Lake Area that will feature local artists, local organizations, and raise money for two great causes. They are also in the middle of administering two grants for arts non-profits: the second round of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury Grant, and the Louisiana Projects Grant (formally known as the DAF Grant). Both of these grants will allow for more cultural events and projects across Southwest Louisiana.
As our community rebuilds, the arts we know and love will be ever more important in the healing process. The response from the community so far has been encouraging and helping prove that the series of unfortunate events of the past 18 months have done little to keep us down. Know that every time you and your friends go and listen to a local band, buy a piece of local art, or attend an exhibit opening, you are helping our creative community recover and thrive.
by Stefanie Powers
The Lake Charles Symphony Orchestra celebrates their 64th season this year. The organization has put aside the difficulties of the past year and is moving forward with enthusiasm, fresh ideas, and a full season planned.
“Various board members have been meeting diligently the past several months, amid the pandemic and recent hurricane season, to plan events,” says Director Michelle Miller. “Our goal has been to bring back the Lake Charles Symphony as soon as it was safely possible and as venues became available.”
Miller says the upcoming season promises to be exciting, as they are taking the symphony in a bit of a different direction. “Not to worry, our orchestra members will be performing and participating throughout the season, and we are showcasing local talent in each of our events,” she explains.
The symphony hosted their first concert/fundraiser post-Covid-19 restrictions in the Civic Center Contraband Room on July 10. “It was a casual, laid-back event featuring the Lake Charles Symphony Brass Quintet,” Miller says. “Musical selections included patriotic marches by Sousa and Meacham, seminal jazz music from New Orleans, songs by George Gershwin, and Broadway music. The closing song was a fun arrangement of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ combined with Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus – a perfect mix of jazz, New Orleans, and classical music!”
This season, the symphony will launch the “Sundays with the Symphony” concert series. “Three concerts are planned for this series, all on Sunday afternoons, at St. Luke Simpson United Methodist Church in Lake Charles,” Miller says. “Each will be a chamber concert featuring the talents of orchestra members, including Sarah Perkins and Lina Morita, and will be held in November 2021 and the following January and March.”
The theme for the classical concert season is a “Renaissance of Music” and will showcase some of the finest classical music performed by the orchestra. Three concerts are planned for October 2021, and February and May of 2022. The final concert in May will feature the A.M. Barbe High School Buccaneer Orchestra.
Miller says season ticket information will be posted to their website and Facebook page soon. “The Lake Charles Symphony is also planning to bring back our popular Gators on the Geaux fundraiser. The gators were first featured 20 years ago, and with all the new growth our area has experienced, we thought this would be a great way to spotlight the symphony, our local artists and businesses, as well as boost tourism.”
For more information go to, www.lcsymphony.com or call (337) 433-1611.
COVID-19 and back-to-back sucker punches from mother nature took a terrible toll on Banners in 2020, but Brook Hanemann, Director of Banners at McNeese State University, says they are more energized and focused than ever to uplift our community through art and heritage programming. “I think we all learned in the isolation of all that has depleted our region that we are a strong community bound by grit, generosity, and a dedication to offering a helping hand even when we are limping ourselves. This community is fierce and lovely and it is time to brush off the drywall dust, hang our shoes out to dry, and celebrate.”
Banners Cultural Season last year was cut short due to COVID-19 after their second Saturday performance. They will revive that season in March and April 2022 and have been able to retain most of the wonderful line-up they had originally scheduled. Meanwhile, in typical Banners fashion, this cultural organization that has brought Southwest Louisiana the best in arts and entertainment since 1992 will continue that tradition with several events scheduled this fall. “To make up for lost art, we are re-implementing ‘Banners Presents’ which consists of stand-alone arts and humanities presentations that Banners produces outside of the Cultural Season,” Hanemann says.
Labor Day weekend will kick things off with a Saturday (Sept. 4, 2021) evening 7:00 p.m. remount of Dynamite Lunchbox’s Josephine Baker Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play, which was a sell-out show in 2019.
The next day (Sept. 5), Lake Charles will enjoy the touring premier of the company’s new show Josie and Grace which is described as a mostly historical cabaret-style play about the legendary friendship between two of the most iconic women of the 20th Century, Josephine Baker and Grace Kelly. From the creators of the award-winning international hit show Josephine comes the world premiere play about two American women who became immortal in Europe after meteoric rises to success that challenged the limits placed on them by a racist and sexist world.
The second ‘Banners Presents’ offering is a Veteran’s Day (Nov. 11) production of Letters Home, based on letters from soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. This production will be free of charge due in large part to the support of Reed Mendelson of Ameriprise Financial Services in Lake Charles. “We hope to host a large audience of active and retired military so that we may honor them for their selflessness and their service to our nation,” Hanemann says. “We are also working with Mayor Nic Hunter’s Armed Forces Committee to create pre-show festivities on the lawn in front of Bulber auditorium for this Veterans Day show.”
So, Banners is back! “Judging by the fact that pre-sales for Rouge et Blanc (tickets now on sale) nearly doubled on day one of our sale in comparison to last year, I think it is definitely safe to say that our locals are ready to celebrate, too,” Hanemann adds. “We’ve all been through the wringer; now it is time for us to bask in face-to-face community and shared art. Time to let the good times roll!”
For more information or to purchase Rouge et Blanc tickets, go to banners.org.
The Lutcher Theater is your home for Broadway! With the curtains rising after the longest intermission ever, the Lutcher Theater for the Performing Arts welcomes performers and patrons back with an exciting and star-studded 2021-2022 Season line-up.
Located just across the Sabine River in historic downtown Orange, Texas, the Lutcher Theater is the prominent presenter of Broadway, national and international tours, award-winning artists, renowned dance and acclaimed children’s performances for Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana.
“Performing arts bring people together and enrich our communities. Whether you are a regular theater goer, or you have never seen a live performance on stage, Lutcher Theater has something for everyone and is a fun and unique way to spend time with family, friends and clients,” says Lutcher’s Managing Director, Lynae Sanford.
This season Lutcher Theater will present 10 incredible events, including seven national touring Broadway shows, a family holiday spectacular, live country music and a multi-Grammy® award winning gospel artist. Legendary country artist, Asleep at the Wheel will kick off the season with a stop on the Celebrating 50 Years of Asleep at the Wheel Anniversary Tour.
“We are honored to have Gospel great, CeCe Winans as part of our season. Patrons can expect to see big Broadway classics like Beautiful-the Carole King Musical, South Pacific and Fiddler on the Roof. Plan a date night or girls’ night out to catch Waitress or an Officer and a Gentleman. Families will enjoy bright, colorful productions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Hairspray and Cirque Dreams Holidaze,” Sanford adds.
Along with the performing arts series, Lutcher Theater also presents Lutcher Incredible Kids Events, a daytime children’s series for students and educators from Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana. Meeting Texas and Louisiana state learning criteria, the shows are often based on story books, creating a ‘Page to Stage’ learning experience for young patrons. The Lutcher offers a world class experience to every audience member along with unforgettable memories.
Season Ticket Premiere Packages (8 to10 shows) and Spotlight Packages (4 or more shows) are on sale now at Lutcher.org. Season ticket holders get the benefits of best pricing, prime seating and ticket exchange. Single tickets for all shows will go on sale August 16, 2021.
Visit lutcher.org for more information or call the Lutcher Theater Box Office at 409.886.5535.
by Angie Kay Dilmore
The Lake Charles Little Theatre (LCLT) has been entertaining theatre enthusiasts since 1926. Prior to 2020, they had been performing in a retrofitted horse stable on Enterprise Boulevard. But the blows of a global pandemic and Hurricanes Laura and Delta were more than the small, antiquated building could endure, both physically and financially. “Since March 2020, all LCLT scheduled productions were cancelled or postponed,” says LCLT President Randy Partin. “Memberships were not sold due to the stage “going dark” due to COVID-19 and subsequently, the hurricanes. Many expenses have remained constant but revenues have suffered badly.”
Historically plagued by budget deficits, LCLT had produced a surplus of revenue over the past eight years and has strived to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to them by their corporate sponsors and loyal patrons. But storm damage proved costly. “Two costume buildings were destroyed resulting in the loss of over 1000 costumes ravaged by water and wind,” Partin says. “More than $4000 dollars have been spent on dry-cleaning garments salvaged from the debris and the project is not yet completed.”
Rather than attempt to salvage their property on Enterprise Blvd., LCLT Board of Directors has suggested a grand plan that could change the scene of performing arts in Southwest Louisiana altogether. “In the past, community groups have been relegated to repurposed spaces because of limited resources,” Partin says. “There is a significant need for a central, public, purpose-built, performance art venue in Lake Charles. As we approach our 100th year celebration (in five years), we desire to help facilitate a Central Performing Arts venue for our community, one that could facilitate all area theatre/performing arts groups and create a cooperative organization that would utilize the space more effectively and without scheduling conflicts.”
Their dream facility would boast 22,000 square feet (whereas their previous building occupied a limiting 4,500 sq. ft.) and would seat 180-230 patrons. It would be built with acoustics in mind so that it may be utilized for performances featuring live instruments, vocals, or spoken word with or without sound reinforcement.
The venue would feature not just a main performance area, but multiple workflow spaces, ideally three spaces including the main stage, a rehearsal stage, and a scene workshop, as well as adequate dressing rooms and green room, and all other amenities associated with a modern, fully functional theatre space.
“Ideally, the venue should be located in or near the Nellie Lutcher District to synergize with other similar facilities and the big-picture vision of the city leadership as it relates to the arts,” Partin says.
Now entering their 95th season this month, LCLT is seeking 100 corporate sponsors for their upcoming 100-year celebration. “We want to continue the tradition of live theatre in Lake Charles for future generations,” adds Partin.
For more information, go to thelclt.com, call (337) 433-7988, or find them on Facebook, @thelclt.
There’s a new ballet school in town! Dance Conservatory of Louisiana is opening this fall in Lake Charles.
Owner/instructor Katelyn Chargois is a Southwest Louisiana native. She studied with Lady Leah Lafargue and was promoted to principal at the age of 14 after joining the Lake Charles Civic Ballet. Chargois earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Ballet Performance from the University of Oklahoma, and after graduation, accepted a position dancing with the Tulsa Ballet.
After two seasons in Tulsa, Chargois returned home to Sulphur to pursue her Master of Science in Kinesiology at Lamar University. “During my master’s program, SWLA experienced Covid-19 shutdowns, two hurricanes, a freeze, a flood, etc.,” she recalls. “I saw the devastation of the arts community, studios closing, zoom ballet classes and dancers trying to take class around their living room furniture.”
Chargois remembers telling her family her ideas for boosting the arts community in the area. “My brother finally said, ‘Why don’t you just do it?’ At that point, we started having real conversations about me opening a dance studio in Lake Charles.”
The studio is located at 1301 E. McNeese St. and is currently undergoing construction. “I’m dedicated to helping dancers grow in a safe and healthy manner,” she explains. “I’m installing a professional level sprung floor to help protect dancers’ bodies. This floor is built by Ground Control Floors, a company of former professional ballet dancers.”
Chargois says classes include ballet, pointe, modern, tap, and strength and conditioning. “With my background in kinesiology and Pilates, teaching dancers how to properly use their bodies is extremely important to me. Not only do I want to push dancers to be their best; I also want them to learn how to take care of their bodies and stay active for a long time.”
The first day of classes for 2021-2022 will be September 7. This season, Chargois will teach all of the regularly scheduled classes. “But I’m dedicated to bringing in professionals to offer extra classes to the community on a regular basis,” she says. “I want the Dance Conservatory of Louisiana to be an open space for all dancers in SWLA. In August, I will be holding some open classes with professionals in disciplines such as hip hop, contemporary, and jazz. Look for announcements about those classes on Facebook.”
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Lake Charles native Jamar Simien wanted to use the quarantine time productively. He asked himself, “What’s the best way for an artist to honor the legacy of their favorite teacher and celebrate their home?” His answer? “Create a masterpiece.”
“After over a year of working on this project, I’m thrilled to share “The Best Ever” oil painting of Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow,” Simien says. “Born and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, art has always been a cornerstone in my life. Art is my gift, my safe place, and my most effective means of communication. From being ranked as the top high school art student in Louisiana in 2001, to traveling the world for the past 20 years studying art from different cultures . . . I can never forget my home. As an LSU alum from the class of 2007 and a diehard Tiger football fan, it was essential for me to paint our most iconic player doing the most iconic move in sports – the Heisman pose.”
Simien began work on this painting in April 2020. Over 200 hours of studio time and 15 months later, he revealed his painting to the public via social media. “I wanted it to be unforgettable, just like our undefeated season,” he says.
So, how does his favorite teacher come into the picture? Simien wanted to honor the legacy of Mrs. Bobbie Moon, his 3nd and 5th grade teacher. Moon, who passed away in 2015, was an artist and life-long LSU fan. “Mrs. Moon was creative, compassionate, and extremely giving. She also loved to paint with watercolors in her spare time. Through countless creative school and community service projects, she taught me how to think BIG. She changed the trajectory of my life.”
In collaboration with the Moon family, Simien created a scholarship fund called “The Bobbie Moon Art Scholarship.” This annual scholarship will give young artists from Lake Charles a chance to pursue their dreams of a college education. Portions of proceeds from “The Best Ever” original oil painting and Limited Edition prints through auctions, raffles and online print sales will fund the scholarship. “My goal is to use this painting to create a full circle impact,” Simien says. “The painting celebrates the greatest season in college football history, but more importantly, it gives back to my home.” Simien has also partnered with United Way of SWLA. Portions of the proceeds will aid in hurricane relief.
According to Mrs. Moon’s daughter, Anna Naquin, Bobbie Moon began teaching in 1986 at Henry Heights Elementary School. Her classroom was never the neatest, but she did create an exciting learning environment, complete with a reading loft, live animals, and plenty of craft and art materials. This was the environment that left a lasting impact on Simien.
Naquin says the Moon family is incredibly happy about Jamar’s goal to start helping high school seniors start their career in art. “Mom loved children and was creative in opening their eyes to many wonderful experiences.”
The Bobbie Moon Art Scholarship is open to all Southwest Louisiana high school seniors who were born in Louisiana and are pursuing an art-related degree within the state of Louisiana.
Jamar Simien’s 30”x40” original oil painting on canvas will be auctioned in Baton Rouge in 2022. Limited Edition signed and numbered prints are available. Find him on Facebook or email him, firstname.lastname@example.org