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October is National Arts & Humanities Month and Thrive magazine is taking full advantage of the opportunity to spread the word about all the fabulous arts and cultural organizations and activities we enjoy right here in Southwest Louisiana. From its earliest days and continuing today, our region has been a hotbed for the arts – the heartbeat that has brought energy and entertainment to SWLA through music, dance, theater and visual arts. This vital arts community took a hard hit over the past two years, forcing art promoters to creatively find new outlets and avenues to provide our community with cultural experiences. The boards and directors of local arts organizations were up to the challenge, ensuring that no matter the storms that come, art is alive and thriving in Southwest Louisiana. In this special cover section, we celebrate the arts and spotlight a small sampling of the extensive arts opportunities in and around the Lake Area. When it comes to arts and culture, there is always something new and exciting to experience in our corner of the state!
Gators will be on the Geaux Again!
by Kristy Como Armand
Be on the lookout for gators in the Lake Area. The Lake Charles Symphony has launched the return of the very successful Gators on the Geaux public art display, 20 years after the original campaign.
“After the hardship our region has faced over the past two years, it seemed like the perfect time to bring back the Gators,” said Beth Dawdy, Executive Director of the Lake Charles Symphony. “Gators on the Geaux showcases the culture and creativity of Southwest Louisiana in a really fun, engaging way.”
Sponsors of Gators on the Geaux receive a life-sized, fiberglass Gator to display at their business or residence. The Gators are transformed into unique works of art by local artists and then delivered to the sponsor for public display. Several sponsorship options are available.
The original Gators on the Geaux art project included 70 gators. Although some of these originals are still on display, many have been damaged or destroyed by the elements, including several hurricanes over the past two decades.
“We have received many requests to bring them back and the 20-year mark makes the timing feel right for a resurgence as our community is coming back strong from the natural disasters of 2020 and 2021,” said Beverly Jones, president-elect for the Symphony’s Board of Directors.
The first new Gator was unveiled at a Comeback Party in September. It was painted by local artist Candice Alexander who said her design was inspired by the hurricane recovery that Southwest Louisiana has faced. It features many recognizable symbols, including pelicans, pistols like those on the I-10 bridge, cardinals, a hurricane, a flag, and pieces of glass from the Capital One building. The Gator will be on display in Alexander’s shop until it is auctioned off. Raffles for the Gator will take place during the 2022-2023 Symphony Season, Oct. 2 -April 16.
Another popular feature of Gators on the Geaux will also make a comeback – the Gator Hunting Map. This map will be available online and in print to help guide “gator hunters” across the community to view all the Gators on the Geaux. “Technology advances, such as social media, will make the new Gators on the Geaux a much more interactive experience, which will also benefit the sponsors of the Gators,” said Jones.
“Getting a Gator for your business or organization is a great way to support not only the Lake Charles Symphony, but also the arts in our community,” added Dawdy. “Local artists will benefit from participating and the public display will add a new cultural destination to our region.”
The Gators on the Geaux fundraiser benefits the Lake Charles Symphony and is conducted in partnership with the Arts & Humanities Council of SWLA and Visit Lake Charles.
Gator on the Geaux sponsorship options and artist applications are available at www.SymphonyGators.com.
Recovery Spotlight: Lake Charles Little Theatre
Over the course of its 95 years, the Lake Charles Little Theatre has lost every one of its homes to God’s elements — fire, water, wind — but the show still goes on. Hurricane Laura destroyed the Lake Charles Little Theatre’s (LCLT’s) 813 Enterprise Blvd. venue – its home for 35 years – and flattened the theatre’s historic adjunct building next door. However, it’s been said that a community theatre is not the building itself, but the people who take part – and since the storm, LCLT has proven that time and again.
PATH TO RECOVERY
Despite hurricane destruction that left it homeless, LCLT has soldiered on by producing plays, underwriting local cultural events, and partnering with other organizations.These efforts have advanced the theatre’s mission to offer opportunities to see and participate in live theatre. Along the way, the theatre engaged in combat drama with its insurance company. A year-plus legal joust, with the force of the court, allowed LCLT to recover what it now calls an equitable return on the coverage.
It also has rebuilt and replenished its volunteer board of directors — adding an educator, a former Arts Council executive director, and two past LCLT presidents — as it explores its path for the future.
Most importantly, here and now, the theatre has found alternate places and pathways to offer entertainment and acting opportunities.
LIVE, FROM . . . EVERYWHERE
The LCLT’s creative adaptation began even before Hurricane Laura’s destruction.The shutdown and pandemic had already made 2020 miserable, reducing the theatre’s audience to zero. Looking for a way to reach Southwest Louisiana, LCLT turned to McNeese State University community radio station KBYS and its general manager, David Wynn. LCLT arranged to record local actors performing It’s a Wonderful Life, the holiday film classic, in bit-by-bit, Covid-conscious segments. KBYS sanitized the microphone between each performer, assisted in adding sound effects to the assembled show — and aired it just before Christmas.
The LCLT has partnered with KBYS several times since to “see it on the radio.” The LCLT also was an underwriter of Paul Strickland’s McNeese visit for 90 Lies an Hour and the Banners special presentation of August: Osage County.
BACK ON STAGE
LCLT has returned to live-audience presentations, in guest locations, for 2022-23. The courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men last month scored LCLT’s biggest opening-night crowd for a season opener in 37 years. It was staged at the Cash & Carry events center.
Next up is the beloved musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown Oct. 19-23 at the Tritico Theatre. It’s a joint partnership with McNeese Theatre. Director Paul Pharris is a shared talent as both a McNeese instructor and an LCLT board member. Also coming this season is Meshuggah-Nuns, part of the enormously popular series of Nunsense musical comedies. In this version, the Little Sisters of Hoboken sail on a “Faith of All Nations” for ecumenical laughter. The show will open in January. The Little Theatre will also announce a surprise musical revue later this season.
In between all this, the theatre will again partner with KBYS for another It’s a Wonderful Life live radio show in mid-December. All roles for all upcoming shows will be cast via open auditions.
In short: LCLT is back, and all over town. For more information, visit the LCLT Facebook page or lclittletheatre.com.
Lake Area Ballet Theatre Keeping the Art of Dance Alive in SWLA
by Angie Kay Dilmore
It’s been a challenging three years for Colleen Benoit, owner of Lake Charles Dance Academy (LCDA) and the artistic director of the non-profit organization Lake Area Ballet Theatre (LABT).
LCDA and LABT temporarily closed in March of 2020 when the pandemic hit, which also meant canceling the annual LABT Spring Gala and LCDA year-end recital. Fast-forward to August 2020; students returned to dance classes with masks and the CDC’s protocols. “Despite a different dance environment, they worked hard and still found joy in dance,” said Benoit. Then Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Delta took aim at our community.
Fortunately, the Academy was not severely damaged and reopened. “The dancers were elated that we were going to open, allowing them to return to ‘normalcy’ with dance after the hurricanes,” Benoit said. Sadly, many of her students were displaced, some permanently. The greatest impact of these two storms to the dance community was the destruction of the Rosa Hart Theatre. Their annual performance of The Nutcracker did not take place that year due to COVID-19 restrictions and the loss of the Rosa Hart Theatre. But Benoit was determined to keep her dancers active and in the public eye by finding other opportunities for them to perform. “LABT dancers performed downtown in front of Historic City Hall in the Art 6-feet Apart series. Spring Gala 2021 took place in the Exhibition Hall of the Lake Charles Civic Center, free to the public. LABT company members also performed downtown at the Spring Art Walk. And finally, our LCDA students performed in their 2021 recital in the Civic Center Coliseum.”
With pandemic restrictions still in place in 2021, LABT moved forward in their production of The Nutcracker minus the school performances. Benoit secured McNeese State University’s Tritico Theatre for three public performances of the beloved show, though with that venue’s smaller seating capacity (550 seats compared to Rosa Hart’s 2000 seats), all the shows sold out.
Now in 2022, Benoit continues to fight for performance space. She has spoken to Civic Center management on a completion timeline about Rosa Hart Theatre; possibly May 2023 is being said. Again this year, The Nutcracker performances will be at McNeese State University’s Tritico Theatre for three public and two school shows. LABT currently has no space to perform the Spring Gala 2023. “At this point, there isn’t a theater available to use. We are so grateful to McNeese State University and their staff for allowing our LABT to use their facility this fall.” Benoit says.
Benoit has advocated for additional theater space with the recent increase in performance-type productions in SWLA, while many theaters are still under repair. “We need a theater that seats at least 1000 with the same performance space as the Rosa Hart. Rosa Hart will be a welcome relief once open, but another theater, seating at least 1000, would help bring the arts back to full swing and allow the performing arts to have the opportunity to continue growing in the Lake Area.
The silver lining through the struggles? Benoit says her dancers have learned perseverance through these challenges. “They have witnessed from my tireless efforts to get them on stage that ‘when there is a will, there is a way.’ They also saw that as long as you bring your joy of performing to an audience, it doesn’t matter where you dance.” Benoit urges everyone in the community to support ALL SWLA’s arts groups by attending shows and performances while we patiently wait for continued recovery for our region.
For more information on LCDA and LABT, visit their websites firstname.lastname@example.org and www.lakeareaballettheatre.com or call 337-477-1510. You can also find them on Facebook or Instagram.
Historic City Hall Arts & Cultural Center
Historic City Hall has made major strides in its recovery from the events of the past two and a half years, beginning with the COVID-19 pandemic and through the storms of 2020.
“Considerable thought has gone into rebuilding the structure to ensure that it better serves the citizens of Southwest Louisiana,” says Matt Young, Director of Cultural Affairs for the City of Lake Charles. “Considered to be the crown jewel in our downtown district, History City Hall is being reconfigured to utilize the building’s front entrance, so that visitors enter and exit through the front doors on the Ryan Street plaza. That way, we’ll also be able to better program the front plaza with outdoor concerts, performances, and mid-week lunch events.”
Young says they’ve added solar control tint to the windows, so that blackout fabric is no longer necessary to protect works of art. “This alone has helped brighten the building on the inside and made the Center more attractive on the outside. We removed obsolete teller windows that were once necessary, and large retail windows were added to the first floor gallery. These components, along with the educational value offered through the many nationally-touring and local exhibits, has greatly enhanced the quality of life in the City. Red clay tiles and copper finials will soon be returned to the roof, and the bell tower repairs should wrap up near the end of this year. We’re planning to host grand reopening receptions at both Historic City Hall and Central School just after the first of the year.
Fall Exhibits at Historic City Hall include:
Love Your Selfie
This series of pop-up “selfie” studios was created by local artists. The studios are brought to life in the third-floor gallery and are interactive, immersive, and “Instagrammable.” The curated studios encourage guests to be immersed in the space and of course, “pose for a selfie.” Visitors can expect pops of color, texture, and lights across the studios. Open through 10/29/22
In an age of complex environmental challenges, why not look to the ingenuity of nature for solutions? This exhibition brings together art and design with environmental science using both scientific and artistic objects, as well as interactive learning stations. 11/11/22 to 01/07/23
Gallery by the Lake presents Hit Me with Your Best Shot. Celebrating South Louisiana’s beloved bird-watching hot spot, they host this national competition and exhibition of photographs of birds found in the United States. Nov. 11, 2022 – Jan. 7, 2023. You can also find them at Meet Me at the Market events and Chuck Fest. The Gallery hosts a variety of art workshops throughout the year that are open to the public. For more information, see their website, www.gallerybythelake.org.
The Black Heritage Gallery features Nathaniel A. Landry who partners with his father, Nathaniel “Pops” Landry, in bringing a fusion of pop art and wood sculptor to the gallery. This father-son team has presented various art shows throughout the state. Nathaniel A. is an illustrator, painter, and hip hop emcee. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Southern University in Fine Arts and a master’s degree in Sequential Art from The Savannah College of Art and Design. Currently, Nathaniel A. is exploring the realms of Afro-futuristic Abstract Expressionism. Pops Landry is an illustrator and wood sculptor who studied under icon Frank Hayden. He will bring his latest sculptured pieces. The exhibit will be on display from Oct 7 – Nov 19, 2022.
Historic City Hall Arts and Cultural Center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. at 1001 Ryan Street, Lake Charles. Admission to all exhibitions is free to the public. Follow them on Facebook or sign up for their newsletter to stay connected. For more information, call
Imperial Calcasieu Museum
Imperial Calcasieu Museum, located at 204 W Sallier St, Lake Charles, has served our five-parish region with a focus on art and local history for 54 years. They have a wide variety of events this Fall!
Local Group Ceramicist Show (Van Putten, Williams, Cessac) – 10/28/22 – 12/23/22. A great collaborative show with three local ceramicists.
Haunted History Exhibit – 10/1/22 – 11/5/22. Exhibit includes artifacts collected from around the Imperial Calcasieu area as well as tons of historical information about them. Many pieces with mysterious origins and stories. Think odd and spooky!
Christmas Tree & Model Train Exhibit – 11/18/22 – 12/30/22. The O Gauge Model Railroad Organization is putting together a big model train exhibition, roughly 30×12 ft in size with running trains. This will be a great history lesson and immersive experience for adults and kids alike.
Train Demonstration with Thad Carter – Friday, 12/1/22. This event coincides with the O Gauge Model Railroad Org’s Exhibit. Mr. Carter resides in Marshall, Tx, but during his time in the Lake Area, he wrote a book on Lake Charles railroad history with input from the Imperial Calcasieu Museum. Local Boy Scout Troops will assist with the setup of the exhibit and will also be sitting in on this talk to earn a Railroad Merit Badge. They’ll serve winter treats, and Mr. Carter’s book, The Railroads of Lake Charles, will be available for purchase and signing that evening.
Upscale Attic Sale – 10/10/22 – 10/16/22. This is a great volunteer opportunity! They’re currently looking for donors with items to sell for this event along with items they’re deaccessing. With so many items they’re sifting through for a nearly week-long event, it’ll be all hands that they can get on deck! Think “Garage Scale Gets an Upgrade.” If you’re interested in volunteering your time, efforts, or donating items, please send them an email to email@example.com
Spirits Under the Oak – Thursday, 10/27/22. Local historian Adley Cormier will be visiting and sitting in a stately chair, telling ghost stories as we sip on spirits through the evening. *Tickets purchased in advance*
Yoga Under the Oak is a great community they have built with the help of their instructor, Maegan Gonzales. She leads a yoga session focusing primarily on meditative breathing, which is healing and restorative for the soul, especially under the gorgeous branches of the Historic Sallier Oak. Yoga Under the Oak sessions continue October 8 and 22. Setup begins at 8:30 a.m. and practice is from 9:00-10:00(ish) a.m.
Gelli Printing – Sara Smith of Papersmith – 10/13/22. Join in as we use fun prints and colors to layer a beautifully textured piece. Attendees will be using patterns and paint to build their creations. Cost is $60 for non-members, $52.50 for members.
Pamphlet Making – Rosemary Jesionowski of McNeese – 11/3/22. Learn how to bind sheets into a journal using stitching techniques. Use your pamphlet for note-taking, sketching, or gifting! Cost is $60 for non-members, $52.50 for members.
Handmade Journals – Rosemary Jesionowski – 11/17/22. Learn how to create a journal using bookbinding techniques Use your journal for recipes, reminders, or gifting – the possibilities are endless! Cost is $100 for non-members, $86 for members.
Become a Member
There are so many perks that come with being a member including free museum admission, previews to exhibit openings, getting the first look at some of our events such as our attic sale, along with discounts on workshops and gift shop purchases to name a few!
For more information or to join or renew your membership or if are unsure of your status, call 337-439-3797 during museum hours, or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. Open Wed. – Sat. 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Dr. Francis G. Bulber Youth Orchestra
by Danley Romero
Lake Charles offers musicians of many types and skill levels opportunities to perform, providing audiences with a range of musical experiences. The Dr. Francis G. Bulber Youth Orchestra (FGBYO) caters to young musicians, ages 8-18, while also creating performance and instruction opportunities for McNeese music majors.
The organization was started in 1993 by Dr. George Middleton, Founder and Director of the Governor’s Program for Gifted Children and named after the late Dr. Francis G. Bulber. It offers various levels of ensemble instrumental instruction, including beginner through advanced strings, a symphony orchestra with winds, brass and percussion, and guitar ensembles.
One student, who started at the youth orchestra as a beginner and now plays in its most advanced ensembles, says, “I grew up in the orchestra. All of my experiences have been very good, and I love being able to go out in the community and bring joy to people and getting to do it with all of my friends. And I made many of these friends in the orchestra.”
The organization currently has thirty-six students enrolled and has been rebuilding its numbers after a temporary closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic and hurricanes. In conjunction with the McNeese State University String Project, the youth orchestra was honored earlier this year with the Outstanding National String Project Consortium Award by the American String Teachers Association.
“The impact of the FGBYO on our lives cannot be quantified,” writes Emma Guillory, Executive Director of the organization. She mentions the nearly 30 years of music-making; performances in Historic City Hall for Arts Fest; a tribute concert to the Stones/Beatles in Rosa Hart Theatre involving FGBYO members; nursing home performances; current and former students performing with the Lake Charles Symphony; alumni who became school music directors, church cantors and priests in SWLA (and one at the Vatican); and the countless music educators enriching the lives of children all over the United States. “Youth music education is an important part of our lives,” Guillory adds.
Music, community, and education are at the heart of this organization. An effort is made to keep the program affordable and accessible to interested students who meet twice a week on McNeese’s campus after school hours. In addition to the regular fall and spring semesters, the organization offers a summer music camp. More information can be found on their website or Facebook page.
Danley Romero began playing cello with FGBYO in 2006 and was a member until 2015. He studied music and English at Loyola University New Orleans and attended the University of New Hampshire to study fiction writing and poetry. Danley teaches school, instructs cello privately and with FGBYO, performs cello in the community, and writes.
Update on Central School Arts & Humanities Center
Located at 809 Kirby St. in Lake Charles, Central School Arts & Humanities Center was designed and built by noted New Orleans architects Favrot & Livaudais in 1912. It originally functioned as an elementary school and was repurposed as an arts and humanities center in 1995. Its classrooms have been home to the Lake Charles Symphony, the Children’s Theatre Company, the Arts and Humanities Council, the Literacy Council and dozens of other cultural organizations and individual artists over the years. This beloved facility suffered considerable damage from Hurricanes Laura and Delta in 2020 and is still under repairs.
But being temporarily displaced has not stopped these organizations from continuing to provide arts and entertainment to Southwest Louisiana. Each has found alternative performance spaces and the means to bring their programs and events the community.
Meanwhile, the City of Lake Charles is working to ensure the repairs will render the facility more useful than what was there before. “We’re working with tenants to improve lighting and sound in the Benjamin Mount Theatre, as well as make these public spaces accessible and able to accommodate outdoor events and pop-up festivals,” says Matt Young, Director of Cultural Affairs for the City of Lake Charles. “We’ve also been very careful to preserve the unique and historic charm of the classrooms by saving original chalkboards, original woodwork, and light fixtures. Central School was the first publicly funded arts center in Louisiana, and the City has gone to great lengths to ensure its continued success.”
Arts & Humanities Council of SWLA
Central School has been home to the Arts and Humanities Council of Southwest Louisiana since its inception in 1979. Their mission is to support arts and culture initiatives, events, and organizations in the five-parish area that bring a unique cultural experience to local citizens, and to help bolster tourism and economic growth through the arts and humanities. Since 2005, they have allocated nearly $2 million to SWLA communities through four annual grant programs. The Arts Council hosts numerous arts-related events throughout the year.
Fall 2022 events include:
Chuck Fest is a celebration of all things Louisiana and an event that the Arts Council is taking full ownership of for the first time. This 12-hour outdoor music festival will take place in downtown Lake Charles from 12:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. on October 22, 2022. The event will feature performances by 27 musical acts that all have an association with the area including Flamethrowers, LeTraniump, Jarvis Jacob and the Gents, and The Charlie Wayne Band. Food vendors at the event are all homegrown restaurants, and local artists will be on hand to offer their handmade pieces for sale. Event is free and open to the public.
The annual Living History Cemetery Tour will follow on Sunday, November 6, 2022, at which time ticket buyers can take guided walking tours through several local cemeteries and hear the stories of some of the prominent figures buried there as local actors tell their stories in period dress. Tickets can be purchased at www.eventbrite.com
The Holiday Art Walk will finish out the year of events for the Arts and Humanities Council on November 26 to coincide with Small Business Saturday. This event is similar to their Spring Art Walk, both in scope and footprint, and will run from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Event is free and open to the public.