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by Madelaine Brauner Landry
When people’s stories are recognized, it does something. It creates possibilities. John Powell
With every stroke of the brush, the Lake Charles Gulf Coast Mural at Broad Street in Lake Charles became more powerful. The history of the North Lake Charles community became public art, transcending time and offering a visual timeline. Murals link past to future in a celebration and embrace of the people where it is located. Murals also elevate communities in the present, providing inspiration that points to what could be. Through their craft, muralists portray and preserve the identity and history of local residents.
Gulf Coast Murals Creative Director Dayna Reggero had a bold idea: With sponsorship from the Sierra Club, six cities were chosen as sites for murals that would depict the stories of marginalized communities that have been negatively affected by industry. When Lake Charles was chosen, business owner and resident Tasha Guidry agreed to be Project Manager. She assumed responsibility for hiring artists, securing a location, purchasing supplies, marketing and advertising, and planning the unveiling ceremony and reception. With the hiring of artists Shannon Dejean and Derrick Thornton, she knew this mural could marry the past to a brighter future for North Lake Charles (NLC).
‘We shared an idea from inception,” notes Guidry. “We would include depictions of historical places like Pryce’s Pharmacy, our only Black-owned Pharmacy; Mayo’s Grocery; Ball’s Fried Chicken; the fruit and vegetable stand on Moeling Street, which was around until Hurricane Laura; and Shattuck St. Park and Recreation Center. In our ongoing conversations, we agreed we wanted to illustrate a community that once thrived with businesses and things to do, but also no longer exists. We also shared the hope for North Lake Charles, one that could hold a future with a cleaner environment and increased positive economic development.”
With their team in place, the three assumed the challenge of planning and painting. None had previously done murals. They were all graduates of Washington Magnet High School and longtime NLC residents. Guidry recalls appreciating the creativity and synergy that were evident early on in their collaboration. “Derrick had just completed an Art Show at the Black Heritage Gallery; he had a clothing brand named Accidental Genius. Shannon owns Buku Designs, which produces promotional items – customized T-shirts, cups, banners, digital flyers, etc. Shannon also paints and draws.”
As plans unfolded, Dejean and Thornton agreed that the artwork must visually remind the community of what once was, while inspiring it to imagine what it could be again: United. Vibrant. Productive. Although they initially worked independently, they produced completed mural drawings over one weekend, via phone calls and emails.
“Derrick and I had worked on other projects prior to the mural. So when it came to the mural, our ideas, vision, and work came naturally. Two easily became one on this mural project.”
Meanwhile, Guidry scouted a highly visible location. Heavy traffic on Broad Street was one consideration, but the chosen site was also an area where many Black-owned businesses were decimated by the 2020 storms and couldn’t rebuild. “Currently, little is being done to revitalize the area,” she says. “Residents feel they are purposely being neglected. We do not intend to let the mural’s message be ignored.”
After two months of planning, the artists started painting. “Local residents stopped by often to offer love and support,” added Guidry. “The mural became something that truly belonged to them.”
Unveiling-Community Day arrived in November 2022. It was a day of festivities, with invitations extended to public officials. City Council members Craig Marks and Ronnie Harvey, Police Jury member Mike Smith, and City Marshall Nathan Keller attended, but Guidry says the community felt slighted that local government hadn’t sent more representatives to acknowledge the unity the mural had inspired.
National attention, however, was forthcoming. Regerro mentioned the colorful mural in her award-winning documentary, Gulf Coast Love Story. “This mural was a beautiful collaborative effort by the community,” she says. “And as Thornton says in my new film, ‘this mural is a seed of hope.’”
Ironically, one of the mural’s messages is “stop the violence.” This was of greatest importance to artist Thornton. Tragically, he was killed in a random robbery just months after completion; a victim of juveniles who were randomly looking for someone to rob.
“Derrick and I really wanted this mural to reflect the North Lake Charles that we grew up in,” says Dejean. “We also envisioned what it could become with the help and motivation of the community. The mural team does not want his life and art to have been in vain.”
Find this Gulf Coast Mural at the intersection of Broad and Shattuck St.