ART AS A DESTINATION
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Baton Rouge/Plantation Country
Baton Rouge has a remarkable number of artists and fine galleries. The most notable is Taylor Clark Gallery, 2623 Government St., which has been around for half a century. The Foyer, at 3655 Perkins Road, represents important local artists such as expressionist Louisiana landscape painter Rhea Gary. The Elizabethan Gallery, 680 Jefferson Highway, has an impressive stable of almost 30 area artists.
By far the greatest addition to Baton Rouge’s emerging art scene is the new LSU Museum of Art, located in the Shaw Center for the Arts at 100 Lafayette St. In addition to its permanent collection of fine art, including Louisiana paintings and furniture, American art, art glass, Newcomb Pottery and furniture, the museum has changing shows that feature regional and national artists. Showing through May 8 is Beyond Black, the museum’s first exhibit to recognize the contributions of black Louisiana abstract artists Ed Clark, Eugene Martin and John T. Scott. Opening May 29 is the 10th International Shoebox Sculpture Exhibition, featuring artists from all over the world and their shoebox-size sculptures that take on politics and social commentary, sometimes with humor.
The nearby Louisiana Art & Science Museum at 100 River Road, located on the riverfront in the city’s old train depot, also has an impressive collection of American and European art, Louisiana art, photography and antiquities from ancient Greece and Egypt. Kids – and adults – will enjoy the planetarium galleries that give a walk-through experience in our own solar system and universe. The museum’s schedule for May includes the dazzling and fun exhibit Cut! Costumes and Cinema, featuring 43 period costumes worn in 25 period films, such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Sherlock Holmes, The Duchess, The Phantom of the Opera and Howards End by actors Johnny Depp, Nicole Kidman and others.
The Southern University Museum of Art, located on the college campus in northern Baton Rouge, has an excellent collection, with changing shows, of African and African- American art.
Looking for good local art can be fun at the outdoor Baton Rouge Arts Market held on the first Saturday of the month downtown at Main and Fifth streets. Here one can find anything from landscape paintings and photographs to pottery, blown glass and handmade jewelry. The market will not be held in May. Instead, the Arts Council of Baton Rouge will have its downtown FestForAll on April 30 and May 1 with a packed schedule of music, food and the visual arts.
plantation country- darrow, destrehan and donaldsonville
In addition to the glorious plantations along the River Road, the River Parishes offer several art venues. Houmas House and Gardens in Darrow has a small shop that carries artwork and crafts from the region. Also, the historic Destrehan Plantation, which housed the Freedmen’s Bureau after the Civil War, holds its Fall Festival in November when scores of artists and craftspeople set up on the plantation’s lovely grounds. It’s a great opportunity to see good art and handmade crafts while eating great local food. Located in an outbuilding is a permanent display of Lorraine Gendron’s paintings of the 1811 bloody slave revolt that took place along the nearby River Road.
Cross the river on Jimmie Davis’ famous Sunshine Bridge to downtown Donaldsonville. The Grapevine Café, like its sister Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge, features the work of Louisiana artists, including Steve Schneider, David Horton and others. Down the street, stop by Rossie’s Custom Framing, where on most days you will see folk artist Alvin Batiste at work, painting by the front window overlooking the sidewalk. The walls are covered with his interpretation of the local landscape and history. While in Donaldsonville, visit the River Road African American Museum, located on Charles Street, which is dedicated to telling the story of African- Americans who lived and worked along the Mississippi.
Lafayette, Breaux Bridge and New Iberia
Lafayette is the physical and spiritual capital of Louisiana’s Acadian parishes. With its newly found wealth in the oil and gas industries, Lafayette has become the region’s artistic center. Along with major art institutions such as the magnificent Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum on the University of Louisiana campus (a must-visit), galleries and art spaces have sprung up all over the city, especially in historic downtown along Jefferson Street. On the second Saturday of the month, the Acadiana Center for the Arts, 101 W. Vermilion St., and nearby galleries host an evening gallery art walk to promote artists’ latest work. You’ll find at least half a dozen galleries within two blocks of the center. The center, with its three large exhibition spaces, changes shows every two or three months. In May, it will have its fourth annual Southern Open, a juried show with artists from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. In June, the Lafayette Art Association and Gallery, 1008 E. St. Mary Road, will have its All Members Show, a good opportunity to see what local artists are up to. Several other galleries, such as George Rodrigue Studio at 1434 S. College Road, are scattered around town.
Artists also have found a creative home in Breaux Bridge, which, like many small towns bypassed by interstate highways, has a good number of late-19th-century commercial buildings. In a time of changing economies, old storefronts have found new life as art galleries and cafés. In fact, about a dozen galleries can be found in the historic district with art ranging from folk to funk, from worked metal to chain saw sculpture and from the purely aesthetic to the aesthetic and functional. Even coffee houses and cafés such as the famous Café des Amis feature local artists and musicians. Breaux Bridge has become a haven for many artists, including those from the New Orleans area looking for a refuge after Hurricane Katrina.
Down the road in New Iberia – home of the Shadows-on-the-Teche plantation house and mystery novelist James Lee Burke’s Detective Robicheaux – are several downtown art galleries, including A&E Gallery on West St. Peter Street and Karen Alvarez Gallery nearby on Main Street. The A&E gallery represents 20 local artists. Each spring and fall, the city sponsors downtown art walks. An event not to miss each spring is the Shadows-on-the-Teche Arts and Crafts Festival where one can find work by local craftspeople, including metal-workers, potters and furniture-makers.
Lake Charles and Jennings
Lake Charles has a growing art scene. In addition to the architectural splendor of the city’s Charpentier Historic District, Lake Charles has a number of venues for artists to show their work, including The Imperial Calcasieu Museum, 204 W. Sallier St. It has several spaces dedicated to permanent and changing art shows. The museum also has an impressive outdoor sculpture garden displaying the work of renowned Louisiana artist Lynda Benglis. The museum’s Gallery Annex sells work by Louisiana artists.
The Central School Arts and Humanities Center, 809 Kirby St., features several galleries, including the Art Associates Gallery, the city’s oldest art organization, with nationally known artists; the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu; art studios for local artists; and the Black Heritage Art Gallery, which is on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail. Ryan Street in the city’s historic business district has several commercial art galleries, including Charleston Gallery Antiques, 900 Ryan St., featuring local artists; Associated Louisiana Artists, with regional artists and an art center at 106 W. Lawrence St.; and Abercrombie Gallery at McNeese State University, which shows work by internationally known artists and art students from around the nation. The Frame House Gallery, 1640 Ryan St., highlights Louisiana artists across the state. If outdoor art is your thing, stop by Elton Louviere’s gallery at 222-B Highway 171 in Moss Bluff north of Lake Charles.
Another interesting stop is the 1911 Historic City Hall Arts and Cultural Center, 1001 Ryan St., housed in the city’s century-old former City Hall. The center has regularly changing art shows, including one this May for the acclaimed Los Angeles sculptor Peter Shire. In June, the center will hang two photography shows, one documenting the life of Muhammad Ali and another on the blues in the Mississippi Delta. Lake Charles has its gallery walks in the spring (ArtWalk) and on Sept. 23 (Gallery Promenade). For a schedule, visit www.artsandhumanitiesswla.org. In addition, each spring McNeese State University holds its arts and humanities Banners Series, which has become Southwest Louisiana’s cultural event of the year.
In nearby Jennings, stop by the Zigler Museum, 411 Clara St., which has an impressive collection of Louisiana, American and European art. In addition to its rotating exhibits of guest artists, the museum boasts the largest collection of artwork by the renowned black artist William Tolliver.
Shreveport and Natchitoches
Shreveport’s historic district is undergoing a major renaissance thanks to the growing medical center and nearby casinos. The city also has a number of first-rate art museums and galleries, representing artwork for almost any taste. In addition to changing art shows, the R.W. Norton Art Gallery, located in the city’s lovely Highland neighborhood, has an impressive collection of American and European art, including works by the renowned Western artists Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. In May and June, the museum will have a special show, Great Masters of Cuban Art: 1800-1958. On the first Saturday of each month, the museum has a guided tour of its collection that explores specific themes, such as women in art or how American Indians are depicted in art. Check the museum’s Web site to see what’s up in May and June.
For classical and vernacular art, the Meadows Museum of Art on the Centenary College campus is worth a visit. With a permanent collection numbering more than 1,500 works of art ranging from the German expressionists and French Academic artist Jean Despujols to Louisiana sculptor Clyde Connell, the Meadows has regularly changing shows that often feature Louisiana artists, such as the whimsical sculpture of Shreveport artist Bennett Sewell, who gives new life to objects he finds at garage sales, junkyards and places where society’s flotsam waits
to be rediscovered.
Southern University’s Museum of Art also is located downtown at 610 Texas St. One of two area stops on the state’s African American Heritage Trail, the museum boasts a collection of more
200 artworks by African and African- American artists.
The Louisiana State Exhibit Museum, located at 3015 Greenwood Road and housed in an art deco Depression-era building, is primarily a history museum, but it often features area artists. In May and June, the museum will feature abstract paintings by Thomas Pressly Jr. In August, the Shreveport Art Club will hold its annual juried art show.
Artspace, 710 Texas St. in the city’s Downtown West Edge Arts District, is an impressive venue for the visual, performing and literary arts. Run by the Shreveport Regional Arts Council, this is the place to go to see what’s going on in the region’s contemporary art scene. To see what’s planned for this summer, visit Artspace’s Web site at artspaceshreveport.com. Like many downtown historic districts, Shreveport has its monthly art walks. From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month, the Shreveport Regional Arts Council sponsors TNT Express with free trolley rides to downtown galleries and museums.
Also located downtown is the Barnwell Garden and Art Center, which overlooks the Red River at 601 Clyde Fant Parkway. Along with its lovely gardens, the center regularly has changing art exhibits that include local, regional and national artists. A new venue in town is the Port of Shreveport/Bossier’s new Regional Conference Center, which showcases 35 large and striking photographs of the port by award-winning Shreveport photographer Neil Johnson.
Not to be missed is Shreveport’s annual Red River Revel held Oct. 1-8 along the city’s riverfront. In addition to food booths and performances, the eight-day outdoor festival features artwork by more than 100 artists from across the country. This has become quite an event in Northwest Louisiana.
For an up-to-date look at what’s happening in the Shreveport-Bossier art scene, visit www.shreveportbossierfunguide.com.
About an hour south of Shreveport is the delightful colonial city of Natchitoches. Although it doesn’t have an active gallery scene, the early-19th-century architecture in Louisiana’s oldest city is itself a magnificent gallery. The Natchitoches Art Guild, 584 Front St. in Old Town, does feature artwork by at least two dozen local artists. Each spring the guild sponsors Art Along the Bricks, an outdoor art show in the Historic District to promote local artists. The architecture alone is worth a trip to Natchitoches.
This north-central Louisiana city, known for its exceptional peaches, has an impressive arts community of potters, sculptors, painters and craftspeople. Its downtown business district, unlike many across the nation, is very much alive with typical Main Street shops, department stores, cafés, a courthouse, lawyers’ offices, insurance companies and art galleries. To give artists the public exposure they need, in early November the Northcentral Louisiana Arts Council sponsors the Holiday Arts Tour, a self-guided tour of artists’ studios throughout the downtown area and in the nearby countryside. More than 100 local artists and craftspeople participate at 20 or more locations.
A visit to Ruston should begin on Vienna Street, one of the city’s main drags. The first stop is the old Dixie Theater, now the Dixie Center for the Arts, 212 N. Vienna St. When the theater opened in 1928 as the New Astor Theatre, it quickly became a popular stop in the Vaudeville circuit. The Dixie is now home to the Piney Hills Gallery, which boasts a juried membership of 45 Ruston-area artists. Other great places to see local art include Art Innovations, 207 N. Trenton; A Bistro, 102 N. Monroe; Frame Up Gallery at 102 N. Vienna; and the Chartreuse Pear, a few doors down at 108 N. Vienna. All feature local artists. Not far from Ruston, in the forest and hills of Pea Ridge 5 miles northeast of Ruston, is Kent and Libby Follette’s pottery studio and showroom. Everything about Follette Pottery, located at 1991 Pea Ridge Road, is worth seeing.
Louisiana Tech University’s School of Art, located in the Visual Arts Center at 1 Mayfield St., has two galleries that show artwork by student and faculty artists and nationally acclaimed visiting artists.
Monroe and West Monroe
The center of Northeast Louisiana’s art solar system is the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe. Housed in a 1920s Tudor-designed home, the museum has an excellent permanent collection of artwork by renowned artists such as Thomas Hart Benton, Mary Cassatt, Salvador Dali and others. It’s an excellent museum with changing exhibits, lecture series and other public programs. Showing in May through July is the museum’s 48th Annual Juried Competition, featuring regional and national artists. Six times a year, Monroe’s Downtown Art Alliance sponsors the Downtown Gallery Crawl in Monroe’s historic cultural district along the Ouachita River. In addition to music and food, the gallery walk includes almost a dozen galleries. This summer the crawls are scheduled for June 2 and Aug. 4. For a list of participating galleries, visit www.downtowngallerycrawl.com.
For a taste of local art, visit the Ouachita River Art Gallery on Trenton Street across the river in West Monroe. With a stable of 28 regional artists, the gallery is a nonprofit artists’ co-op that includes various media from landscape paintings to ceramics and jewelry. Like so many small towns, West Monroe’s turn-of-the-century business district was in its death throes when it found new life not in the high-tech information age but in business. The 200 and 300 blocks of Trenton Street, bounded by the old mill at one end and the railroad river trestle at the other, are lined with shops, art galleries and small cafés. Antique Alley, as the locals call it, has given new life to Trenton Street.
The art of seeing Louisiana is through the eyes and imaginations of its artists.