Whether you are traveling Louisiana highways to visit great plantation houses along the rivers or in search of a night of two-steppin’ at a Cajun juke joint or perhaps a gastronomic binge at some of the best (though shady-looking) dives and cafés, you should also consider a journey through the imaginations of Louisiana’s artists wherever the itinerary might take them.
Traveling Louisiana’s highways and back roads can be a renewing experience, not simply for the sake of travel or seeing new places but also to experience an ever-changing landscape that has inspired artists for generations. Except for mountains, though Louisiana does have a few small hills here and there, Louisiana has it all, especially for artists drawn to the landscape. Across the state, painters, sculptors and photographers have opened their imaginations to the seemingly endless variations of the state’s landscape with its seemingly impenetrable swamps, flat delta land and prairies that disappear into the horizon, pine and hardwood forests, rutted sugar cane and cotton fields and the Mississippi River. Seeing how artists respond to that landscape can be as rewarding as a meat pie in Natchitoches or the sensuous rhythms of a Cajun waltz in Mamou.
Since the late 1980s, cultural tourism has been big business in Louisiana. Practically every major city in Louisiana has at least one art museum and several art galleries and working artists. With the help of successful marketing devices such as gallery walks, art galleries have helped eliminate the intimidation people once felt about going into galleries and buying art. Here’s a look at important art locations across the state.
Alexandria, located in Central Louisiana on the Red River, is working hard to transform its downtown business district into a center for the visual and performing arts. The Alexandria Museum of Art, located on the riverfront at 933 Main St., is impressive. Housed in a circa 1898 bank building, the museum has excellent exhibition spaces and programs with an extensive collection of work by Louisiana artists and the state’s largest collection of North Louisiana folk art. The second Saturday of each month, the museum holds Market at the Museum with local artists, music and art activities for the kids. Three shows open on May 13 – Copley to Warhol: 250 Years of American Art Celebrating the Centennial of the New Orleans Museum of Art, an invitational exhibition for faculty and friends of the museum and Saga of the Acadians by George Rodrigue.
Also located in Alexandria is the Arna Bontemps African American Museum, 1327 Third St., and the River Oaks Square Arts Center, 1330 Main St., an imposing complex that provides studio space for painters, sculptors and photographers to do what they do best – create art. The Arna Bontemps Museum is dedicated to the memory of native son Arna Bontemps, a writer, poet and scholar on the Harlem Renaissance. The museum also mounts exhibits that explore black history and culture.
The River Oaks Square Arts Center is a vital part of the city’s efforts to create an active downtown arts district. The center consists of two separate but connected buildings on Main Street in the heart of downtown. One is a grand late-19th-century front-galleried Victorian Queen Anne Revival house donated to the city in 1979. The second structure, the annex, is a 15,000-square-foot modern, minimalist-style two-story brick building. Together, they have two large galleries and more than 30 studios for the approximately 40 resident artists. The center mounts changing art shows during the year where regional and resident artists can show and sell their work. The center also invites other Louisiana artists from outside the area to display their artwork. In May, the center will have two shows by local artists, including one about monkeys.
Greater New Orleans
The city is a national arts destination with galleries ranging from blue-chippers, representing well-known and pricey regional and national names, to small spaces showing everything from outsider, folk, funk and ethnic to traditional and avant-garde. One gallery owner described it best: “New York art is more abstract. We have more soul.”
The New Orleans Museum of Art, now one of the largest art museums in the South, has all the European and Asian artwork one would expect in a major museum. But more important, it has changing shows featuring historic Louisiana art and, even more interesting, acclaimed contemporary New Orleans-area artists. Celebrating its centennial this year, the museum has scheduled a number of shows throughout 2011 that explore its vast and diverse collections. From May through July, the museum will feature Ancestors of Congo Square: African Art at the New Orleans Museum of Art, consisting of 200 examples of African tribal art from NOMA’s permanent collection, considered one of the finest in America.
The Big Easy has four districts: the French Quarter; the Arts District; Magazine Street; and, more recently,
St. Claude Avenue in the city’s Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods below the French Quarter. Each has distinct personalities. The French Quarter has almost 30 galleries with a mixed regional and international flavor. Most are located along Royal and Chartres streets with a few on connecting cross streets. Some of the older galleries include Bryant Galleries, representing nationally acclaimed Kansas artist Dean Mitchell, and Windsor Fine Art with paintings and works on paper by Rembrandt, Picasso, Miró, Renoir, Dali and Dürer. A Gallery for Fine Photography on Chartres Street stocks a remarkable inventory of images by scores of the world’s greatest present and past photographers. Other galleries specialize in fine 19th-century European paintings. George Rodrigue fans will have a field day at his gallery on Royal and Orleans.
Located not far from the French Quarter is the Arts District, the New Orleans version of New York’s SoHo.
Located primarily on Julia Street, the Arts District attracts travelers who are not shy about buying art. Major galleries in the district include Arthur Roger, LeMieux, New Orleans School of Glassworks and Printmaking Studio, Jonathan Ferrara, Heriard-Cimino, Gallery Bienvenu and Martine Chaisson Gallery. Unquestionably, Arthur Roger Galleries, which could hold its own in any major art market, is the most impressive space in the district. Here one finds more than a score of national and regional artists. Art or studio glass also has found a place in the city’s art scene at New Orleans Glassworks on Magazine Street in the Arts District.
The Arts District’s heart and creative soul is the Contemporary Arts Center on Camp Street, which has introduced gallery-goers to the edgy work of local artists and nationally prominent names in contemporary art for decades. The CAC is celebrating its 35th anniversary with Then & Now, a show featuring the past and current work of 14 artists who showed at the CAC during its first five years of existence. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art across the street is the newest addition to the city’s art scene. The Ogden has an ambitious program that features contemporary and historic Southern art. Through mid-July, the museum is featuring the work of two internationally acclaimed Gulf Coast artists: John Alexander and Walter Anderson, both of whom were greatly influenced by the region’s coastal landscape.
Other art markets also have caught on in the city. The Bywater Art Market, located at 3620 Royal St. in the Bywater area and associated with the New Orleans Conservation Guild, has a gallery that sells work by local artists. Not to be outdone, Uptown New Orleans has its outdoor Art at the Market in Palmer Park on the last Saturday of each month, featuring scores of artists and craftspeople for all tastes in art. The dates this spring and summer are April 30, May 28, June 25 and July 30.
Moving uptown from the Arts District, Magazine Street, remarkable for its wonderful mix of antique shops and 19th-century New Orleans-style Victorian architecture, also has a good mix of galleries that feature local and outside artists. Although a dozen or more galleries are located along this 6-mile avenue, the better-known ones are the New Orleans Academy of Fine Art’s Academy Gallery, Cole Pratt Gallery and Carol Robinson Gallery. Most of these galleries show accomplished and acclaimed regional artists as well as emerging artists. Cole Pratt Gallery, for example, specializes in Southern regionalist painters. A more recent addition to the art scene here is the New Orleans Photo Alliance, just off Magazine at 1111 St. Mary St. Here one can find remarkable work by known and up-and-coming contemporary photographers.
Northshore – Hammond, Covington, Mandeville and Slidell
In recent years, Covington in St. Tammany Parish got tagged “SoHo on the Bogue” (the Bogue Falaya runs along the city’s edge) because of its vibrant gallery scene. Although the city has fewer galleries now, a number of artists continue to live and work in St. Tammany and show their work at several impressive galleries on North Columbia Street, including Tripoli Gallery, Henry Hood Gallery, 421 Gallery, Brunner Gallery and the St. Tammany Art Association gallery. Every April and October, local shops, restaurants and galleries sponsor evening gallery walks to showcase area artists. The big art event of the year is the Three Rivers Art Festival in November. The two-day event, which takes up almost half the downtown area, draws more than 100 artists and craftspeople from all over the nation.
In nearby Mandeville, the gallery scene has almost dried up, except for the Interiors & Imports Gallery, 813 Florida St. (U.S. 190), which represents more than 12 local artists. With the recent closing of Fort Isabel Gallery in Covington, several area artists have signed up with the Mandeville gallery.
On the eastern side of the parish, the Slidell Art League, which boasts a membership of 200 local artists, has regular changing shows in the old train depot on Front Street. From late April to early June, the league will have its 46th annual juried art show, featuring regional artists. Also, Slidell’s Department of Culture and Public Affairs runs the Slidell Cultural Center at City Hall, 2055 Second St., which has changing art shows throughout the year. In addition, the department coordinates periodic gallery walks throughout the year, including its Arts Evening on Nov. 5, with more than 100 artists at 40 locations. Olde Town has several art galleries, such as DuBuisson Gallery and Gallerie Debautte, that feature local artists.
Hammond’s historic district, bisected by the New Orleans-Chicago railroad line, has come a long way in recent years. Its cafés and coffee shops are filled with locals and university students from Southeastern Louisiana University. The university’s art gallery, located in the 1940s-era football stadium, schedules shows throughout the year for students, faculty and visiting artists. Local artists show their work at the Hammond Regional Arts Center, 217 E. Thomas St.
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.