In March, I found myself armed with a camera, scouting locations in Baton Rouge's Mid City. It wasn't for a film shoot; it was for 225's Idea Issue that came out in May. I was looking for old, dilapidated buildings that could use a facelift. Idea No. 7 of the issue focused on creating a community artist colony in Baton Rouge—providing space for visiting artists to live and work in while engaging with the neighborhood around them.
We pinpointed a few buildings in Mid City and warehouses just east of downtown begging for a new life. The neighborhood blocks around them seem to be waiting for that same jolt of energy that could come from a center for artists. As Mid City Redevelopment Alliance's Samuel Sanders told me recently, artists seem to be the first to move into an area that needs a boost. Just look at the Ephemeral Gallery among the warehouses on North 19th Street.
Other cities that have been successful with similar projects:
• Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Neb.: More than 30 years ago, creatives in Omaha converted an old warehouse into a thriving art center, which now houses 24-36 artists a year. It was in an area of downtown the Omaha World Herald called “off-the-map for serious redevelopment” (see the paper's editorial here) but is now a vibrant cultural hub.
• McColl Center for Visual Arts in Charlotte, N.C.: The city turned an abandoned neo-Gothic church into a place where artists-in-residence host their own community outreach projects. In its 13th year, the center has an annual operating budget of $2.5 million. We talked to McColl's Executive Director Suzanne Fetscher for the Idea Issue story.
These cities took the concept of artists-in-residence a step further to create cultural centers that provide community events, performances and art exhibitions in addition to attracting high-caliber international artists. These kinds of developments can also encourage and support local artists: Lafayette just received a $1 million grant for a 15-unit development of artist studios next to the Acadiana Outreach Center downtown, according to an Advocate article.
At 225, we looked to places like the historic Lincoln Theater on Myrtle Walk—often rumored for renovations—as a great place for that kind of change, serving dual roles as a community center celebrating the theater's history while also attracting creative types to an oft-overlooked neighborhood. Just east of downtown in the sparsely populated blocks Downtown Development District just took under its wing, the streets are ripe for activity. Recent events like Elevator Projects' art event in the Capital Area Corporate Recycling Council's building show local artists are already flocking to the area's non-traditional spaces.
One of the tenets of smart growth is to focus on the heart of your city, not to expand and sprawl farther away from it. And that's one of the things I'll be focusing on with this blog—smart growth in Baton Rouge, and those instances where the creative class merges with the smart growth movement.
As the Bemis Center's Communications and Events Manager Logan Seacrest told me, “Omaha's downtown revival over the last few decades, particularly the revitalization of the 'Old Market' area, was led by artists like [those who founded Bemis]. … The importance of places like the Bemis Center goes beyond the traditional roles filled by arts organizations—it goes right to the heart about improving the communities we love.”
So with that in mind, where could Baton Rouge potentially create an artists-in-residence center? Or, do you think such a program would help improve the city?
—Benjamin Leger is the assistant editor for 225. An LSU grad from the Lafayette area, he has worked in New Orleans, Idaho and the Czech Republic before returning to Baton Rouge. He started painting when he was 7, started sketching cityscapes sometime after that, and somehow ended up a writer instead. Email him at [email protected].
Most recent smART City blog posts
Bad Guys, Good Eats! Pop-Up Dinner at Restaurant IPO
Chef and 225 contributor Jay D. Ducote and Chef Chris Wadsworth hosted the Bad Guys, Good Eats! dinner at Restaurant IPO Wednesday night. The dinner was themed around famous movie villains, pairing cocktails and ales with plates of food resembling famous baddies like The Joker, Lord Voldemort, Hannibal Lector, and many others. The highlights of the night were the three middle courses—a black bean soup laced with blood sausage to signify Lord Voldemort, a brace of coneys on black eyed peas resembling Sauron, and lamb medallions atop a fava bean puree to pay homage to the famous favorite of Hannibal Lector.
Elizabeth Arkley Hammett, a local nursing student and Fur Ball co-coordinator, and her husband Grey Hammett III, who works in commercial real estate, will take you through our summer guide. And they'll look good while doing it, too. Where noted, their clothes and accessories are available from local retailers.
These swimsuits will keep you stylish all summer long
Better Block BR
On Saturday the two blocks between Bedford and Beverly drives on April 13, 2013, residents will get to see a model of what Government Street could look like if we push local and state officials to update the roadway to a safer, more "complete street" model.