Walking into the Palacios family’s home, it’s not hard to see their passion for art and music.
To your left, a music studio is adorned with colorful tapestries and instruments. To your right, the dining room wall is decorated with pieces of art. But the Palacios family are the ones who truly bring the home to life.
Because this is also the Palacios House of Arts, where the family welcomes creatives young and old for lessons on music and art.
The family opened Palacios House of Arts in 2018, but their story hardly starts there. Mario and Gloria Ruiz de Palacios, originally from Cuba, moved to Venezuela in 1998 and in 2014 to Baton Rouge, where their son, Raudol, was attending LSU. In Cuba, Gloria worked at a radio station for many years. In Venezuela, Raudol was involved in a kids’ orchestra as early as age 7.
When Gloria and Mario arrived here, they wanted to bring their love of music and the arts to the Baton Rouge community. And so, their nonprofit Palacios House of Arts was born.
The school offers a wide array of classes and programs for all ages. Take Raudol’s cello students for example; the youngest is 6 and the oldest are a couple in their 40s.
“There’s no age to learn music,” Raudol says. “As long as you keep trying.”
The volunteer staff at Palacios includes friends of Raudol who graduated from LSU’s School of Music with him, and some of Gloria’s friends who have art degrees.
In art classes, students learn basics like art history and techniques. They are able to create their own pieces inspired by artists they are learning about that week. Through private lessons, students can also learn how to play piano, cello, guitar, violin and more. Once students reach a certain proficiency, they can be matched up with other students on their same level to create an ensemble.
Students are equipped with donated instruments, free of charge.
“It’s something that makes sense,” Raudol says, “because kids will grow out of these instruments. It doesn’t make sense for them to buy something they’ll quickly grow out of.”
And students can start as young as 2, with a Tiny Tots program for children and their mothers. The toddlers are introduced to musical reading, percussion and the musical world.
“It seems crazy,” Raudol says. “How’s a 2-year-old going to understand music? But they grasp things. They’re grasping the English language. And music is just like a different language. By the time they get to an instrument, their ear is on a different level.”
Gloria teaches art techniques and art history to her young students in two classrooms in the house. Colorful prints of classic and modern pieces by artists from around the world pepper the walls, with children’s renditions alongside them.
“We not only love America,” Gloria says, “we bring our own culture and make it a gift to our students. We open the door to many other cultures.”
Usually, Gloria, Raudol and their team try to bring students to local art exhibitions or concerts or plan their own events for students, though the pandemic has made that difficult.
During earlier phases of the pandemic, the team hosted classes online, but playing instruments over Zoom proved especially complicated, Raudol says, due to lag time and sound delays on computers. They have slowly made the move back to smaller in-person classes with a variety of safety and health measures in place. Now, they are looking to the future.
“We have one goal,” Gloria says, “which is to perform outside these doors. We want to make a bridge and link with other institutions to host exhibitions, concerts and recitals.”
Even though classes have scaled down, Palacios House of Arts is looking for larger spaces outside the family home to hold classes and remain safe and spread out. But even after all the curve balls the pandemic has thrown them, they’re staying positive.