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Back to the Future

Recommitting to public art and art education in northeast Louisiana

Back to the Future

Northeast Louisiana Arts Council

Left: Edmund Williamson, Trenton Flowers. Right: Unknown artist, Celebration of Healing, piece placed in tribute to the Sisters of St. Francis Medical Center.

“It is a terrible myth that the arts are only for the elite.”

—Dot Bassett, former executive director, Northeast Louisiana Arts Council

“The arts color our world. Art surrounds us. Art engulfs us. Providing opportunity to discover the arts drives the Arts Council.”

—Barry Stevens, current president of the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council.

These words have become a new mantra of sorts for the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council, an unofficial reimagining of their mission to nurture a vibrant regional arts culture through support, promotion, and education. When Arts Council staff were essentially grounded in early 2020 through early 2021 due to the pandemic, they found themselves with time to think about the bigger picture as it pertained to their arts community, comprising eleven mostly rural parishes. They decided that they wanted to emphasize access to the arts for all, a concept that in theory is already a huge part of their existing vision. But they wanted to see it happening in much more tangible ways: locating and documenting current public art to make it easier for the community to access it, finding ways to promote their artists on a broader scale, facilitating a think tank focused on existing and new public art projects, backing more arts-in-education initiatives, finding new ways to support arts educators, and so on. The sky was the limit inside that little office space on North 7th Street in West Monroe. After all, how can you do big things without big dreams?

In the months following those early pandemic conversations, the arts council has kicked off a Public Art Hunt campaign in an effort to catalogue existing public art throughout their eleven parishes. They’re piloting a program that will put art supplies and instruction by regional artists directly into the hands of economically disadvantaged children in Title 1 schools starting in the 2021–2022 school year. And this is just the beginning. While researching the origin stories of local sculptures, the arts council discovered an article about former director Dot Bassett. They learned that Dot’s work in the Region 8 arts community emphasized two specific areas: public art and arts in education. She was a champion for “access to the arts for all.” With her words echoing, the council found itself coming full circle… back to the future.

—Abigail Handy, Community Development Coordinator Northeast Louisiana Arts Council