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Center Stage

SRAC fosters the performing arts in northwest Louisiana

Center Stage

Photo by Casey Jones

From left: Hugh “PoeticX” Hamilton, Michael Futreal, and Brenda Wimberly in the downtown Shreveport FriendsWithYou installation.

Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC) has developed an entire ecosystem for nurturing, building, and strengthening the arts culture within the community—a creative cooperative. One of the most effective strategies SRAC uses to elevate the quality of the arts is through offering critical review by nationally renowned, published critics in the annual Critical Mass series. Pam Atchison, Executive Director of SRAC, says, “When artists realize that the community takes their work seriously and professional critics who are part of Critical Mass take the work seriously, artists elevate the way they think about their work. This often moves artists from being simply avocationals artist to prioritizing their art and viewing themselves more as professional artists.” Three northwest Louisiana performance artists who have elevated the quality of their art as a result of the Critical Mass series include past “Best of Show” performance artists Brenda Wimberly, Hugh “PoeticX Hamilton, and Michael Futreal. 

When Wimberly was chosen Best of Show Performance Artist for Critical Mass 4 in 2016, she described herself as a “prima donna in training, but critic Mark Lowry said anyone who witnessed the soprano’s solo concert, Colour Noir: A Salute to Five African-American Prima Donnas, would question that description—she’s simply a prima donna. Wimberly credits SRAC’s Critical Mass as the boost she needed to become a professional performer. “This experience moved me past any limitation or apprehension about who I am,” said Wimberly. Wimberly will be featured in an upcoming PBS documentary on the lives of six contemporary artists and perform in an opening at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, in 2020 

Hugh “PoeticX” Hamilton was named Best of Show Performance Artist for Critical Mass 5 in 2017 and Shreveport Artist Fellow in 2019, and has also earned the G. Scott Griffin Award, which is awarded annually to a North Louisiana artist who creates despite adversity. After the poignant solo performance of his poem “Who Knows If Tomorrow Will Ever Come?” in the Nick Cave performance of AS IS, PoeticX was invited to join Cave for his opening of Until at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. A mural of his work can be found at the Central ArtStation in downtown Shreveport. “SRAC has supported my poetry through grant funding and performance and travel opportunities,” said PoeticX. To be selected Best of Show Performance Artist as a poet confirms that poetry speaks. My winning poem was Keep Hope Alive, and that’s what this honor did for me—kept my hope as an artist alive.”  

The most recent northwest Louisiana artist to be named Best of Show Performance Artist is musician and instrumentmaker Michael Futreal. Futreal performed an improvisational piece called “Hiddenite” using a slide-based fretless dulcimer he built himself. The improvisation featured a recurring “lost word” motif juxtaposed against a back-porch Appalachian feel. “The Critical Mass series helps an artist elevate his or her understanding of how to relate to the larger art world,” said Futreal. “The one-on-one dialogue I was afforded with performing arts critics Lauren Smart and Manny Mendoza during Critical Mass 6 were the highlight of the process and useful to my artistic growth.  

SRAC puts the performing arts of northwest Louisiana center stage through various performance showcases, critique series, collector collaborations, fellowships and other opportunities. The Critical Mass 8 Performance Showcase takes place Thursday, March 12. Visit www.shrevearts.org for more information.