64 Parishes

Spring 2022

Springtime in New Iberia

Arts and culture blossom by the Teche

Published: February 28, 2022
Last Updated: June 1, 2023

Springtime in New Iberia

Photo by Jayd Buteaux

Chris Willey paints en plein air.

In mid-March, New Iberia blossoms into a sprawling celebration of the arts. At the Shadows-on-the-Teche Plein Air Painting Competition, taking place from March 12 to 18, artists from around the country set up easels all over the area, painting their impressions of local life and landscapes. The Books Along the Teche Literary Festival follows two weeks later, from April 1 to 3, flooding the streets with lovers of Louisiana’s rich tradition of storytelling (especially the adventures of Detective Dave Robicheaux). The spring docket of cultural fun culminates on Sunday, April 3, with a grand performance from the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Sunday in the Park.

Now in its seventh year, the Shadows-on-the-Teche Plein Air Painting Competition hosts twenty-five artists from around the country. Housed by local community members, the artists spend the week going out and scouting whatever they’re drawn to throughout seven Acadiana parishes: bayous, marshes, cityscapes, and scenes of daily life. They set up their easels and paint outdoors where inspiration strikes. Art lovers and passersby are welcome to watch them work. Even Mark Boedges, the judge of the event, will be painting live and presenting a talk. The competition offers an opportunity to peek behind the veil and see what goes into making a masterpiece.

There is a free paint-out event, where artists of all ages and all skill levels can join the professionals; painting en plein air; an art exhibit at the visitors’ center, where each of the guest artists gets a four-by-eight-foot wall space to display their works as they are created; an awards ceremony;      artist talks; and a silent auction. Proceeds from the sales of the paintings go to the artists and also raise money to help Shadows-on-the-Teche continue its mission of preservation and arts education. An added benefit of this event is that these artists help preserve memories of a changing landscape through their work. The coastline has shifted dramatically over the last seven years, and past participants have painted buildings and scenes that are no longer there. Through this celebration of painting in the moment, history is recorded and can continue to live on.

Two weeks later, New Iberia hosts the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival. Three southern writers will be highlighted this year: Osha Gray Davidson, who authored Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South, which has since been turned into a film that will be screened during the festival; the late, great Ernest Gaines, whose life and legacy will be celebrated as the Ernest J. Gaines Center continues to help and encourage up-and-coming writers; and James Lee Burke, who put the town on the map with his beloved Dave Robicheaux series.

“Literary festival” is almost a misnomer, as this week is a celebration of all sorts of culture. Besides readings and talks, there will be seafood cooking demonstrations by Samantha and Cody Carroll; a youth art exhibit; an authors’ workshop, Robicheaux-themed bus and walking tours; two readers’ theater performances; interwoven music from the Bunk Johnson Brazz Band, Terry Huval and the Jambalaya Cajun Band, and the Andy Smith Band; a bourré tournament; Cajun dance lessons; and a 5K run.

At George Rodrigue Park, next to the giant Blue Dog statue, there will be plenty of enriching events for kids. Headed up by the children’s librarian from the Main Street library, the program offers crafts, readings, and a neighborhood walk focusing on the importance of ecology and anti-littering. Donated newspaper boxes will be crafted into little free libraries. Local artist Paul Schexnayder and poet Margaret Simon will conduct workshops on how to paint a self-portrait and how to write an autobiographical poem.

The final event of the festival takes place in New Iberia City Park. The revitalized Iberia Cultural Resources Association throws four free concerts annually, and after a hiatus, they are back again with Symphony Sunday in the Park. The Acadiana Symphony Orchestra will be performing well-known tunes, specially arranged for the outdoor setting. Wine, cheese, blankets, and lawn chairs encouraged, this family-friendly, handicapped-accessible concert will allow you to close your eyes and be taken away by the beauty of the music and the peacefulness of the day.

The most imaginative picnic setup will be commemorated by one of the plein air artists, and the original painting will be awarded to the picnickers featured, bringing these weeks of cultural celebrations full circle. For more details, go to shadowsontheteche.org/plein-air-painting or booksalongthetecheliteraryfestival.com.

Sabrina Stone is a New York City-born, New Orleans-based musician and writer. Her work is featured in OffBeat, I’m Music, Very Local, Where Y’At, ANTIGRAVITY, Hello Giggles, Quarterlette, Femsplain, and the Huffington Post. She has released four albums and headlined shows in New York, New Orleans, and Melbourne, Australia.