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The Cultural Oak Tree

Natural symbols for southwest Louisiana resilience

The Cultural Oak Tree

Photo by Chad Moreno, Killer Photography

Storm-battered oaks still stand in Lake Charles.

With its weaving root system, large trunk, gnarled branches, and vibrant green leaves, the oak tree is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Louisiana. The state’s eclectic culture is woven into the oak tree: Native AmericansAfricans, the French, and the Spanish all contributed, and as the region became part of the growing United States, new groups added to our already unique way of life. As the years went by, our culture continued to grow into an immoveable forceHere in southwest Louisiana, that cultural oak tree has weathered many adversities. In 2020, however, it seemed as if the mighty oak wouldn’t live to add another ring to its trunk. The creative community suffered greatly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then backtoback major hurricanes threatened to be the final nail in the coffin. After the sights of cancelled shows, collapsed theaters, and destroyed studios, it would have been easy to give up on one’s hometown and start anew somewhere else. However, our cultural roots are embedded deep in the ground, and our foundation is strong. When old branches and leaves fall away, it gives way to new opportunities for growth.  

After a tumultuous 2020, this year we are seizing the chance to reevaluate and build back better. There are plans in place to rebuild from the debris piles, to construct venues such as a central theater space that will help bring back and grow our influential performing arts sector. We are also restoring historic arts and cultural centers and updating studio spaces for a new generation of artists. We see new opportunities to add to our culture—new events to host, new music to listen to, and new art to create. Giving up is easy. Standing tall and strong makes a community a force to be reckoned with. Southwest Louisiana is such a forceThe artists, musicians, writers, and organizations here have banded together to continue to grow and further spread our roots. Whatever may come, we know we can get through itbecause we have before. 

—Devan Corbello