August 26, 2010
All photos courtesy Shreveport Regional Arts Commission
Vintage postcard view of Shreveport, Louisiana’s Central Fire Station.
Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC) supports arts and culture activities in Shreveport and the northwest region of Louisiana. Having completely lost its headquarters in a 2009 fire, SRAC is repurposing the city’s landmark 1922 Central Fire Station into new headquarters that also will serve as the anchor for a comprehensive arts district. We spoke with SRAC Executive Director Pam Atchison about the arts council’s ambitious plans.
NEA: Please tell us about your project and what you hope it will bring to the residents of Shreveport.
PAM ATCHISON: On August 25, 2009 an arsonist built a tragic fire that completely destroyed the Shreveport Regional Arts Council?s headquarters. It seemed as if SRAC had lost everything: artworks, office equipment, data files (digital and hard copy), supplies to build exhibitions and events, and?well, everything. Mayor Cedric Glover immediately seized an opportunity to take the arts from the ashes to the Central Fire Station. He and Fire Chief Brian Crawford had long been looking for an opportunity to restore and renovate the city?s 1922 Central Fire Station that is on the Federal Historic Register. Together SRAC, the Mayor, and Shreveport?s City Council found an opportunity to build upon the service scope of SRAC….The new permanent home for SRAC will be located in the soon-to-be-restored and renovated Central Fire Station providing an opportunity to more effectively serve artists and arts organizations in Shreveport and Northwest Louisiana, equipping SRAC to fulfill its mission to provide technical assistance and development on behalf of the City of Shreveport. The MICD 25 project funds will help to design the new Central Artstation and Shreveport Common.
Part of the two-story Central Artstation will become an Arts Resource Center with an Emerging Arts Gallery, a ?day-use? space for meeting clients, a temporary office space and studio space, and a classroom space for providing workshops to artists and arts organizations. Artists and arts organizations will have access to a receptionist, and there will be weekly classes taught by regional arts administrators to develop the artists? entrepreneurial skills and the capacity of area arts organizations. The Central Artstation also will feature a flexible space that can be used by the arts community for performances, rehearsals, classes, small fundraisers for other nonprofit arts organizations, and a creation space for the sets/props of the theater community. A state-of-the-art light and sound system, portable seating and staging, and a technical director/stage manager will assist artists and organizations in using this “black box” theater.
The spectacular tower just outside the Central Fire Station, formerly used for drying hoses and practicing emergency rescue procedures, will be transformed into the Artist’s Tower, a six-floor artist residency space for visiting artists. Each of the six floors is 16?x16? making it one of the ?smallest/tallest? single residences “in the world.” The first floor of the Artists? Tower features a portfolio room where the public may review the achievements of the selected artist, keep up to speed with project progress, and meet with the artist. The other floors host the living room, kitchen, bedroom, working studio, and rooftop deck!
In addition, a 40-50 seat conference room will be available for arts organizations to host board meetings and workshops, and will include projection equipment, telephone conferencing, video/digital conferencing, webinars, and other state-of-the-art communication tools.
Mayor Glover did not want SRAC to merely become a tenant of the Central Fire Station. Rather, he saw an immediate opportunity to create a new community that opens the West side of Common Street from Common Street to the newly designed Millennium Film and Sound Studio and,ultimately, beyond to the new Interstate-49 extension. The new Shreveport Common focuses on a triangular area along Common Street, where the Central Fire Station is located, between the original City grid and the historic commercial and residential districts to the west. For decades, this seven-block convergence has informally connected two earlier Shreveports into one. Here, black and white music venues once attracted diverse audiences with the talents of Huddy Leadbelly, Duke Ellington, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley, among others. By planting visual and performance arts venues side-by-side with valued community service institutions, revived religious institutions, new businesses, interpretative signage, and restored architecture, we will instill pride in our new, progressive identity and draw mixed-use development into the area. Our goal is to make Shreveport Common the principal entry point into the City?s historic and artistic core. By redirecting downtown vehicular traffic into the heart of Shreveport?s art and architectural wealth, both citizens? and visitors? perception of the city will be immediately and dramatically changed. We are convinced this stable artistic focal point will attract new businesses, investment, more historic preservation, new public spaces, and urban housing.
Artist rendering of plans for first floor of new Central Artstation.
NEA: Why is it important to have arts and culture at the table when planning community revitalization efforts?
ATCHISON: Thanks to the MICD 25 grant and the new HUD initiatives that include the arts—greatly due to NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman?s commitment to engage the Arts in all facets of Government—the Shreveport Regional Arts Council is also ?at the table? planning the next, larger, phase of community revitalization through the upcoming HUD Stabilization planning grant application. A great city deserves great art…and the creative sector must be at the table in the earliest phases of planning community revitalization so that arts development (and developers) may contribute to the infrastructure of the plan rather than be relegated to the ?icing on the cake? after the project has been completed and the stakeholders seek a ?sexy solution? to the brass tacks, that is, the down and dirty development. Most community revitalization efforts include affordable housing and services to under-served communities. These communities are, generally, the ?best friends? of arts councils as our work is rooted in outreach, access, and education for under-served communities. We are not only creative developers and problem solvers, but often, we are the matchmakers who can bring the partners and constituents to the table.
NEA: Given the nature of your MICD 25 project, how would you define the term ?public art??
ATCHISON: Generally, the Shreveport Regional Arts Council prefers to think of public art as artworks, created by artists, that engage the public from inception through installation and to lasting impact. Architecture can comprise some of our greatest artworks, however, our organization considers the public and artist involvement to be mutually crucial for the success of a work of art that is placed in the public domain. The public has already engaged the process [for this project] by telling us, at every turn, that we should [restore] the Central Fire Station to its original 1922 presence, making it a complete historic preservation project. The public will formally engage this planning process from its inception, beginning at the August 24 Fire Fest and groundbreaking at which our Arts Liaison, Robert Trudeau, will facilitate a ?Re-Imagine SRAC” wall of ideas in the Engine Room of the Central Artstation. The Central Artstation and Shreveport Common will feature public art throughout the area in all aspects of the design to include sculptural installations, murals, way-finding signage, banners, and even a giant sculptural iconic Dalmatian dog that will ?protect? the Central Artstation. This sculpture will be designed by award-winning illustrator, author, television producer, and filmmaker William Joyce. The public will help to shape the ?spots?!
NEA: How do you think having works of art on display and/or public performing arts festivals benefit the civic life of a community?
ATCHISON: Public Art and public arts events help citizens realize that they live in a great city, and in turn they want to support more efforts that lead to greatness. One only need encounter the public at the ?Bean/Cloud? (the public renamed it!) sculpture in Chicago to know that the people are proud of their City and that the City finds its citizens worthy of an extraordinary experience. Public Art and public art events declare, ?We?ve got something to say and we want you to hear it!? There is a great leveling of humanity when we all stand side by side to hear an outdoor concert, stroll through the art booths at a public festival, and munch a crawfish pie, declaring who we are and what we share. we become something greater than ourselves and we want others to know it—hence, we produce a tourism impact.
Finally, all of this ?feeling good? leads to a community good: Economic Impact! According to the Americans for the Arts Economic Impact Study III, the Northwest Louisiana Nonprofit Arts Community generates an annual $90 million dollar economic impact, supports 2,400 full-time job equivalents, contributes $55 million to annual household income, and returns $13 million in state and local government revenues. The more ?arts infrastructure? that we build—operate, promote, and stabilize—the more economic return to the very citizens that support cultural vision!
NEA: How important is MICD 25 funding for the success of your project?
ATCHISON: CRUCIAL! Funding from the National Endowment for the Arts has always generated two incredible outcomes for the Shreveport Regional Arts Council—credibility and catalytic power. In terms of credibility, NEA funds are always a signal of project excellence! The thorough, comprehensive, and almost stringent review process provides an assurance to the local community that the proposed project is worthy and doable. This credibility confirms the value of the project, the professionalism of the participating artists, the maturity of the alliance of partners, and the worthiness of the city?s original investment in the planning and development of the project.
NEA MICD 25 funds have already generated $4.8 million dollars for this design project. That?s right, the news of the award and the validation of the Shreveport Regional Arts Council?s goals for the Central Artstation and Shreveport Common Arts and CulturalDistrict has already prompted additional state, local, parish, and PRIVATE support. I think it is important to observe that the Federal funding—and credibility—stimulates everyone to take action because they know that the project WILL happen. It?s no longer a good idea, it is a reality. Since the NEA MICD 25 announcement on July 19, SRAC has raised $2 million in public support and $2.8 million in private-sector support. The project goals have also increased from an original $5 million design and construction budget to $7.5 millions that will include funds to program, operate, and promote the Central Artstation and Shreveport Common for a period of three to five years. The MICD 25 grant award is for $100,000 with a $300,000 match to encompass the design and public engagement for the Central Fire Station and Shreveport Common.
Visit the MICD 25 page on our website to learn more.