Coming Full Circle
An insider’s view on Baton Rouge arts
By Fairleigh Cook JacksonPosted Jul 11, 2012
If someone asked me 10 years ago where I would be right now, I never would have thought it would be behind a desk in Baton Rouge – or that I’d be thrilled about it. After graduating from LSU in 2001, I drove north to Asheville, N.C., and the mountains, and I swore never to return to the Red Stick – except for the occasional football game, crawfish boil, and Jazz Fest. While in Asheville, I worked as a professional ceramic artist, often spending days in my studio basement without human interaction, only to miss home when a Marcia Ball song filtered through my stereo speakers.
After Katrina, all of that changed. I spent days helping a friend I met in my very first ceramics class at LSU recover what he and his wife could from their Lakeview home. During those trips, I often found myself wandering up I-10 to visit another close friend and creator of Art Melt (my future husband) in Baton Rouge. It was during my first trip to the Shaw Center for the Arts, that I had the “ah ha” moment: “Finally, Baton Rouge gets it.”
I saw the amazing things happening in Baton Rouge arts and immediately started to do my part, which included the move back to Louisiana. The support of the creative energy and talent present in our city ebbs and flows, but the great thing is there is always a lot of it. Our city is drawing professionals who we never would have dreamed would ever call Baton Rouge a destination, much less a home. And, it is because of our arts and cultural organizations and those people behind the scenes.
As the Campaign Director of the Community Fund for the Arts these last three years, I have had the privilege to work alongside those who built our arts community from the ground up. People like Molly Buchmann of the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre, and Garland Wilson with Of Moving Colors, as well as those who relocated here just to man the helm of invaluable arts organizations – people like Alan Hopper of the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra. Derek Gordon, my boss at the CFA, returned to Baton Rouge in 2006 to lead the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge following his time with Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City, often bringing with him class-act performers for their first appearance in the Capitol City. Even more recently, Jordana Pomeroy, previously the director of the National Museum of Women in Arts in Washington, D.C., moved here just days ago to direct the LSU Museum of Art. And, en masse behind the directors of these organizations are the talented people who bring to life their creative vision through a support network made of you and me.
What’s great about this amazing art scene? It’s accessible to all of us and it’s everywhere. High school students have the opportunity to experience a real-life juried art show through an amazing program with the Baton Rouge Gallery – one of the oldest artist cooperatives in our country. While my head wanted me to write about legislative cuts and vetoes, my heart is saying more. Kids with no access to arts in their public schools are visited by devoted dancers and musicians who work tirelessly to make sure children have exposure to the arts, and local businesses are helping make it possible.
There are hidden treasures of creativity all over our city. They are found in poetry slams, on professional stages, in historic homes, and now on the sides of downtown buildings. The Possibility Project, formerly City at Peace, provides a platform for teens to express their life trials and conquests through the creation and direction of their own musical. This local chapter keeps company with sister organizations in five major U.S. cities, including New York City, and in Israel and Africa. Casey Phillips and Kathryn Thorpe celebrated the completion of their first BR Walls Project mural a couple of weeks ago after a successful Kickstarter campaign with massive community backing. I could go on and on. One of the best days of the year is when I present to the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s Leadership Class on the arts. It’s a short segment that needs an entire day... there is that much happening here.
I feel I have come full circle. While I truly enjoyed my time with the CFA, I reflect on where I will be in a little over a week – sitting in the Shaw Center for the Arts, working for Jordana at the LSU Museum of Art and for all of you who “get it.” It’s all for those of you who make the choice to pack the house and gallery, to purchase an artist’s piece, and to make a contribution to the Louisiana arts cultural organizations we value so much. You know who you are, you’re reading the arts issue. You are the arts scene, and for that, we are all beyond thankful.
Fairleigh Cook Jackson is the Campaign Director for the Community Fund for the Arts until she joins the LSU Museum of Art team on July 23. She is also co-owner/curator of the Jackson Gallery located in the Celtic Media Centre. She may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.