New Conservatory School for Visual and Performing Arts Coming to Baton Rouge

A new arts-focused conservatory school that many are calling “the Juilliard of Baton Rouge” may be going to a vacant campus on Goodwood Boulevard, according to The Advocate. The proposed new school will focus on preparing local area teenagers for career paths in the performance and visual arts, including music, dance, theatre, and more.

The proposal of this new conservatory school is part of East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Sito Narcisse’s plan to add more attractive academic opportunities to the parish in an effort to counteract the declining enrollment numbers from the past few years.

If implemented correctly, this arts-focused public charter school could very well attract new families to the district. In addition to these new families, many students begin their public educational career in various elementary arts programs but are left with fewer and fewer options as they get older; this is seen in the Baton Rouge area, as there is no currently no high school dedicated to the visual and performing arts.

Recently, Superintendent Narcisse had organized a large delegation, which included six EBR School Board members, to visit several education art schools in Miami. Coming away from the trip, many board members were able to see the benefits of students attending high schools like the New World School of the Arts, a downtown Miami arts high school of about 500 students.

School Board member Mike Gaudet, who was impressed by the survey, said, “after what I saw at Miami-Dade, it makes me jealous that we haven’t had this before. It’s just the kind of thing that we just need to get on the boat and get it going and make it happen. Our students deserve this.”

Superintendent Narcisse has previously worked in school districts with conservatory schools, and he has been pushing the idea that Baton Rouge needs its own school dedicated to a particular focus ever since he took over as superintendent in January. He officially proposed the idea in July, but after it was met with initial resistance from the board, he set is aside to better prepare its introduction.

At the November 18th East Baton Rouge Parish School Board meeting, the board voted to reopen Broadmoor Middle School, a facility that has been closed and vacant since 2019, to be recreated as a conservatory school for sixth through twelfth graders. The newly approved magnet school is scheduled to open in fall 2023 with the school also serving as the home to summer camps and after-school art classes that will be accessible to students across the district.

Executive director of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge Renee Chatelain had said that this new school will serve as a catalyst for improving arts education in the larger surrounding community. Chatelain has already begun talking to Baton Rouge artists who have left the city to return and teach at the new school at least for short stints. She commented saying, “I’m asking them, ‘Please come back and be adjuncts.”

It stands to reason that charter schools championed by the school district can be a draw for families at their educational options. In fact, preliminary enrollment numbers for East Baton Rouge Parish Schools have increased by approximately 800 students since last school year with nearly all of that growth being attributed to students attending district-sponsored charter schools. On the other end of the spectrum, enrollment is down at non-charter schools. When compared with last year’s data, non-charter school enrollment has decreased by approximately 800 students and a total of 2,200 students from two years ago.

Chair-elect of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge Ralph Bender said of the opportunity, “investment in an arts conservatory will lead to a sizable return on investment due to retention of talent, recruitment of master teachers and professional artists. If you look at great artists who left Baton Rouge to go elsewhere and make their mark, perhaps they would be here if there were more opportunities like this. It will elevate the artists and master artists who live in Baton Rouge but whose work could be expanded.”

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Lake Charles Theatre Bounces Back After Storms

After a particularly rough year enduring Louisiana storm weather, the city of Lake Charles has opened the doors of the famed ACTS theatre to the community, according to this article from The Advocate.

Many of Lake Charles’s cultural structures and institutions had sustained significant damage from the four natural disasters that have hit southwest Louisiana this past year. Despite much of the outside world seeing Lake Charles as a working-class town mostly comprising industrial plants and casinos, the oft-forgotten cultural structures are left behind in the conversation but not in the damages sustained.

The smaller Lake Charles theatres, though not as profitable as the industry that leads the city’s GDP, often bring a sense of community and spirit to the city’s population of roughly 80,000 people. This includes music venues, art galleries, and other performance spaces throughout the city limits for the area’s collection of zydeco musicians.

But as of Fall 2021, the arts are alive again in Lake Charles as a production of a musical, 42nd Street, has premiered in the ACTS Theatre, standing as the first play the former movie house has “put on” in over a year. Mike Ieyoub is one of the lead actors in the production of 42nd Street, and just before a recent rehearsal began for the show, he assessed damages that the theatre had sustained from Hurricane Laura and worried about the likelihood of reopening the theatre to the public. “We looked around and we didn’t think we’d get it reopened,” Ieyoub told The Advocate.

He and Kristen Harrell both play leading roles in 42nd Street, and they both commented on the audience’s excitement for the theatre’s return as well as the cast’s. They attributed the anticipation to the fact that dramatic performances in a theatre are symbolically representative of a return to normalcy for audiences, and they provide an outlet for cast members as well. Harrell said, “for a lot of us who grew up doing it, myself included, it’s like, ‘I can tap again;’ coming back together and just having fun.”

The cultural affairs director for the city of Lake Charles, Louisiana, Matt Young, said the following regarding the resilience of the city and its residents in light of the past years of storms: “living in Lake Charles is kind of tough these days, but I think the more that we’re able to restore our festivals and fairs and open our cultural institutions and attractions, the better chance we’re going to have of keeping our residents, and not just keeping them, but giving them a great quality of life.”

Over the past few years, Lake Charles has put in noticeable efforts to address some of the citizens’ concerns that certain neighborhoods and structures in the city have been neglected for quite some time. These efforts include the creation of the Nellie Lutcher Cultural District in the northern area of the city through the use of tax incentives. This creation of a district named after the famed Lake Charles jazz singer and pianist is an effort to spur new development in this area of the city.

Another effort supported by the city is to construct a new performing arts space, and given that the Lake Charles Little Theatre had sustained heavy storm damage recently, it will soon be demolished. Randy Partin is the former president of this once-operating theatre, as it’s the second-oldest performing group in the state, having established itself in 1926, but due to the scheduled demotion, Partin has aligned his goals with the city’s. He founded the Live Arts Venue Alliance in an effort to lobby for and support the establishment of a new performance space in the city.

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