GUILD IN THE PRESS
by Ian McNulty
Coming soon: a 93,000-square-foot
center designed to provide an up-close-and-personal look at local art,
The Louisiana ArtWorks complex is scheduled to open its doors in September,
giving local artists access to subsidized studios, professional help
with business planning and heavy-duty equipment like foundries and a
wood-burning ceramics kiln. But along with the amenities, it is the
publics access to artists working in the complex that promoters
of the long-awaited project say will be most valuable to the regions
growing arts community.
Were not a museum, this isnt a gallery; this is a
place where the creative process is presented for the public to see,
says Scott Hutcheson, chief operating officer for the Arts Council of
New Orleans, the nonprofit agency behind the $29-million Louisiana ArtWorks
We could have just provided inexpensive studio space, Hutcheson
says, but we want
to build the industry, and to do that you need to build your consumer
base. This builds an audience for the artists.
Located on Lee Circle in the citys arts and museum district, the
complex is designed to give the public an intimate look at artwork in
its various stages. Visitors will look down from catwalks into 14 studios
leased by artists who work in ceramics, glass, metal and printmaking.
Art demonstrations will occur throughout the complex, and a café,
arts supply store and retail gallery are included to encourage repeat
We want people to leave with a sense that they understand where
the art comes from, says Hutcheson. When they go to the
museums or the galleries afterward, we want them to feel like they value
(the art) more because they saw how it was created.
In addition to leasing studio space, visual artists can rent the use
of expensive, state-of-the-art equipment that they otherwise may not
be able to find or afford.
We have these great universities in the region producing artists
and performers, but what happens to them when they no longer have access
to the universities equipment and facilities? asks Hutcheson.
They leave and we lose a great resource.
Arts as industry
Louisiana ArtWorks mission to build a consumer base for the arts
reflects a changing relationship between arts and business that many
believe holds tremendous potential for the local economy.
The recent addition of attractions, such as the Ogden Museum of Southern
Art and the sculpture garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art, has been
accompanied by the emergence of new sales opportunities at grass-roots
art markets and a national marketing campaign promoting New Orleans
as an arts destination for well-heeled travelers. At the same time,
Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu is pitching the arts as a new economic frontier
for the state.
Momentum for all these efforts has been building for years, says Jonathan
Ferrara, a painter and owner of the gallery that bears his name on Carondelet
Street one block from Louisiana ArtWorks.
New Orleans cultural vibrancy and lower cost of living compared
to cities like New York and San Francisco have lured many artists here,
who in turn created the foundation for a strong arts scene, Ferrara
says. Meanwhile, gallery owners and others have been cultivating the
scene with monthly gallery nights and annual events like Arts for Arts
Sake in October and White Linen Night in August, which draw thousands
of people to galleries and nearby businesses.
Now, Ferrara says, the arts community needs greater support from government
officials to promote the city as an arts destination and attract more
Weve done our job creating the product, the art, and building
the arts community here. What we need now is for someone to be the catalyst
to move it forward to the next level, he says.
Ferrara, who is a commissioner of the Downtown Development District,
says the local area needs to recognize the arts as an important asset
that should be nurtured and marketed. Instead of planting seeds
for another industry and waiting for something to grow, we should be
doing more for an industry that has been growing here for decades,
That sort of thinking has been catching on lately, and several initiatives
are under way or planned to build the arts as a business sector and
Rick Gruber, executive director of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art,
is a vocal proponent of the idea that support for the arts is a form
of economic development.
Creativity is a form of capital, and its capital that we
have a lot of here, says Gruber. Its one of our greatest
resources. The more ways we have to showcase that, like (Louisiana)
ArtWorks, the more people will come here.
Since taking office earlier this year, Landrieu has been stumping for
greater recognition of what he calls the creative industries
in Louisiana, including visual and performing arts, music, film and
We want to change the perception of Louisianas creative
assets, he says. We should be able to tap these resources
not only for their cultural value but also for their economic value.
Landrieu compares the creative works of Louisiana residents with the
states natural resources, commodities like oil and lumber that
companies based in other states process and sell again at higher prices.
Companies in other places get more economic value out of our natural
resources than we do, he says.
But with the states creative industries, he says, We have
not just the raw material, but the ability to add value to it and get
it to the marketplace from right here in Louisiana.
In October, Landrieus office will host a Creative Industries Summit
in Baton Rouge to marshal support for the states creative
resources and gather ideas for capitalizing on them.
We want to hear from creative people who have had to leave Louisiana
to pursue a career. We want to understand what Louisiana needs to do
to become the nexus of creative commerce where creativity is the currency,
he says. We want industry leaders to tell us how we can make Louisiana
a more hospitable place to do their business.
Works in progress
At a warehouse in an obscure corner of Mid-City, metal sculptor Luis
Colmenares works feverishly to create a hospitable place for artists
to make a living making art.
Colmenares is converting a 14,500-square-foot warehouse on South Galvez
Street into 20 artists studios through a project called City Arts Studios.
Nine artists are already working in the space, in mediums ranging from
neon, to jewelry to woodworking, and Colmenares relocated his own business,
Art Metal, to the studio last year. The company fabricates interior
design components for homes and businesses, including restaurants owned
by Emeril Lagasse and Ralph Brennan among others.
Colmenares is using a great deal of recycled and donated building materials
on the conversion, which he says helps keep expenses down and translates
to affordable leases for artists of between 75 cents and $1 per square
foot monthly. Local entrepreneur and attorney Rob Couhig is an investor
in the project.
With a variety of artists working under the same roof, Colmenares says
his tenants are able to network for potential commissions and combine
their specialties for large commercial projects. Just as important,
he says, is the potential for artists to collaborate and learn from
one another at City Arts Studios.
I collect work from young artists and I see a lot of them working
out of basements and backyards and theyre just not living up to
their potential, says Colmenares. Having a studio like this,
we can share techniques with them, show them new tools, new materials
We can teach artists to do things as a business, we teach them
that their art has value and that it is a resource that is renewable,
The teaching and nurturing function is a big part of Louisiana ArtWorks
as well. In addition to giving some local artists a home,
ArtWorks also will lease office space to a variety of arts organizations
and businesses, including those affiliated with the councils Arts
Incubator program. Named Business Incubator of the Year
in 1999 by the National Business Incubation Association, the program
provides services from volunteer lawyers, hosts workshops on arts business
topics, and runs a tenant program offering subsidized office rent, access
to office equipment and consulting from council staff. The programs
tenants include individuals, like jewelry artist Chesley Adler, and
organizations, like the National Performance Network, a nonprofit that
helps performing artists from around the country book shows.
The stereotype of creative artists with no business sense is usually
inaccurate, says Gene Meneray, project specialist for the Arts
Incubator. What we see are creative, smart people. Often what
they dont know but what they can pick up when shown the
way is how to present themselves and their work in a business
Markets and marketing
The New Orleans Conservation Guild Inc., an art and antiques restoration
company, also plans to move into Louisiana ArtWorks from its current
home in the Bywater area, and company president Blake Vonder Haar has
big hopes for more arts businesses downtown. She will operate an arts
supply store within ArtWorks, with a product line including specialized
equipment and raw materials, and she plans to form an outdoor art market
in the area modeled after her successful Bywater Art Market.
Vonder Haar started the market in 2002 to provide a venue for art outside
of the galleries.
A lot of people are afraid to buy what they see as real art, and
they wont go into galleries, but they will come to an outdoor
market and buy something directly from the artist, she says. Its
very grass roots here.
Those roots have spread rapidly. What began with 11 artists has grown
into more than 70 selling their creations at the market, which is held
the third Saturday of each month at Markey Park on Royal Street. About
1,400 people turned up for a recent market day.
A similar idea has taken root in Mid-City. In May, the Mid-City Neighborhood
Association held its first art market on a vacant lot at the corner
of Canal Street and Carrollton Avenue in conjunction with celebrations
for the new Canal streetcar line. The Mid-City Art Market is held the
last Saturday of the month and so far includes about 30 artists.
We want people to think of the market day as the day you come
to Mid-City and stay, says market organizer and metal sculptor
Wendy Laker. Its a potential magnet to support the businesses
here. Its a showcase for the neighborhood as much as anything
Laker says the neighborhood organization is working with nearby restaurants
and other businesses to offer arts market-related specials and other
While organizers say these grass-roots art markets help build a local
customer base, a well-funded marketing campaign is under way to bring
more arts patrons to New Orleans from around the country. The New Orleans
Tourism Marketing Corp. hired Peter A. Mayer Advertising Inc. last year
to organize a $500,000 campaign based on the citys growing arts
and museum scene and is repeating the effort this year.
Sandy Shilstone, president and chief executive officer of the marketing
corporation, says the campaign is aimed at cultural tourists,
a coveted breed of traveler who typically patronizes fine-dining restaurants
and high-end stores in addition to local arts attractions.
As part of the effort, the marketing group launched a Web site earlier
this year promoting more than 40 large and small museums and similar
attractions around the city. The site, www.NewOrleansMuseums.com, reportedly
receives about 10,000 visits per day.
Louisiana ArtWorks, first proposed in 1997, is being built with a combination
of state funds and money raised through an Arts Council capital campaign.
The Arts Council predicts annual attendance will be around 200,000 visitors
and that after three years the complex will generate enough money from
leases, retail sales and facility rentals for special events to cover
its operating budget independently.
A grand opening celebration for Louisiana ArtWorks is scheduled for