Arts supporters go to the state's capitol

By Evan Johnson - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Around 6:00 AM a group of arts supports left from Central School of the Arts in Lake Charles bound for Baton Rouge.  The group wants to show their concern about the proposed cuts for Decentralized Arts Funding (DAF).

Irene Vandever, Executive Director of the Arts & Humanities Council of SWLA, says, "People are used to thinking of the arts as a cost to the state taxpayers.  We know in reality we're a revenue stream. We generate six tax dollars for every dollar of DAF funding and that's not just in Southwest Louisiana, it's all over the state."

Supporters say the DAF funding is essential. Community and business supports of the arts only provide so much funding.  The grants help bridge the gap of what's needed to make certain programs successful.

McNeese State Assistant Professor Bryan Proksch says, "Banners, for example, might lose 15 percent of their budget and that would mean inviting fewer people into town to come play and the City of Lake Charles really benefits from having the Banner Series.  It's a cultural event and it makes life in Lake Charles a little better."

In a state that's pushing education, some believe cutting the DAF grants will also have a huge impact on students.

Kerry Onxley, Theatre Director at Westlake High School, says, "The arts have clearly proven to help children in standardized testing, which we're doing this week and a little bit of next week.  It shows children do better with those scores.  It shows the dropout rates are decreased with children involved in the arts.  Without these grants, it would significantly hurt our kids in the classroom."

The Arts & Humanities Council of Southwest Louisiana asked political candidates in the 5-parish area what they thought about the financial axe falling on the Decentralized Arts Funding.

Vandever says, "What we got was a very strong statement of support for our cultural programming throughout Southwest Louisiana and personal commitments from everyone who responded to do what they could to help us in this fight."

10 candidates vying for public office in Calcasieu and Jeff Davis parishes responded. Their responses are listed below.

From The Office of the Imperial Calcasieu Social Secretary:

The Arts and Humanities Council of Southwest Louisiana invited Candidates for Political Office in our 5-Parish Service Area to respond to a single, two-part question about the Arts and Cultural Programming in Southwest Louisiana.

Their responses are being provided to you as a service of our subscriber-based Imperial Calcasieu Social Secretary.  We know you will be interested in the Candidates'  "take" on the cultural programming and economy in our region.  Responses are printed, without comment, in alphabetical order, according to the position sought and then by last name.

While the Council was unable to reach some registered Candidates, messages were left for others, emails were sent when email addresses could be determined and some Candidates provided fax numbers in order to participate.  Responses were solicited from persons vying for Police Jury seats, City Council positions or the office of Mayor.  Parishes included Allen, Calcasieu and Jefferson Davis.

When preparing this ICSS Message, the Council utilized cut and paste, without editing or proofing of any kind.  For those candidates without email, a fax response was reproduced as received.  The Council is not responsible for typographical, grammatical or other errors.


1.       This past week, the state budget axe fell on the Decentralized Arts Funding, a source of financial support for many of our Region's cultural organizations and performing groups.

These cuts may potentially lead to the demise of smaller, volunteer-driven groups which supply main-stay programming in all five of our parishes.

Can you comment on the importance of the arts and cultural programming in our area?

Part b.

Upon election to the office you are seeking, what steps, if any, would you take to assure continued programming - concerts, dance, theatre, lectures, film screenings and other artistic projects - for your constituents?

Allen Parish:  No Responses.

Calcasieu Parish:  City of Lake Charles:

City Council District A - Marshall Simien, Jr. responding:

1a.        The arts and cultural programming in our area is vital to the fabric of our community.  In order to look past the every day monotony of life's adventure and truly appreciate the beauty life has to offer, we need to experience the higher levels of existence that unfold through the arts and understanding our culture and that of others.  For instance, when the Dance Theatre of Harlem's ensemble performed at the Rosa Hart Theatre, many of our citizens were simply amazed and astounded at the heavenly beauty of the human form.  PBS broadcasts in high definition is my home's most reliable source of quality programming.  As a direct result, my 13 year old plays, has embraced, and has excelled at playing the tenor saxophone.  This was after he experienced the truly artistic work of his great uncle, Illinois Jacquet, and sought instruction from Rick Condit.  My 9 year old has been taking piano lessons since age 5 and has actually composed his own songs and performs them for family.  My 2 year old daughter is fascinated with colors and how paints comes together to form a visualized reality.  Without arts and cultural programming neither of us individually or collectively could ever become complete, a necessary stage to reach our highest potential.

1b.        In order to continue programming of arts for my constituents, I would encourage the incorporation of arts into all aspects of our community's development.  For instance, we are about to break ground on the new Riverside Park at the site of the old Fitzenreiter Park.  It is a beautiful 206 acre park stretching a half mile on the Calcasieu River in Lake Charles-North.  The design, which can be accessed on the City of Lake Charles' website, includes sculptures and art from local artists for viewing as visitors walk along the riverfront, an amphitheater for artistic and cultural entertainment on a beautiful pristine Louisiana river setting, historical markers to highlight the rich cultural heritage and history of the community, and wildlife sanctuaries where artists and photographers can capture the beauty and magnificence of  our natural assets while inside the City limits.  I believe a grass roots education of the importance of arts and cultural programming, along with interactive participation by the community, is crucial to a solid foundation of support.  We also need to do a joint services agreement with the Police Jury to get additional resources and Jason Barnes involved in this process.  We also need to get our SWLA lobbyist involved in educating us about issues and appropriate legislation at the federal level.

City Council  District B - Luvertha August responding:

Question 1.  I cannot draw, paint, sculpt, play a musical instrument, dance, sing or act but I appreciate very much those who can and do, because of the effect each has on the human spirit.  A symphony, a musical instrument, a song, a dance, a play, a painting or a sculpture can raise one to untold heights of joy.  Each, in its own way, can make one forget momentarily the problems in one's life by rejuvenating and soothing the soul because of the beauty and skill expressed in its presentation.  Each can start a discourse among friends or between perfect strangers opening doors of unforseen, meaningful communication.  Arts and humanities' presence in our lives is a testament that we are a civilized people; they offer an interpretation of who we are and our joy in and appreciation for the beauty in life.

Question 2.  If elected, I would continue to support the city of Lake Charles in its sponsoring or co-sponsoring of the arts and cultural programs, especially for young people, so that among them, some will be encouraged to actively participate but most will develop an appreciation for its importance in their lives.

City Council  District B - Lionel H. Taylor responding:

I feel that the arts and culture programming is very important to our heritage here in Louisiana.  I will do everthing to seek new funding and to have my district get involved.  I wil keep my district more in tune in that area, by phone, e-mai etc.  

City Council District F - Dana Carl Jackson responding:

The arts are a significant component of a well rounded society.  School systems have included artistic opportunities along with music and theatre classes for a number of years.  Budget constraints have recently limited their offerings for special programs, but our devoted teachers still try to incorporate those elements in their own individual lesson plans.  Most special programming has been accessible through local non-profit organizations.   There are a variety of museums, galleries, theatres and special events such as the Lake Charles Symphony program this Saturday, April 4. For the best quality of life, our residents should continue to be exposed to cultural experiences in Southwest Louisiana.

As councilman for District F for the last four years, I have continuously supported the city funding of local grant programs administered by the Lake Charles City Council as well as other grants to non-profit arts related organizations.  The City of Lake Charles has also offered in-kind support for specific events.  The current budget includes an allocation to the Arts and Humanities Council of Southwest Louisiana in the amount of $39,000.  I will continue to support funding of the Arts in Southwest Louisiana.

City Council District G - Mark Eckard responding:

Cultural programs are very important to the well being and fabric of a community. Exposure to and participation in various forms of theater, music and art provides our citizens with an opportunity to experience different cultures, ideas and entertainment. Without that exposure we tend to become closed minded and arrogant about our own culture and we lose the ability to appreciate others. As a Banners sponsor last year, I experienced first hand the benefits of the many cultural events that occur in the Lake Area and I hope that these events will continue.
As a city councilman I will work to ensure that our art and cultural events will continue to be successful. I believe that we as a community need to realize the importance of the arts and provide support. With the funding cuts at the state level it is imperative that local businesses and individuals step forward with sponsorships and volunteer help. The more people that are involved the more successful our arts and cultural endeavors will be. 

City Council District G - John Fontenot responding:

It is a proven fact that arts play an important role, especially with our youth.  Students that show an interest in the arts do better in school and get better grades.  Not only with our youth, but it is proven that the overall quality of life depends greatly on arts in our culture.  Louisiana is known worldwide for our culture, food, and arts.  That is a big draw for people to visit and relocate to our city.

When elected, I would take steps to continue the arts.  I plan to cultivate a strong working relationship with our local Legislative delegates and encourage them in the continuance of funding.  I would also like to see what possibilities our city budget has for available funding.

City Council District G - Khalid Taha responding:

  The Arts & Cultural programming are very important in our area.  They provide enrichment for our children and adults and increase our intellectual understanding of our cultures.  Art in any form is a food for the soul.  One of important programs in our area is historical preservation, a project that has been important to many Lake Charles citizens and to me personally. Confucius is reported to have said, "If you have two pennies, buy a loaf of bread with one and a lily with the other, for you must feed both the body and the soul."

Supporting and growing our tradition of arts, humanities, and preservation will not only attract people to our area, but also connect our children to the history and culture of the community.  Without art, music, preservation, and literature, we are unable to express our feelings.  Art gives us tools that enable us to connect with one another. 

I believe that we should do whatever we can to ensure that arts and humanities remain at the forefront of our commitments.  If elected, I will be a major supporter of fundraising projects, and my family and I will personally contribute time, talent, and resources to programs.  I will contact state and federal officials - the governor, the legislators, our senators, and anyone else who has a voice in allocation of funds - and urge them not only to recognize the value of arts and humanities to Louisiana, in general, and to Southwest Louisiana, in particular, but also to restore funding to these critical areas before our state loses artists who contribute so much to our culture and our economy.  I will also encourage individuals who have the means to contribute private donations to agencies such as the Arts and Humanities Council. 

City of Lake Charles - Mayor

Billie Pharr responding:

Can you comment on the importance of the arts and cultural programming in our area?

I believe that our city is fortunate to have over 20 community arts organizations and that the programming they provide is essential to the growth and development of our area. Support of the arts is good for Lake Charles because the arts means business. They are employers, producers and consumers and are key in the promotion of our city.

Quality of life is important to the people of Lake Charles. It is also important in economic development because quality of life, skilled work force and education are critical to businesses making relocation or expansion decisions.

Upon election to the office you are seeking, what steps, if any would you take to assure continued programming for your constituents?

I am committed to the arts in Lake Charles and will work in partnership with the local arts council to support and promote our cultural organizations. I understand that the city has its own cultural affairs department. This is in conflict and competition that is resulting in a duplication of efforts with local arts organizations and adds unnecessary layers of expenses to the city budget. I plan to make all city venues more accessible to local artists, gallery owners and organizations that promote the visual and performing arts. I look forward to working with the local arts council and its organizations to create an even better cultural climate in Lake Charles.

Randy Roach responding:

Part a

The City of Lake Charles is fortunate to be a part of a community that is home to a tremendous array of visual, performing arts and humanitarian organizations and presenters. Within the city alone you'll find a world class symphony orchestra, numerous theatre, dance and vocal companies, along with eclectic and traditional museums and galleries. This diverse artistic community is an integral part of our cultural heritage that helps us gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and of our society. The arts and humanities empower us to celebrate our individual identities, while reminding us of the values and commitments that unite us as a community and even as a country.

I have already said that if re-elected the next four years of my administration will be about improving the quality of life for all our residents, especially our children. That means that we must continue to promote and support arts and cultural activities in our community.

Today's investment in cultural creativity is a direct investment in our future and is a major part in establishing the quality of life necessary to provide a strong foundation for the economic growth and well-being of our community.

Arts education must be a part of our education program. Research findings suggest the following relative to children exposed to the arts:

  • The arts help close the achievement gap, especially among disadvantaged youth.
  • The arts improve the academic skills essential for reading and language development.
  • The arts build strong mathematical skills.
  • The arts advance the motivation to learn.
  • The arts promote positive social development.

Calcasieu Parish School Board does an excellent job in offering many experiences in the visual arts department, with some music and theatre opportunities while also promoting the arts through its Arts in Education programming. The City and other organizations both public and private should help to supplement and support this effort. In order to strengthen tomorrow's communities, the City should support the vital role of cultural and artistic outreach carried out by our non-profit arts and humanities community.

Part b

The City of Lake Charles' annual budget includes an allocation to the Arts and Humanities Council of Southwest Louisiana of $39,000 and $274,100 in arts programming for the 1911 Arts and Cultural Center. The funds allocated to the Arts Council are available to support local grants programs administered by the Council and for the administration of the grants to non-profit arts and humanitarian organizations. Additionally, the City has partnered with various organizations in their programming by offering in-kind support to specific events and programming. The City will continue annual allocations to the Arts Council and consider additional funding when the budget allows.

Jefferson Davis Parish:

City Council District B - Garrett Mehal responding:

Can you comment on the importance of the arts and cultural programming in our area?

It is very important for us to keep the funding that the Decentralized Arts Funding currently had before the state budget cut in this area. It is statistically shown that when economic times are down that people frequent the theatre, concerts and dance performances more. This is because it provides an escape from their current situation, if only for a few hours. My wife and I enjoy seeing musicals, ballet, and plays in our local area. It is also shown that crime goes down in areas where the smaller, volunteer-driven groups function. This is because the teens that would get involved in crime are instead involved in these after-school activities. That's why it is very important for us to get that funding back.

Upon election to the office you are seeking, what steps, if any, would you take to assure continued programming - concerts, dance, theatre, lectures. film screenings and other artistic projects - for your constituents?

I am not sure what I could do to fix this problem, but I can throw a few ideas out there. I can ask for our budget to include money designated towards smaller, volunteer-driven groups. I feel that having those groups here could help curb some of the crime, plus it may generate tourism in the town of Jennings. I could also try to get money designated toward the upkeep of facilities that are used by the groups or to construct other buildings that may be needed. Fortunately, Jennings continues to make strides at being a center for cultural events such as local plays, festivals, and cajun music by local bands.

City Council District E - Stevie VanHook responding:

Question 1a response:

As a member of the Economic Development Commission, an important aspect I have learned is the heritage and culture our area (southwest LA) should not be forgotten!  We should make a distinctive impact relative to the resources we have.  That impact- be it touching the soul with great art or a standing ovation performance at the (Strand) Theatre- should be longstanding and integrated into the community with other social areas.  We cannot become a one-program city, as each of these departments like fire, police, recreation are valuable to the best interest of the community as a whole.  The goal being to continue improvements in all aspects of our (local) downtown area with both tangible and intangible benefits.   

Question 1b response:

Recognizing that charitable donations and business revenues are vital to the success of an arts and humanities program, we should continue to work with local chambers of commerce, and local civic organizations and businesses.  The arts and humanities are important for a diversified community.  Unfortunately, when budget cuts are implemented, the areas of arts, recreation are assessed first.  This is precisely why a rigorous assessment of the organization, promotion, design, and economic structuring of these programs is important when times are "good".   As stated earlier, the arts as well as recreational areas are vital to any community, but are magnified in smaller communities like ours.