By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD
Sometimes I get really busy – thinking I’m “burning the candle at both ends” – and need to get a little rest. Yeah, right. Then I meet people like Pam Atchison, and realize just how little I’m actually getting accomplished.
Atchison, the executive director of Shreveport Regional Arts Council, has been a tireless advocate for the arts in our community. Many people do not realize how fortunate the Shreveport-Bossier area is to have such a vibrant arts community.
You’ll marvel at how much has been accomplished under the directorship of Atchison — and it sounds like she’s just getting started!
How did you get involved with SRAC?
I like to say that I was “born” at Shreveport Regional Arts Council in 1982 … before that, I was a high school theatre, speech, debate teacher in Duncanville, Texas and Mountain Brook, Alabama. When my husband took a position in Shreveport, I would be required to teach a “core subject” and theatre or speech would have been an elective. I wasn’t certified in other subjects. The executive director for the Shreveport Regional Arts Council was Kip Holloway (who later became executive director for the Red River Revel) – and he “hired” me as a contracted Theatre Artist touring the Caddo Parish Public Schools through Arts in Education. Later, I became the Arts in Education director, and in 1986, I was promoted to executive director.
What are some things you are most proud of that SRAC has accomplished?
Goodness, it’s hard to know where to begin. I think the creation and sustaining of the ArtBreak Student Arts Festival is one of the most important because it is the “portal” for young artists to enter the Arts World and see their work taken seriously. As I just explained, in the early 1980’s there were few full-time teaching positions in the Arts…but those positions were threatened by budget cuts in 1983/84. We created ArtBreak as an advocacy tool to communicate the importance of curriculum-based Arts Instruction. The festival has helped to encourage Caddo and other schools to employ Visual and Performing Arts instructors starting at Elementary School through high school.
Public Art is a major resource for the community – murals – one of the largest in the nation, “Once in a Millennium Moon” on the AT&T building downtown, sculptures, and most recently, the new LED programmable lights on the Bakowski Bridge of Lights on the Texas Street Bridge – with monthly Glo Fests to celebrate the artists who have programmed Light Shows – are signature works that define our region.
The nationally renowned Creative Placemaking initiative to transform the long-neglected western edge of downtown Shreveport into a vibrant 9-block “uncommon” area known as Shreveport Common is a major advancement for SRAC because it enables artists to take centerstage in the revitalization — working with 36 community partners to accomplish 26 major priorities such as creating Arts Studios at the Andress Arts & Entrepreneur Center, the Caddo Common Park with its new Performance Pavilion opening on Nov. 11 and designed with artists. In order to equip artists to live, work and play in Shreveport Common, SRAC has developed an award-winning Entrepreneurial Training Program.
ARTSPACE is a phenomenal center for the Arts in downtown Shreveport. The fact that we’ve compelled our Academy Award and Emmy Winning director, William Joyce, to serve as the artistic director and bring nationally renowned artists such as Nick Cave, FriendsWithYou, Dennis Wolf Bat, and Chip Kidd, to exhibit at ARTSPACE is remarkable.
There is so much more…
What makes Shreveport such a vibrant arts community?
The artists! Truly, vibrancy comes from the actions of the artists … experiencing their performances at the Strand Theatre, in the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, Shreveport Opera, Highland Jazz & Blues, the Red River Revel, or Music Prize event … or soon in Caddo Common Park can change your spirit! Meeting an artist at the Downtown Art Walk and learning about their work … going to the Andress Art Center, Agora Borealis, or C&C Mercantile to shop for unique artworks … seeing an exhibition at the Norton Art Museum, the Meadows Museum at Centenary, the East Bank Gallery, ARTSPACE, the Central ARTSTATION, Nader’s or Bailey’s Gallery. Then there’s the plethora of theatre and dance in our community – mostly all local artists directing, choreographing, and acting/performing at Shreveport Little Theatre, Marjorie Lyons Playhouse, LSU-S Blackbox, Emmet Hook Performing Arts Center, and the Riverview Civic Theatre. And, oh my goodness, the number of authors, poets, novelists, and spoken word artists is amazing. Let’s not forget the incredible filmmakers … and opportunities to celebrate them at Film Prize and Robinson Film Center. Clearly, I could go on and on … but our vibrant arts community starts with a talented professional – and high quality avocational – cadre of artists and is sustained by the many arts organizations who commit to support and feature “local” artists.
What changes have you seen in the local arts scene over the past 10 years?
The primary change that I’ve seen is a newfound respect for what artists bring to our community and a clearer understanding of what arts organizations contribute to making the region “live-able.” This includes the Economic Impact of the Arts as reported by the Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Tourist Bureau, the role of the Arts in Development as reported by the Downtown Development Authority and the Shreveport Common, Inc. Board of Directors, the importance of Arts in Education and Arts Education as seen in the burgeoning arts opportunities offered to and through Caddo Parish Schools (and Private, Charter and Home School Associations). There is also the role of Arts in Medicine as seen at Feist-Weiller Cancer Center. As the arts offerings become even more accessible, affordable, or with free admission, there is tremendous participation by diverse audiences … who are loving the immersive engagement – with diverse artists who are creating unforgettable arts experiences.
What’s your dream destination?
The “completion” of the Uncommon, Unpredictable, Uncensored, Unimagined, Uncanny downtown cultural niche, Shreveport Common. This area is destined to fulfill the “dream” of a place where all people will come to “stumble upon the fun.”
What are the top three things on your bucket list?
Actually, I’m not keen on the idea of a “bucket list” – it implies that once you complete the list, you’re a “goner” – there’s nothing left to do! There is so much to do … we are just getting started! However, I’ll share a few of the next dream priorities that will require “mega” teamwork and reap huge results!
- The completion of a state-of-the-art MAKERSPACE for area Artists, Creatives, Tinkerers, and Shreveport Common/HUD CHOICE Neighbors. The MAKERSPACE will open endless possibilities for imagining, designing, creating, and fabricating new works!
- The creation of an annual outdoor – in Caddo Common Park – SHAKESPEAREAN Theatre Festival set in a Renaissance themed performance area that is “home grown” with area artists and incorporating the neighborhood Social Service Organizations in managing and hosting the productions.
- The LED Illumination of Texas Street from the Bakowski Bridge of Lights through downtown, to Texas Avenue and Shreveport Common, and across the Common Street Viaduct… creating a major entry to downtown from I-20 at the Common Street/Line Avenue exit!
Contact Harriet at email@example.com