Central Louisiana is blessed with a visual arts scene which rivals those found in much larger metropolitan areas. The two cornerstones of that artistic community are found in the heart of Central Louisiana—River Oaks Arts Square and the Alexandria Museum of Art. Both River Oaks and AMoA work tirelessly year-round to foster creativity and community among experienced and beginner artists alike.
Great things start with great people and the places that bring them together. When River Oaks Square Arts Center opened its doors in 1984 as a contemporary visual art and fine crafts center, the idea was simple—to create a place for artists and art enthusiasts. Such a place would, ideally, foster creativity and spark interest in the arts in the surrounding area.
From Day One, River Oaks housed studio space for working artists, created a multitude of outreach programming, and hosted rotating gallery exhibitions. Not even the wildest imagination could have predicted the creative hub this little corner of downtown Alexandria would turn into some thirty-seven years later. Each year, River Oaks hosts a minimum of 20 exhibitions within three galleries along with a multitude of educational programs, far exceeding what even bigger cities typically offer. The center welcomes over 20,000 visitors annually, with admission waived for educational/special tour groups to help ensure broader access for people throughout the region.
The Bolton Davis Gallery is the Art Center’s main gallery, showcasing works of established artists from across the U.S. The Galerie des Amis showcases Resident Artists of the Arts Center with current/recent works. The Stokes-Harris Gallery features local and emerging artists who have reached a new level of expertise with an increasing need to present their work in a gallery setting. All features undergo an adjudication process, aiding the Art Center with audience and artist development, allowing opportunities for work presentation in a professional, credible environment while also offering educational extensions to featured exhibitions.
“One of the most rewarding experiences of working at River Oaks, and there are many rewarding moments working here, are when out of town guests stumble upon our creative corner and can’t believe the magnitude of programming we offer,” says Rachael Dauzat, Executive Director at River Oaks. “Guests and renowned artists from major metropolitan areas have become some of our biggest fans, all while helping introduce our featured shows, artists, and works of art to new audiences.”
Outreach programming impacts youth, adults, and seniors from under-served populations within the community. The unique “ART for ALL” outreach programs impact students with learning modalities, seniors, and homeless shelter residents. Since their inception, these programs have enriched the lives of over 700 students through creative sessions of painting, ceramics, and mixed media public art design. These initiatives have become an essential cornerstone of community outreach as the Arts Center continues its expansion.
“I am most proud of our outreach programming, which is a continuing expansion of need-based educational offerings for under-served populations within our community,” continues Dauzat. “It is simply our way of providing ‘Art to All’ and bringing the importance of our mission to those who may not have access. The instructors who engage with students through these year-long creative sessions are the true heroes. As an organization, we provide the stable base, ensuring it is funded and executed accordingly. Having been a part of River Oaks for the past twenty-three years, it is my mission to see these outreach programs reach new heights along with all other facets that encapsulate the gem we call River Oaks.”
Fostering artists’ growth and professional journey directly, the resident artist program currently supports 30 resident artists who occupy studio space at the Arts Center. The on-site arts academy offers classes and workshops featuring nationally-renowned professional artists, along with resident and regional artists.
“River Oaks is a vital institution for the growth of artists in our region,” says Aubrey Bolen, Artistic Director at River Oaks. “It is an artist incubator of sorts. It gives local artists a community to network in, exchange ideas, give support and feedback. The art center helps contemporary artists flourish in today’s art world by giving them affordable studio space, opportunities to showcase their work, workshops to hone their skills, and a connection to patrons they wouldn’t have had before.”
“Having a great studio space within the community of artists at River Oaks provides so many advantages,” says Resident Artist Laura Gates. “The dialogue and interactions on a daily basis, the exchange of ideas, and the underlying hum of activity as we create our art—all of these form the foundation of an arts center that is the core of Alexandria’s cultural community. Being a resident artist here has allowed me to increase the quality and production of my work and grow as an artist. At the same time, I give back to the community through teaching and coaching art at a residential care facility, and by contributing to this area’s cultural economy through sales of original art.”
The River Oaks Annual Christmas Porch Sale has been held on the first Saturday in December for the past twenty-five years. What started as a handful of works literally being displayed on the porch of the Bolton House has evolved to one of the most anticipated art sales of the season, with works from well over 100 visual artists and fine craftsmen for sale in the historic Bolton Home as well as the Studio Annex Building.
While supporting hundreds of artists, their work, and of course River Oaks is a great cause, it also bears mentioning that River Oaks is located in the heart of Downtown Alexandria’s Cultural Arts District, which means all purchases of original works are tax-reduced.
River Oaks has released the much anticipated 2022 Exhibition Schedule, which will kick off with Robin Whitfield, resident artist Laura Gates, and one of the Outreach Projects shows with artists from Hope House with Instructor Carla Guillory from February 11 – March 22, 2022 with an Opening Reception scheduled on February 11th from 5:00pm to 7:00pm. Whitfield is a renowned Mississippi artist who says that the beauty of nature and biodiversity is a driving force in her creative life.
The 8th Annual Dirty South Cup Call, with Guest Juror Renee LoPresti, will bring another selection of the most talented ceramicists and potters to the arts center. LoPresti will also invite a special selection of Friends of Juror in a featured exhibition at the same time and our own Morgan Lasyone will add local flair with her exhibition of works from April 8 – May 28, 2022.
As the summer settles over the arts center and the Summer Arts Studio is soon to begin, River Oaks will feature the annual Resident Artists & Friends Annual Summer Show. Inviting friends of the resident artists is a brand new component that is being introduced in 2022. Local artist David Crain will exhibit his works in the Galerie des Amis while Ava Lacour is being featured in the Stokes-Harris Gallery from June 3 – August 6, 2022. After the Summer Arts Studio Summer Camp concludes, River Oaks will also feature a one-time special Summer Art Studio Student Show on Saturday, August 13th.
Starting in August, LSU’s very own Michaelene Walsh will be featured in the Bolton-Davis Gallery. The artist who says that the impetus for her magnificent ceramics come from reading poetry will exhibit at the same time as resident artist Chastity Sayer Smith and local artist Bob Howell from August 26 – September 24, 2022.
By the time the next show comes around, River Oaks will be in full preparation for the Annual Van Gogh Gala on Saturday, October 29th. Mississippi painter Cindy Aune, resident artist Amber Voorhies, and local icon Jerry Havens are featured with their exhibitions from September 30 – November 5, 2022.
The year will close out, as is customary, with the Annual 5x5x5 Show National Call with Guest Juror Ashley Chavis, while resident artist Maria Manemann will be featured in the Galerie des Amis and the Ceramics Outreach Program featuring students from Rapides ARC, Pecan Grove and LA Special Ed Center with Instructor Carole Steele will be on display in the Stokes-Harris Gallery from November 11, 2022 – February 5, 2023.
Lead exhibition sponsors for 2022 will be GAEDA, NEA, LDOA, Rapides Regional Medical Center, Red River Bank, Dr. Betsy Long Memorial Fund and Captivate Minds Marketing.
Great movements need great people and a place to bring them together. River Oaks has that special magnetism, the ability to attract extraordinary artists and allow them to flourish.
The Alexandria Museum of Art (AMoA) has been proudly serving the Central Louisiana area for over 40 years, following its mission to foster a culturally rich community by engaging, enlightening, and inspiring individuals through innovative art experiences. The museum averages approximately 11,000 visitors a year and staff works diligently to plan and implement quality arts programming that is both entertaining and educational.
Exhibits are planned strategically to empower the variety of cultural groups in our community by choosing topics that explore everything from current events to our region’s rich artistic legacy. AMoA plans accompanying programming to reflect exhibition themes—including workshops, family classes, lecture series, panel discussions, and more. Programming is designed to reach all areas of our community from K-12 students and teachers to veterans, home schooled students, special needs groups, college students, and the general public. There is something for everyone at the Alexandria Museum of Art!
To further its mission, the museum educates in order to advance the public’s knowledge of and appreciation for the value of art as a source of beauty, inspiration, information and expression. Young school-aged children, ages 6 through 12, attend the museum’s summer camps—weekly themed camps taught by guest educators in June each year. Teenagers ages 13 to 18 join “The Muse Teen Club”, a group of highly motivated young adults that plans exciting arts experiences and workshops each year. Adults participate in the museum’s “Creativity Launchpad”, a monthly evening class that explores different artistic mediums. If a particular medium resonates with them, they can then sign up for one of the museum’s full-day workshops. Currently, there are ceramics and figure drawing workshops scheduled for 2022, but new opportunities are announced throughout the year! If the whole family wants to create something together, the museum also offers affordable quarterly Family Classes.
AMoA prides itself in being deeply rooted in our community and the museum is constantly evaluating its outreach programs to better understand what would most benefit our public. The museum has invested in training its educators in Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) to offer our community this unique program, both in the galleries and in the classroom. VTS is a literacy program wrapped in art viewing that increases analytical thinking and problem solving skills, respect for others opinions, and encourages scaffolding on other’s ideas among other skills. Longitudinal research has proven that participation in VTS greatly increases students’ scores in reading and writing. AMoA works with LSUA’s Education Department to train student teachers in this method. There are currently two cohorts of student teachers working through the program and implementing it in their respective classrooms. This is just one way in which the museum and the university work together to positively impact our area’s students. Additional resources are available on the museum’s website for teachers compiled into a convenient one stop shop within AMoA’s new “Vault” member portal. School tours utilizing VTS are offered free of charge for Rapides Parish Public Schools.
Each summer, the museum partners with Louisiana Charities Trust and the Louisiana Food Bank to provide summer camp for children in impoverished areas. The program not only ensures food insecure children will receive nutritious meals for two weeks in the summer, it also brings the kids to cultural experiences they may otherwise be unable to access. The museum is hoping to expand this program next year to include more kids and a wider age range. AMoA also works closely with the VA to provide free Expressive Therapy to veterans in treatment for PTSD. Participants are recommended to the program by the VA and each group has their psychologist attending working along with the veterans.
Youth Art Month (YAM) Competition & Festival occurs each spring at AMoA. The competition is open to all grades and schools in the parish, as well as home school students. It is presented along with the major spring exhibition beginning in March for families to have an opportunity to view their child’s art work along with other museum visitors. An impartial juror selects YAM awards in each category. On Second Saturday in March, AMoA hosts the Youth Art Month Festival including informational sessions, performances, activities and fun. All is free and open to the public.
In addition to robust educational offerings, the Museum strives to uplift all forms of art with its Outdoor Concert Series, inviting artists from around the country to perform at the museum. It has been a joyous reprieve in 2021 to be able to gather safely with friends to enjoy live music against the backdrop of Alexandria’s historic downtown.
The Museum also puts on two signature events each year to benefit both the public and the museum itself. For the past 10 years, the Alexandria Museum of Art has organized the Louisiana Dragon Boat Races which will be back after a two year hiatus on May 7, 2022. It is especially fulfilling to see all areas of our community come out to partake in some good natured competition while team building. In 2021, the museum had its first annual plein air festival, the “Farm to Forest Plein Air Festival”, which had artists from around the country come to Central Louisiana for five days of exploring and painting the abundance of natural beauty our area has to offer. The festival will be back again next year October 13-16, 2022.
Community Workshops and Illuminated Processions take place several times a year in conjunction with City Festivals and ArtWalks. Community members learn to make a variety of luminary masterpieces through workshops and join in the AMoA Procession through festival grounds after dark. This year, AMoA will be presenting a Holiday Procession for AlexWinterFête on Saturday, December 11th at 9:30pm just before the fireworks. This is a great community engagement spectacle!
For more information on how you can support Cenla’s Vibrant Visual Arts Community or foster your own artistic talents, visit River Oaks online at riveroaksartscenter.com and the Alexandria Museum of Art at themuseum.org.