Where the Streams Meet
It was a clear December morning when French attaché Philippe Aldon drove to the transitional junction of bayous Teche and Fuselier. Aldon, cultural assistant to the New Orleans French Consulate, carried with him a proposal that Consul Général Jean-Claude Brunet both approved and recommended.
Within the Brittany region of France, a group of business partners formulated in 2004 a methodology of job creation using arts as a conduit for the promotion of business, culture and education. This group, Les Articulteurs, challenged the mind-set of economic development by placing an emphasis on cultural economy, and what resulted for the communities of Pays de Redon and Vilaine were new jobs, more wealth and a greater quality of life.
“In Redon, Les Articulteurs cultivates the arts as a source of growth within their rural communities by enabling a redefinition of resources and territories, reinventing a sense of community development and innovating new social dynamics in a sustainable way,” Aldon says. “The NuNu Arts and Culture Collective and the people in Arnaudville are engaged in a very similar process.
“The consulate offered to act as a link between what is going on locally in Arnaudville with what is going on locally in Redon. By bringing the two groups together, it would enable both those in Arnaudville and Redon to meet and acknowledge each other for the purpose of cooperation toward development and perpetuation of mutual goals. The consulate believed that this partnership has a strong potential for cultural economy and rural development.”
The proposal that Aldon carried with him to Arnaudville was an invitation for representatives of NuNu Arts and Culture Collective, the town of Arnaudville, the parishes of St. Martin and St. Landry and area businesses to visit France and meet with Les Articulteurs representatives. The French Consulate of New Orleans would assist with introductions and arrangement of meetings.
The proposal was presented informally to visual artist George Marks, co-concept developer of the NuNu-Arnaudville Experiment; Mavis Frugé, director of the Jacques Arnaud French Studies Collective; and Gaye Hamilton, cultural district program manager, Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism. No one meeting with Aldon that day had prior knowledge of Les Articulteurs.
Within days, letters were sent out to all possible interested parties, and within one month, a delegation of five was created. Traveling to France were Marks; Frugé; visual artist Jill Hackney, director of Frederick l’École des Arts; Celeste Gomez, director of the St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission; and Vicki L. Chrisman, former administrative director of Louisiana Folk Roots.
The stated intent of the delegation was to gather information. What they returned with was an offer to make NuNu Arts and Culture Collective the first North American cluster of Les Articulteurs.
Les Articulteurs clusters are expanded partnerships of agreement to adhere to Les Articulteurs methodology of cultural economy creation. Adapted into programs are area cultural identities and their respective products.
Beginning with identification of values held in common, stakeholders develop steps of action founded on cooperation and sharing. The engine is pushed forward by designating programs to four areas of concentration: niche economics, live entertainment and events, research and training and the pooling of human and technical resources.
According to Les Articulteurs, there are clusters in Brussels and Mons, Belgium, and Krakow, Poland. Under development are clusters in the Netherlands and Ireland. And in France, projects of Les Articulteurs benefit 54 communities in two regions.
For more information of the work of Les Articulteurs, visit wobook.com/WBPb1tt6SP28.
To become a cluster of Les Articulteurs, NuNu Arts and Culture Collective must first prove itself to be a serious partner through the initiation of five starter programs.
A first meeting with Les Articulteurs, via Skype, took place in February at the St. Landry Parish visitors’ center. During this meeting, programs were created in the context of the four areas of concentration.
Gomez, who hosted the meeting, says businesses have much to gain from this new way of thinking about job creation: “By considering traits that may be untraditional in some workplaces, like projects that carry over into the arts, it encourages businesses to step back and analyze current practices with a fresh approach, positioning a business in a more competitive standing amongst its peers.”
Programs adopted after the initial meeting also include steps for adoption of a business approach founded in ethical principles as related to under-represented populations and environment concerns.
At the philosophical core of Les Articulteurs’ methodology is the goal of creating inclusive communities that share in an overall improved quality of life.
Hamilton says that from the perspective of the state Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism, “one of the basic premises of Les Articulteurs is the belief in the value of all people, creating work for the underserved in fact serves us all.
“I think one reason that the unlikely relationship between this international organization and this tiny community in Louisiana is emerging is because of that shared value,” Hamilton adds. “NuNu’s programs have marked Arnaudville as a community built on openness, resourcefulness, creativity and good will. It’s a winning combination that is not going unnoticed, and it is exciting to see it evolve.” NuNu Arts and Culture Collective, also referred to as The Arnaudville Experiment, was born from the ashes of the Town Market, a private business venture that burned in July 2010.
The market opened in 2005 as a showcase and gallery for work by emerging area artists. What resulted was a rural art movement that drew artists to Arnaudville, and following them were the collectors and audiences that support them.
In addition, the Town Market provided local residents with a gathering place where round-table discussions resulted in exchanges of ideas and the creation of other venues of interests.
“We first looked at existing cultural assets: French language usage; traditional musical genres; and local visual artists, including naturalist and historic painter Vincent Darby,” says Marks, co-owner of Town Market. “The concept of ‘art plus culture equals business’ was introduced to local businesses, and then a focus was placed on developing new art commerce through the creation of reoccurring art and cultural events.”
Local people, deeply vested in the community, volunteered their time. The nonprofit Frederick l’École des Arts was created, and grants were written for assistance with supporting new events: Music of Acadiana Performance Series, La Table Française d’Arnaudville, Acadiana Irish Music Sessions, Le Feu et l’Eau (Fire and Water) Rural Arts Celebration and the Bayou Blues festival.
Marks says as devastating as the fire was to both Town Market and the community, this break in activity resulted in the time to step back and rethink directions. “The question before us was: ‘Should we try to re-create what was? Or define?’” he says. “An evaluation was conducted that resulted in four general areas of concentration: arts and culture, career development, education and sustainable development.”
Born from the fire was NuNu Arts and Culture Collective, a nonprofit that functions as a community resource pool working to promote culture through use of artists and the arts as drivers of economic development. The nonprofit is located within the former Singleton Hardware Store, a 5,000-square-foot cypress building just west of the town’s corporate limits.
Hackney, who also serves as the collective’s board president, says NuNu’s education component, through Frederick l’École des Arts, is both a producer of and community partner in the creation of informal workshops and classes, including a series of free programs designed to address the interests of members and of the local community.
According to Marks, benefits witnessed are increased cultural and community awareness; the growth of hubs of activity within the greater area; attractions for visitors; quantitative economic development measured in area business growth and increased tax revenues; and recognition as an influential regional leader that encourages, supports and fosters free enterprise.
NuNu also partners with Casa Azul in Grand Coteau, promoting its monthly literature and poetry readings, film screenings and Spanish table gatherings. It serves as a partner location for Grand Coteau’s annual Festival of Words celebration and with the communities of Grand Coteau and Sunset in their annual 7-Mile Yard Sale. Under way is the formation of a Corridor des Arts, partnering NuNu with working artists in Grand Coteau, Sunset, Cecilia and Breaux Bridge.
The NuNu-Arnaudville Experiment is featured in the 2010 Creative Placemaking report of The Mayors’ Institute on City Design, a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the United States Conference of Mayors and American Architectural Foundation.
Along with 13 other cities and towns selected from throughout the United States, the NuNu-Arnaudville Experiment is celebrated as an example of cultural industry innovation.
For national and international recognition received by selection for the Creative Placemaking report, NuNu Arts and Culture Collective and the town of Arnaudville received a 2012 Louisiana Culture Connection Award.
Brunet learned of NuNu in November when Marks and Frugé visited the French Consulate. Information presented about ongoing work at the collective struck a chord of familiarly. Here was this small collective making proportionally huge strides toward the growth of a cultural economy, and there was Les Articulteurs, eight years in development and proving successful as a process for economic growth.
“Cultural economy is an attempt to combine culture and local economy, creating jobs, training opportunities, showing to the young people that they can still stay home, where their roots are, enjoy the festivals and music, practice their passion for arts, and still make a living, thereby contributing to developing local economy,” Brunet says.
Cultural economy in the Brittany region of France combines French and Celtic cultural roots and, like Louisiana, emphasizes the importance of cultural roots, the importance of economic development based on many small and medium-size enterprises and the importance of eco-tourism, he adds.
“Louisiana and Brittany share in this sense a very similar vision, including this particular combination of diverse, very vivid cultures in their local communities,” Brunet says. “Cultural economy is a very interesting avenue for cooperation between Louisiana and France and especially Brittany with Les Articulteurs.”
Initial programs formulated as a result of that first meeting are:
- Exchanges of musicians, visual artists and food/beverage for festivals and events between Rennes, France, and the Acadiana area
- A pen pal program establishing relationships by connecting students to students, musicians to musicians, artists to artists, businesses to businesses and so on
- A partnership with St. Landry Parish Tourism, St. Landry Parish Waste Management and French company Charier Enterprises in the development of an arts-education program for the purpose of promoting recycling
- A partnership with the Yves Rocher Foundation to facilitate a photography festival that focuses on the “person in the environment,” mirroring that of one in France
- A partnership with the town of La Gacilly in France for the establishment of an artist-in-residence program.
Ongoing activities include:
- A monthly Pooldoo Party, during which Donnie and the Pooldoos perform and invite guest participation
- A monthly artist retreat, during which artist members host working sessions for production of salable art
- A weekly quilting circle – en Français
- A monthly pot luck social, during which there is music, dancing, socializing and featured works, all for the cost of contributing “a favorite dish” to communal tables
- La Table Française, a monthly morning gathering of French speakers
- Monthly Sunday performances by members of Artists as One Voice, a collective of emerging and professional musicians and performers