Symphony to unleash the gators

Published 6:23 pm Saturday, October 2, 2021

Twenty years after Gators on the Geaux statues were unleashed into the wilds of Southwest Louisiana, the Lake Charles Symphony has decided to revive the beloved fundraiser.

“We’re in the very early planning stages of this, but since the hurricanes we’ve had several phone calls from people who either wanted to replace their gator or are interested in finding out how they can get a gator,” said Michelle Miller, executive director of the Lake Charles Symphony.

The first gator in the initial series, “Clotile,” was painted by artist Susan Fuerst and is displayed at the Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau. Among gators that can still be found around the area are “Mayor Gator” made in the likeness of former Lake Charles Mayor Willie Mount in downtown Lake Charles; “News Gator” at the American Press offices on U.S. 90; and “Teddy Gator” in honor of former President Teddy Roosevelt at the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge in Cameron.

The Groves, Texas, company that created the life-sized, fiberglass gator design destroyed the original mold after it showed signs of wear and tear following the initial creation of 114 gators. A new mold will be created in the same likeness.

“It will be keeping with the similar look and feel of the gator but there will be some slight changes in his body style. It will be very similar to what we did 20 years ago,” she said.

During the initial fundraiser, 100 gators were purchased by local residents and organizations and others were sold to residents in Texas, Florida and California. Along with corporate sponsorships, $150,000 was raised for the Symphony that year.

“There are several businesses from 20 years ago that are no longer around and, of course, 20 years later there are so many businesses now that weren’t here then that would probably love to support the Symphony and promote local art and feature a gator,” Miller said.

A committee has been created to head up the fundraiser and Miller said she’s hopeful the Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau will partner with the Symphony this go ‘round, too.

“They created the Gators on the Geaux map for people to tour the area to find all the gators,” she said. “We want to revive that and bring that spirit back to Southwest Louisiana and the love for arts and culture, bring back some of the original local artists, feature some new local artists who weren’t around 20 years ago and just really get the whole community involved.”

Miller said a fundraiser of this scale is more than enough to cover a season of activities for the Symphony.

“It would even allow us to bring in bigger acts,” she said. “Our Summer Pops is one of our biggest draws as far as our concerts go so to be able to bring in bigger acts would draw bigger crowds which would then create more awareness in the Lake Area. It would also allow us to help support the school programs. We work with Barbe High School and their string orchestra and this would allow us to do more for them and hopefully bring more of the Symphony into the schools and the education realm.”

Prices for the gators have not yet been set, but the committee does have forms available for businesses interested in ordering a gator.

“There will be options as far as the art goes on the gator,” Miller said. “What was done in the past is what we’re trying to stick with where there is a select artist and a select design. A business could choose from a select design or they could hire their own artist to do a design but that design would have to fall within the art guidelines. Our plan is to stick with that to keep the integrity of the project.”

Miller said while packing up their office — located in the Central School Arts & Humanities Center — after Hurricane Laura damaged the building, she found two dozen copies of “Art Across America,” a book that features community artwork on display. Among the pages was a special feature about Southwest Louisiana’s Gators on the Geaux.

Miller said the first 20 organizations that purchase a gator for this fundraiser will receive a copy of that book.

She said the Symphony is considering kicking off the fundraiser similar to the original launch, which featured dinner and the auction of the first gator designed in this series.

“It would kind of be like a rebirth of Gators on the Geaux,” she said. “What a cool way to come back from the hurricanes and devastation and the rebirth of our area and the rebirth of the Symphony and then bringing back the Gators on the Geaux. It would all tie in so well together.”