Historic City Hall will reopen in April or May. Expect nationally touring traveling art/history exhibitions including “A New Moon Rises.”
“We’re beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel,” said Matt Young, city of Lake Charles director of cultural affairs.
Prior to the pandemic and the storms, economic development was on the rise. Initiatives were underway to improve quality of life. Promoting Southwest Louisiana’s culture — food, architecture, music and art — was part of that plan.
“Every great city has cultural institutions,” Young said. “These spaces offer more than just a look outside of our own world, exposing us to other geographic regions, art movements and historic events. They also spark wildfire development.”
Restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus put a damper on the blaze. Traditionally well-attended festivals were cancelled.
August and October hurricanes tore through Old City Hall Arts and Cultural Center and Central School Arts and Humanities Center.
“At Old City Hall, Laura’s damage was primarily limited to the second and third floors, a result of rainwater that poured in after the roof was blown off,” said Matt Young, City of Lake Charles Director of Cultural Affairs. “Delta brought more damage, flooding the ground floor. At Central School, major sections of the roof were removed by wind during Laura, and water damage occurred in the auditorium and to numerous offices belonging to our arts organizations on the second and third floors.”
Today, more than four months after Hurricane Laura, the focus is on recovering and rebuilding.
“Considerable thought is being given by the City’s administration and by Mayor Nic Hunter to build back for efficiency and with purpose,” Young said.
The damages to both buildings is estimated to be in excess of $1 million, according to Young, but the City of Lake Charles is working with insurance, FEMA and the Historic Preservation Commission to guarantee these buildings are restored to their original grandeur.
Central School’s ground floor has already been reopened to tenants.
“We expect the upper floors to reopen by summer,” Young said. “As with other repairs, the storms have given us a chance to rebuild with functionality in mind.”
Arts organizations such as the Lake Charles Symphony, Mardi Gras Museum, Children’s Theater, the Arts Council and the Literacy Council all have office space in Central School. Lighting and sound will be improved in the theater. Public spaces will be more accessible and accommodate outdoor pop-up festivals and demonstrations. Old City Hall may be reconfigured so that visitors enter and exit through the front doors on the open plaza.
“It will make for a grand entrance, and we can better use the front plaza for outdoor performances, even mid-week lunch events,” he added.
Good did go on for the art community not despite challenges, but because of challenges. Young said that artists continue to grow their online presence and are working together to co-promote their services. The Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Arts Council partnered together this past year to create a local artist’s website.