The city of Lake Charles’ Department of Cultural Affairs is a multi-faceted entity that serves to improve the quality of life of Southwest Louisiana through its annual festivals, arts centers and diverse special events. Under director Matt Young, the department encompasses the operations at Historic City Hall Arts and Cultural Center, Central School Arts and Humanities Center and the dozens of events held in the Civic Center, on the lake front and in parks and streets across Lake Charles — many of which are free of charge to attendees.
“Everyone should have access to such important cultural, education and family-friendly resources,” Young said.
Describing the passion that drives him to bring a variety of mediums and presentations to the community, Young referenced his long-term mentor and former mayor Randy Roach’s words — “You do it for the people who aren’t able to travel. There are people whose fondest and best childhood memories are going to be spent in the Lake Charles museum or a Lake Charles park. Don’t we owe it to them to make that worth their while and bring things to Lake Charles that they wouldn’t be able to see otherwise?”
At no cost at all to museum guests, Historic City Hall’s galleries have housed works from the some of the most skilled and iconic fine artists of all time, including Pablo Picasso, Norman Rockwell and Ansel Adams. The three-story museum also features the works of local talented artists both young and old.
“There’s a wide, diverse amount of talent in Lake Charles, I think, beyond what a city of our size would usually have. If we’re going to have a museum that’s open to the public it’s important for us to be able to showcase the work of local artists that’s really beyond belief,” he said.
The museum also localizes its showcase by working with local schools to bring in content relative to what students are studying. More frequent branching out beyond fine art is one goal Young is working to achieve as demonstrated through the upcoming fall exhibit from the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Next school year, eighth-grade students will be visiting the gallery for a real-world connection to their classroom studies.
The exhibit will also give adults an opportunity for personal connection to the exhibit as the museum is asking members of the public to bring in their own World War II-related artifacts.
“We’ve taken in things like medals, letters, maps, flags and uniforms that will be showcased alongside the traveling exhibit.”
The museum is also working on expanding its variety and offering exhibits with larger mass appeal like an upcoming show about the National Football League, “Gridiron Glory: the Pro Football hall of Fame.”
“Fine art is wonder and appeals to a lot of people,” Young said, “But it doesn’t appeal to everyone. These two are examples that will bring in a different audience.”
In an effort to make the museum even more accessible, beginning in the fall it will expand its weekend hours and will be open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on weekdays. The museum gets a large count of out-of-town visitors through the gaming industry attraction, but many locals have yet to experience the wonders of Historic City Hall, Young said.
“Downtown Lake Charles has a lot to offer now, evenings and weekends. In an attempt to keep up with when people are coming downtown and really getting out their homes, enjoying all that it has to offer, I think it’s imperative that we be open during those times.”
The Department of Cultural Affairs also oversees many of the festivals that take place on the streets and common spaces of Downtown Lake Charles. Young said Southwest Louisiana has always had a reputation as being the “festival capitol of the state” due to its regular line-up of programming but in the last decade, as the population has increased, the department has risen to the challenge of meeting the public’s entertainment needs.
Many of the city’s premiere events like ChuckFest, Live at the Lakefront and Downtown at Sundown have sprung up in the last 10-15 years, he said.
“These ongoing festivals bring people out of their homes, downtown to a specific area that needs revitalizing to help establish a sense of community. There’s so much that we can learn from each other when we interact.”
Cultural education is another important element to the department’s mission and the work is carried out at the Central School Arts and Humanities Center. Housing entities like the Lake Charles Symphony, Arts Council, Mardi Gras Museum, Literacy Council, Community Band, artists, theater groups and art galleries, Central School has become a “hub of artistic synergy.”
“You know the saying, ‘The sum is greater than the part?’ This is the case at Central,” Young said. All housed under one roof, artists are able to work together in a collaborative manner creating music, performances and literal works adorned with a diverse signature of talent.
“It’s easy for theater groups to use artists to paint their set backdrops. Under one roof, writers are pairing up with illustrators to create and publish books right here in Southwest Louisiana. The Symphony and Community Band share resources like music stands and instruments. It’s kind of a powerhouse of helping to propel our cultural economy.”
For more information on Central School Arts and Humanities Center or its low-cost room rental, call the Arts Council at 439-2787 or visit at 809 Kirby St. Historic City Hall Arts and Cultural Center is located at 1001 Ryan St and open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, call 491-9147 or visit www.cityoflakecharles.com.