When a 2009 fire destroyed the home of the Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC), the area’s major public arts organization, its mayor saw an opportunity to establish a new headquarters and at the same time catalyze development in a central neighborhood suffering from a downturned economy, decades of neglect, and a patchwork of abandoned properties. The project started with the restoration of an unused, architecturally significant building to give the organization more space, which stimulated activity in the distressed district and ultimately launched a $100M public/private, arts-driven revitalization effort: Shreveport Common.
Located on the banks of the Red River in northwest Louisiana, Shreveport is the state’s third largest city and, historically, an important node in the transportation corridors that link Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC) serves as the non-profit arts arm of the city government. It was founded in 1976 as a way to develop and promote the Arts in northwest Louisiana. Following the 2009 fire which destroyed the SRAC headquarters, Shreveport Mayor Cedric B. Glover realized the opportunity to plan the restoration and re-use of an empty 1922 fire station as a tool for revitalization. A city masterplan determined a western niche of downtown an area to target. The 9-block project area, newly named Shreveport Common is home to historic structures in need of revitalization and re-use at the juncture of two districts—Ledbetter Heights neighborhood and the downtown business district.
The Shreveport Common target area is located in one of the first established neighborhoods outside Shreveport’s downtown district. The area got its start as a multi-cultural mercantile district, later becoming a predominately African American population, and most recently, scattered social service residences for the otherwise homeless. With a federal designation as a HUD Revitalization Area, Ledbetter Heights has had to confront a challenged economy and high crime rates. Many buildings were abandoned, so the area itself was a landscape of boarded-up windows and bare concrete surfaces. By most metrics—median income, poverty rates, and home values—the area residents had living conditions that were less favorable than Shreveport residents in other neighborhoods.
The project was the result of multiple needs; SRAC was in need of a new building, the Ledbetter Heights neighborhood was in need of revitalization, and many buildings within the neighborhood, including a former fire station, were in need of historic preservation. Though there was a pressing need for economic development throughout the neighborhood, SRAC recognized the danger of pushing for that objective without ensuring that longtime residents could continue to afford to live there. As SRAC Executive Director Pam Atchison says, “the desire to ‘keep the community’ while growing it has been the motivation for the project from day one.” Recognizing that SRAC would be the newcomer, she remarked, “We are ever aware that in order to keep the essential authenticity of the community, we must endeavor to keep and involve the residents and businesses here.”
It was Mayor Glover who first identified the vision to build a new SRAC in the Ledbetter Heights neighborhood and then tasked SRAC to implement the project. The arts organization would take up its new home in a former Central Fire Station, restoring the deteriorating structure and rebranding it as the Central ARTSTATION. In addition to building the new arts center, SRAC sought to revitalize the area using arts as a catalyst. SRAC Executive Director Pam Atchison’s main goal was “to make the city better for everyone”, adding that “people choose to live where there is vibrancy, and that’s the opportunity we have to give to the people of Shreveport and Northwest Louisiana.” The arts organization brought public and private stakeholders together to bring arts into conversations often considered “non-arts related work, including artists in the design of greenspaces and transportation initiatives”, as explained by Atchison. For example, project leaders set a goal of attracting 500 new residents, making it affordable for artists and the creative community to live and work there, and ensuring that existing residents could stay.
From the very first moments, the City of Shreveport and its mayor were fully committed to the project. Together, they worked in an integrated way with SRAC. The project was predicated on a close coordination with the community, so Mayor Glover assembled a 50-member advisory committee whose members included representatives from area stakeholders, such as the coalition for A Better Shreveport, Lakeside Baptist Church, Texas Ave. Community Association, Providence House, and professional artists. This committee, with project manager Wendy Benscoter (certified Creative Placemaking Master Practitioner), led communication and outreach with stakeholders and oversaw the visioning process, including focus groups, community design charrettes, and interviews. Moving into the design process, leaders tapped historic preservation designer Gregory Free to oversee the Visioning of Shreveport Common and the preservation and adaptive reuse of the Central Fire Station. LeBlanc & Young Architects and Hand Construction led the design and construction of the Central ARTSTATION.
- The Anderson Families agreed to become naming sponsors, funding close to 1/3rd of the project to get the Capital Campaign started.
- Approximately $1.5 million in funding was provided by the City of Shreveport, Parish of Caddo, State of Louisiana;
- Design funding (to include the design for Shreveport Common) from the National Endowment for the Arts.
- An additional $2,500,000 was raised in Private Sector Contributions.
- Total Private Sector Contributions account for 60% of the funding for the Central ARTSTATION.
- The total renovation, including the FF&E to repurpose into a Gallery, Black Box Flexible space, Conference Rooms, and Arts Resource Center is $5,500,000.
- The Central ARTSTATION’s KALLENBERG ARTIST’S TOWER, the smallest/tallest apartment for a visiting Residency Artist, will be complete in November 2014 at an additional cost of $600,000; 100% of the funds come from the private sector: Kallenberg Families.
- The entire project (Central ARTSTATION and Apartment) costs $6.1 million.
- Shreveport Regional Arts Council raised an additional $1 million to provide income for the three new program areas associated with the mission of the Central ARTSTATION, for a period of three years.
The Advisory Committee, SRAC consultants, and architects sought community input by going on walking tours and holding over 65 ‘listening sessions.’ The team recognized that not everyone had access to transportation, so, as a way to maximize community engagement, it hired a shuttle that would bring residents to the meetings. The team was committed to artists being a part of the planning, decision-making, design, and creation of Shreveport Common. Local artists were commissioned to design elements of Central ARTSTATION and to develop usage policies. SRAC implemented innovative methods for ensuring affordability of artist performance space rental and training fees, offering alternative payment through the exchange of arts services to the neighboring social service organizations. This Pay-It-Forward program, plus a series of workshops on tax credit incentives for local real estate developers, allowed the community to keep rental rates low while providing a venue for creative practices to take root.
- The Public Art in Transportation Symposium, Feb 2011, three-day Symposium, attracted 250 people from 4 states to explore the relationships and responsibilities of Public Art within Transportation systems to include Bus Stations, Bus Stops, Bike Paths and Racks, Pedestrian walk ways and crosswalks, Rail systems, and the animation of these systems. Keynote presentations included Kendal Henry – Curator; JMC Art Partners – Managers; Janet Zweig, New York Metro System Public Art Director; Martha Peters, Ft. Worth Public Art Director.
- Tax Incentives Symposium, May 2011, attracted 80 Louisiana and Texas Developers to hear presentations by the State of Louisiana’s staff in areas of Historic Tax Credits, New Markets, Louisiana/Shreveport expansion tax incentives, Tiffs, Cultural District Tax Credits, and more.
- Conversations on Criticism: The Future of Intelligent Writing on the Arts, August 2014; this Symposium is a finale to an 18 month “Critics’ Series” featuring nationally renowned Critics Robert Pincus, PhD (Visual Arts Critic and Symposium Curator); Lauren Buscemi (Visual Arts Critic); Susan Larsen (Visual Arts Critic) David Ulin (Literary Critic); Michael Granger (Dallas Morning News Arts Editor) and Michael Killoren – National Endowment for the Arts Local Arts Agencies Director.
SRAC’s new home has become a busy Arts Resource Center, providing a professionally manned Arts Business Center, ongoing Arts Entrepreneurial Training, gallery for Emerging Artists, and a multi-use “Engine Room” for performances. Programming now “spills onto” the once desolate streets. Project leaders report tangible positive change for the local neighborhood, and a professional Market Study by TMG Consultants validated the Vision goals. Three public and five historically significant buildings have undergone preservation improvements. The City acquired a group of abandoned lots, and in an unprecedented partnership, Caddo Parish, the local county government, will transform it into an artist-designed greenspace called “Caddo Common”, spurring private real estate activity. Developers have purchased two buildings, three long-empty retail spaces are leased by creative businesses, and two other properties are in closing negotiation. The City has undertaken necessary zoning amendments to encourage uses in keeping with the vision for Shreveport Common and further revitalization and has assembled the area’s 35 diverse business and residential stakeholders into a neighborhood community. SRAC held multiple symposia throughout the grant cycle to explore issues related to the development, started neighborhood get-togethers and clean–up days, and has inaugurated a monthly festival, UNSCENE!, which brings ongoing vibrancy. Knowing that many of its goals are long-term, SRAC has also identified future benchmarks for assessing later projects.
- Entrepreneurial Training Program: Shreveport Regional Arts Council provides a 34 hour Entrepreneurial Training Program for 20 Northwest Louisiana Artists at the Central ARTSTATION that includes 16 hours on the roles and responsibilities of a Professional Artist (Product Quality and Production, Marketing/Social Media, Representation, Participation in Festivals/Galleries/Pop Ups, and Websites).
- The Engine Room and Gallery: Gallery space at the Central ARTSTATION is provided for artists to produce/present/exhibit; fees are remunerated with Pay It Forward programming.
- Municipal Auditorium: The newly restored – state of the art – Municipal Auditorium (opened May 2014) provides a dynamic new Performance opportunity for area artists with a 3,000 seat theatre.
- Programming: UNSCENE! continues as a monthly event produced by Shreveport Regional Arts Council that features the “Public Debut” of commissioned new works of art by Northwest Louisiana artists in and around the Central ARTSTATION and Shreveport Common.
- Public Art Ordinance: Shreveport Regional Arts Council will present a public art ordinance for approval by the City Council.
- Industrial Arts Center - for creating large works of art in Metal, Bronze, Ceramic, and Wood.
- Artists’ live/work space - tentatively known as the Wilson Street Live/Workspace.
- COMMON MARKET- with Gallery spaces for artists paired with a small food market of fresh produce/meats and “take out” prepared gourmet dishes.
From the beginning, Shreveport Common was about positioning art as a catalyst for urban change. Organizers noted that while art was a focal point, they had to address many other concerns. “Who would have guessed that an arts council would be forced to be versed on issues surrounding transportation, housing, financing, tax credits and incentives, homeless populations, railroad right of ways and so much more?” asks Atchison. The team dug into these and other challenges, such as creating public-private partnerships, assembling expert-led taskforces, undertaking transportation studies, and working closely with entrepreneurs and real estate developers. Some programs not originally planned for emerged as a result of a Public Art in Transportation Symposium. The idea for a temporary public art program, for instance, gave emerging local artists a venue to exhibit their work and will be used to animate Shreveport Common. A recent transportation plan, Common Connection, pins Shreveport Common at its nucleus, with artist designs throughout.