So tied to Shreveport and the arts is Pam Atchison’s life that she feels her life began in 1982, when, as she put it, “Shreveport decided they wanted to be an arts community.” We as a city have certainly achieved that goal, and it’s due in large part to arts and non-profit professionals like Atchison, who actually began her career as a high school drama and debate teacher. She’s come a long way since her earliest days, before the Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC) even existed on its own – when Atchison began as an arts education instructor, SRAC was part of SPAR (now Shreveport Public Assembly & Recreation, then known as Shreveport Parks & Recreation). “Arts were considered the ‘and recreation,’” she explained wryly. Today, SRAC offices are part of Central ARTSTATION, a reimagining of the old Central Fire Station that began to take shape after an arsonist destroyed SRAC’s former Princess Park headquarters in 2009.
Though Atchison has worked tirelessly as executive director of SRAC since 1986, she’s reluctant to take any credit for the organization’s successes. Every project she discusses includes a laundry list of people who made it possible (“a phenomenal board of directors that is very hands-on,” “the best staff this side of the Mississippi,” “tremendously loyal” sponsors, etc.), but she gives the most credit to Shreveport’s enthusiasm for art of all kinds. “When you find a community that will come out and play with you,” she said, “then you want to stand by them.”
There’s little doubt that Shreveport and all of Northwest Louisiana will want to come out and play when they see SRAC’s newest art installation, Rainbow City, consisting of 40-to-50-foot outdoor inflatable, interactive sculptures by Los Angeles-based artist duo FriendsWithYou (Arturo Sandoval, III and Samuel L. Borkson). The colorful, whimsical sculptures will occupy an entire city block for six weeks. Commissioned two years ago, the installation celebrates the opening of Caddo Common, the beautiful new green space located at 869 Texas Avenue within the Shreveport Common downtown neighborhood. Thanks to generous sponsorships, including Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport and Red Ball Oxygen (which is supplying all the helium needed for the sculptures), Rainbow City is free and open to the public from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Other sponsors include the City of Shreveport, Louisiana Office of Tourism, Shreveport Convention & Tourist Bureau and Shreveport Regional Airport. Learn more at friendswithyoushreveport.com.
SRAC will create programming for Caddo Common, and this is clearly a very special project for Atchison. The Shreveport Common neighborhood and Caddo Common green space are undeniably a big part of the future not only for SRAC, but also for Northwest Louisiana arts. She pointed out that, in a nine-block area, there are no fewer than 21 cultural venues, making it quite “an uncommon cultural community,” she quipped.
Diversity is a buzzword in 2019, particularly within arts communities, but Atchison pointed out that neighborhoods like Shreveport Common and the organizations contained within them bring about authentic diversity. Social service organizations like Mercy Center and the VOA LightHouse bring the health-conscious together with the sick and the intellectually curious with the learning disabled. And, like art, authentic diversity fosters empathy, a much-needed quality as we bring to a close one of the most contentious decades in American history.
The concept of Shreveport Common is similar to what many of us experienced in college with the ubiquitous “quad:” a public space where people can meet and decide among a myriad of simultaneous entertainment, cultural and social experiences. Restaurants, movies, theatrical and musical performances, art installations and other activities could all be open and hosting events at the same time. Some events will have costs associated with them, of course, but many activities will be free as well.
Aside from developing the Shreveport Common neighborhood, Atchison’s primary passion is arts education, and Rainbow City presents a unique take on that as well – all the characters, shapes and sculptures within the installation were created based on geometric principles. Since math, science and physics are ingredients within the arts, in a very real way, Atchison pointed out delightedly, “math, engineering and physics can truly create happiness.”
While Caddo Common will house Rainbow City for six weeks, Artspace, at 708 Texas Street in downtown Shreveport, will house three floors and 17 years’ worth of work by fine-art collective FriendsWithYou. These include painting, sculpture, large-scale installations, virtual reality and animation.