Photo by James Ewing
Sculptures from the exhibition BORDERS installed at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York City.
Perhaps no one was more surprised by the final composition of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge’s new Ebb & Flow Festival than Arts Council President and CEO, Renee Chatelain. “We asked artists to throw out old notions of what an arts festival should be and say, ‘What if? Just, what if?’,” Chatelain recalled. “And once they got going, one incredible idea begat the next. I’m astounded by what they came up with.”
Chatelain said Ebb & Flow fuses the best of the Arts Council’s longstanding arts festival, Fest for All, with interactive arts experiences shared with the community for the first time. Undergirding the event is the goal of reacquainting Baton Rouge with one of its greatest cultural assets: the Mississippi River.
The idea for the festival sprouted after Chatelain and LSU College of Art and Design Dean Alkis Tsolakis began discussing how art could bring residents closer to the river. It may flow through downtown Baton Rouge and major swaths of the city, but the Mississippi is largely disconnected from the daily experience of most Baton Rougeans. Chatelain and Tsolakis wanted to highlight the river’s significance by positioning a new arts festival near its banks and encouraging artists to consider it as a central character. Ebb & Flow was born.
The festival is scheduled for April 1—2. Here are a few highlights:
Photo by Christopher Diaz
Forward Arts youth performing at the 2016 All City Teen Poetry Slam Finals.
POET FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
Whisper a secret, a story, a dream, or an idea to a poet perched behind an old-school typewriter, and he or she will create an original poem just for you. A group of established local poets and young poets with the poetry collective Forward Arts will convert what you tell them into an original poem that’s yours to keep.
The Human Library™ is an international project that explodes stereotypes and increases empathy and understanding. In this exhibit, planned with the East Baton Rouge Parish Library system, local volunteers will act as “books” that “readers” can check out. Choose one, sit by the levee, and hear his or her story. What you find inside will move and surprise you.
Knitting meets street art in the world of yarn bombing, a form of expression that’s been on the rise since the late ‘nineties when knitters began decorating the outside world with their craft. At the Ebb & Flow Festival, those talented in the fiber arts will create yarn works for the purpose of “bombing,” or adorning a certain area. At the close of the festival, the works will be donated to the nonprofit Diversity House.
Performances in several music genres will take place Saturday and Sunday on two stages, including bluesman Tab Benoit, R&B favorite Cameo, funk keyboardist Nigel Hall, and others. A buskers stage at the City Dock will host musicians from the 3rd Street Songwriter’s Festival and flamenco guitarist Kristofer Hill.
KIDS ON THE KIDD
The USS Kidd, already a favorite spot among children, is the festival’s hub for kids’ activities. Young people can tour the World War II naval destroyer and participate in arts and environmentally themed games in and around the Kidd, all hosted by the LSU Museum of Art, Playmakers, Opéra Louisiane, and the LSU College of Education.
STEP IN TIME
Arts Council Director of Artist Resources and contemporary dance professional Mina Estrada has created a dance experience whose lead-up to the festival resembles a kind of dance chain letter. Estrada and ten other professional dancers choreographed a piece that each one then taught to ten other dancers. Each of those dancers taught one additional person the moves. The entire group will deliver the performance together for the first time during the festival on the grounds of the Old State Capitol.
STAND BY ME
Part of the fun of BORDERS, the renowned work of Icelandic sculptor Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir, is that the art installation invites public interaction. Stand, kneel, or sit beside one of the human-sized figures with the mighty Mississippi in view and take a selfie. Baton Rouge is the latest stop for the twenty-two-piece installation whose original home was the Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza outside the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.
MAKING THEIR MARK
While Ebb & Flow presents all sorts of interactive arts and culture experiences, it also satisfies the need to bring home original art from regional artists. A “makers row” features ceramicists, metalsmiths, jewelry makers, painters, and other craftsfolk, many of whom show at the monthly downtown Arts Market. The makers row will also include two-hour demonstrations by some of the journal Wonder South’s featured makers. Artisans specializing in folk arts will demonstrate traditional Louisiana crafts.
ON STAGE AND ON EXHIBIT
Ebb & Flow festival-goers have plenty of options for soaking up cultural experiences, including theater workshops and performances, poetry readings, dance, and film on the grounds and in the interior spaces of the Old State Capitol. The festival also includes an onsite special exhibit on the Mississippi River’s connection to Creole culture curated by the West Baton Rouge Museum.
COMMIT IT TO PAPER
It’s not often that a steamroller makes art, but then again, Ebb & Flow’s intention is to reject ordinary festival strictures. Ross Jahnke, a painter, printmaker, and professor of art at Nicholls State University will demonstrate the art of printmaking by boarding a moderately sized steamroller to apply pressure to a carved wood block about the size of a door. Jahnke, whose food-themed prints were recently featured at the Baton Rouge Gallery’s Before the Fork exhibit, will drive the steamroller over a large swath of paper placed on the wood plate to show the art form in large scale.
Meanwhile, paper takes on a more delicate role when papermaker Leah Hamel leads an interactive mural-making exercise. Festival-goers are invited to write personal stories or thoughts on paper, fold that paper into a small sculpture, and attach it to a six-by-eight-foot mural. The end result will be a 3D work infused with the perspectives of Baton Rouge’s diverse residents.
LET IT FLOW
Internationally trained theater director Jeanette Plourde has created a new site-specific physical theater piece especially for Ebb & Flow, to be performed periodically during the festival. Don’t look for it on an indoor stage, however. Plourde’s production will be staged on the City Dock overlooking the Mississippi. The performance will start at the entrance of the pier and move along it as the work unfolds. Plourde, who has lived in Baton Rouge since 2014, has considerable experience in the field of physically driven theater wherein performers rely heavily on physical expression to play a role and create a mood—often in nontraditional spaces. Ebb & Flow spectators will experience truly live theater in the hands of Plourde, who has joked about the possibility of passing barges and stormy weather. Anything can happen in this never-before-seen show.