Photo by Lucie Monk
Renée Chatelain has worn many hats. She has practiced law in Lafayette, taught history at Episcopal High School, and for the past five years served as executive director at the Manship Theatre, where she oversaw the development of multiple successful programming series before assuming her new role as president and chief executive officer of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge. Regardless of her job description, Chatelain's career, and her approach to her work, has always been shaped by dance. "I grew up in North Baton Rouge, with quite traditional parents," she said over iced coffee at Strands Café in downtown Baton Rouge. "But I had the good fortune to come into the orbit of Phoebe Brantley," the highly respected dance instructor who guided generations of young Baton Rougeans towards a lifelong love of classical dance. "She made my world much larger," she said, "and the discipline, poise, and focus I learned as a ballet dancer have fed into and enhanced every aspect of my life."
In her new role at the Arts Council, Chatelain is committed to ensuring that the arts have the same kind of impact on quality of life throughout the capital region. "At its core, an arts council is responsible for the cultural health of its community," she said. "And at all levels in the arts, I want the arts council to inspire a higher standard. Our job is to search out the needs, then to fill the gaps."
To illustrate how she intends to address those needs, Chatelain visualizes the arts council's efforts as divided among three buckets, noting that, at present, some are fuller than others. "Bucket number one is community engagement," she said. "And it's overflowing. Between programs like the River City Jazz Masters series, Sunday in the Park, the Arts Market, and our education initiatives, there's a lot going on there."
She labels bucket number two "artist resources," where things like the Lamar Grant, state arts grants, and the Community Fund for the Arts reside. "And that's only a little bit full," she noted. "It's underdeveloped because there's more we could be doing to provide artists with professional development and mentoring opportunities."
Bucket three? "That's business development, and this is one we need to fill," she said. "We need to ask questions like, 'Are we a core part of contributing to how this city presents itself?' And, 'Do we have the kinds of services and opportunities here that a city needs to attract residents and visitors?' This is where we need to be working with organizations including the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Baton Rouge Area Foundation, and Visit Baton Rouge to improve the city's quality of life. We need to be part of that discussion."
All Chatelain's diverse experience prepares her well to take a seat at that table, ready to identify the needs, develop compatible partnerships, and find the places where art and business can dance together. "All my experience has taught me to lay out systems," she observed, deploying another dance metaphor with a smile: "I like being in the wings. I don't have to be on the stage anymore."