THE ARNAUDVILLE EXPERIMENT—
a contiguous ecosystem
By: George Marks
Located in the place “where Cajun began,” St. Martin Parish and home to the Zydeco Cajun Prairie Scenic Byway, St. Landry Parish, the bi-parish community of Arnaudville is at the heart of rural Acadiana. From the North you’ll find the “zydeco capital of the world,” Opelousas; East, the famous Pat’s Fisherman’s Wharf in Henderson; South, the “crawfish capital of the world,” Breaux Bridge; and, West, historic Grand Coteau. All of which are anchored by the official ‘hub’ and Cajun capital of the world, Lafayette.
For centuries, artists have fled to environments that honor their spirit and feed their soul. Picasso, Cezanne and Matisse created masterpieces inspired by beauty found only in the South of France. Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock and William de Kooning, whether by choice or necessity, benefited from the safe, serene environment of the Hamptons. Louisiana’s own Elemore Morgan, Jr., who lived outside of Maurice, created his beautiful work far removed from activity. Here in south Louisiana, we have witnessed an onslaught of visitors from around the world, fascinated by our culture, charmed by our people and beckoned by our landscape. Like art communities of the past, the greater Acadiana area is becoming a haven for a diverse group of people and contemporary artists.
Here in Arnaudville, the town is situated on the junction of Bayous Teche and Fuselier. Lawns gently slope downward to gumbo colored water. Fields of cane, soybeans, corn, Milo and prairies of native grasses make way to the vast sky. Lazy trees punctuate the horizon. Leaning poles frame the landscape. Here you can live and work in peace. Here you can cycle, kayak or canoe. Here you can sing, dance or sit back and watch.
When Town Market Rural Arts Centre opened its doors in 2005, an artistic catalyst for the Town of Arnaudville and surrounding areas began—the Arnaudville Experiment. First we realized existing cultural assets including the French language and a variety of music and local visual artists including traditional painter Vincent Darby. Focus was then placed on developing new art commerce including the William Lewis Studio, Tom’s Fiddle and Bow, Bayou Blues Guest House and performing, literary and culinary art events. At the center of this movement—Frederick l’Ecole des Arts, which builds on local culture and traditions, provides for ‘global’ outreach and program development.
Frederick and the Arnaudville Experiment have adopted a rural, regional, non-centric approach, providing ‘connected’ cultural hubs of activity by utilizing artists and venues specifically within Arnaudville, Sunset, Grand Coteau and Breaux Bridge. Frederick hopes to expand to include other communities including but not limited to: St. Martinville, Leonville, Youngsville, Broussard, Scott, Washington, Crowley, Eunice and Port Barre and more.
Why Arnaudville? Arnaudville is conveniently located at the center of 8 LA Highways with easy access to both Interstate 10 and Interstate 49, yet it is far enough to prevent the onslaught of Big Box and strip mall development. Healthy communities have their retail activity sprinkled throughout the community, in this case, a regional community. Such a pattern promotes transportation in, of and around Acadiana thus providing our cultural partners including: St. Martin Tourism, St. Landry Tourism, Opelousas Tourism, Lafayette Convention and Visitors Bureau, Acadiana Arts Council, LA Division of the Arts, LA Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, Atchafalaya Trace Commission, Cultural Districts and the Teche Project, an opportunity to cross-promote a comprehensive, regional plan.
In 2008, Mayor Kathy Richard and the Town Council created the Deux Bayous Cultural District, part of the Louisiana Cultural Districts Program, addressing 12 key principles outlined by Louisiana Cultural Districts legislation which includes: revitalizing neighborhoods, stimulating the economy, engaging residents, drawing tourists, providing a sense of community, serving as a gathering place, encouraging creativity, strengthening community partnerships, promoting the arts and supporting artists, developing a positive image of the area, enhancing property values, and capitalizing on local cultural, economic and social assets. This district allows for historic tax credits to buildings 50 years or older and zero sales taxes charged on original one-of-a-kind art purchases.
In addition to guidelines established by the Louisiana Legislature through the cultural districts program, the DB planning committee anticipates incorporating Low Impact Development principles which include: mixed land uses, compact building design, range of housing opportunities, walk able neighborhoods, distinctive, attractive communities preservation of open space, farmland, natural beauty direct development towards existing communities, variety of transportation choices, predictable, fair and cost effective development, community and stakeholder collaboration and address key environmental concerns.
Lori Henderson Studio
Tom's Fiddle and Bow