The group trying to open what’s believed will be the first French immersion center in the country for adults is a step closer to its goal, organizers announced Thursday.
The Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation is the lead agency for the effort initiated by residents of Arnaudville to share its French language and culture.
Arnaudville, a town of 1,060 residents straddling St. Martin and St. Landry parishes, has been a destination for university students interested in documenting the rural community’s traditions and French dialect. The immersion center will enable adults to learn French through classes and cultural excursions.
The center will be housed in the former old St. Luke’s Hospital building, closed since 1990.
A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as contributions from both parish governments, helped pay for a business plan for the center. The recently completed plan indicates the facility will be profitable by its third year of operation.
“The National Endowment for the Arts has long recognized the cultural vitality that exists in rural areas like Arnaudville, and we are eager to see the continued development of this project. Not only will the French immersion center have a positive economic impact on the area, but it will also be a cultural asset unlike any other in the U.S.,” Jason Schupbach, NEA director of design programs, said in a news release.
The consultants, Ardyn M. Thriffiley and Ed Bee, of New Orleans, drafted the business plan after three months’ work in the community to gauge support and garner feedback. Their survey shows residents and businesses see the use of the former hospital for a French immersion campus as a positive because it was “putting an unused public asset back into commerce,” organizers said in the news release.
The positive support from the community has been encouraging, said Mavis Frugé, an advocate of the program.
“I am delighted beyond words about this happening, about having a business plan and the survey working out as well as it did. There were over 800 people who responded to it. This is a long time coming,” Frugé said.
Though there isn’t a date set for the opening of the center, the interest is strong, she said by phone as she walked into the NUNU Arts and Culture Collective, which serves as studio space, a gallery and A community hall for Arnaudville. “I’m just getting here, and we’re expecting 30 Belgians soon,” she said.
A delegation from Namur, Belgium, Lafayette’s Belgian sister city, is visiting the Lafayette area this week. Arnaudville consistently draws tourists, particularly Francophone visitors. Last month, NUNU was selected as the site for an artist residency program for an international art collaborative with artists from Arnaudville, France, Antigua and Haiti.