Renée Chatelain, the dynamic new executive director of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, is leading the charge to get more people involved with the area’s cultural scene.
Officially on the job since Monday, Chatelain, 50, already has met with new East Baton Rouge Parish Schools Superintendent Warren Drake — “He sees the importance of art in education,” she says — and Adam Knapp at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.
“I have a meeting soon with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. I’m glad we’re having these conversations,” says Chatelain. “The Arts Council had stepped out of that role (of leading the way, driving the conversation) but that’s what its role is. We need to define who we are as an agency.”
A dancer, arts educator and lawyer, Chatelain is practically bursting with ideas for the Arts Council, bringing the same excitement and vision she had as executive director of the Manship Theatre, a post she held for the past five years.
“There’s such a new opportunity for the Arts Council to play a role in our city,” she says, adding that “It’s a New Day” is the theme driving the organization.
Chatelain says she’ll soon be meeting with various arts groups to assess their needs. The Arts Council acts as the conduit for the state’s Decentralized Arts Funding program, this year awarding $170,000 to about 50 organizations in 11 parishes.
First up, Chatelain is tackling audience development with the creation of Scene Rouge, a group of young professionals who will join for a nominal fee. Members will get a menu of arts organizations in which they’ve expressed an interest. Those organizations will pick an event and offer Scene Rouge members half-price tickets.
“It’s a great way to network, for people new to Baton Rouge to meet others with similar interests,” says Chatelain. “That’s on its way.”
Scene Rouge joins an already thriving lineup of the council’s programs and events, including the River City Jazz Masters concert series at Manship Theatre, FestForAll, the Laurel Street Palooza street party, the Baton Rouge Arts Market, free Sunday in the Park live music events and visual arts exhibits in the Firehouse Gallery.
As a former teacher, Chatelain is passionate about arts education.
“There are arts groups who already do a good job educating young people. We want to support their initiatives, not reinvent the wheel,” she explains. “But there are areas of the city not being served … where there are no arts or the community is not improved by it. We need to address that.”
Chatelain says it’s “an exciting time (in Baton Rouge) with all the new businesses and hotels downtown. I see lots of growth … the Arts Council has potential to be more than it is.”
And that takes money, which primarily comes from state and local funding as well as private donors via the annual Community Fund for the Arts campaign. CFA has had a rough couple of years and there’s been some talk of doing away with this united giving program. Chatelain thinks otherwise.
She’s met with CFA founders and donors, and called similar programs around the country to see what they’re doing. She admits donating to CFA may not be as “sexy” as sponsoring a particular program or event, but it’s just as important.
“It definitely needs to exist,” says Chatelain. “Organizations need operational support. They have to pay their staff.”
That’s not to say there won’t be some changes for CFA. “It won’t help anyone in this city if CFA goes away. I’m very passionate about getting it back on track,” she says.
For example, she says, “What if every conference in the city had someone playing the blues as attendees entered the venue?”
“The blues — that’s Baton Rouge’s ID marker,” says Chatelain. “Making sure that happens is how I see CFA developing.”
She would also like for CFA to serve as a conduit in creating partnerships for specific events, like the upcoming Women in Dance Leadership Conference. The four-day biannual festival takes place Oct. 29 through Nov. 1, bringing world-renowned artists, scholars and directors to town for a series of talks, discussion panels, master classes, creative-process sessions, film screenings and performances.
“This can put us on the map,” says Chatelain, who’s champing at the bit to make sure the Arts Council is involved in the conference.