Baton Rouge Gallery Executive Director Jason Andreasen grew up in Miami wanting to be a criminal prosecutor. At an arts show with his now-wife, Lily, he encountered an installation by multimedia artist Tony Oursler. The exhibit featured faces projected onto large orbs.
Seeing those works may have planted the seed for a different life.
“It was just the strangest thing I had ever seen,” Andreasen said. “The fact that I didn’t get it was exciting, rather than off-putting.”
In 2005, he moved to Baton Rouge. He planned to attend law school and began to write freelance entertainment articles. He interviewed artists, musicians and comedians.
After a lengthy conversation with funk legend George Clinton, Andreasen realized he wanted to support creative expression for a living.
“It’s exciting to be around the arts, where it’s always evolving and there are always new ideas coming into it,” Andreasen said. “There is this avenue for people to express themselves, and for other people to experience what they’re expressing and a lot of times bring something new to it.”
With the encouragement of his wife, who is herself a painter, he decided against law school and went to work for Baton Rouge Gallery in 2007. He started as special events coordinator and was promoted about six months later when the director left.
LSU graduates and faculty who wanted to show their own work launched the gallery, originally called Unit 8 Gallery, during the mid-1960s. The gallery was an artist cooperative, meaning the artists ran the place, controlled how their work was displayed and kept the sales proceeds.
Since 1984, Baton Rouge Gallery has been based in a former pool house at BREC’s City Park on Dalrymple Drive. Now a nonprofit with staff and a board of directors, the gallery maintains the core of its artist cooperative identity, Andreasen said. Member artists choose the new members and give their approval for exhibitions involving work from outside artists.
“(The members) are the driving force for a lot of the artistic direction of the gallery,” he said. To contrast, in some commercial galleries or museums, the aesthetic reflects the taste of a single owner or curator.
Baton Rouge Gallery exhibitions typically feature current works of those artist members, except during January and April when it hosts special juried exhibitions. Any given exhibition might include works by photographers, painters, sculptors, stained-glass artists, printmakers, ceramicists and multimedia artists.
Surreal Salon, the gallery’s annual celebration of pop-surrealist and lowbrow art, returns for its 10th year in January. The event started as a one-night party and exhibition with live music and games for both the artistic community and folks who might not think of themselves as “art gallery people.”
“We ended up losing money the first time we did it,” Andreasen said.
However, now, Surreal Salon is a must-see monthlong exhibition with more than 60 pieces by artists from across the country. And its annual Surreal Salon Soiree has grown into one of Baton Rouge’s premier social events. At the soiree, many of the hundreds of partygoers show up in elaborate homemade costumes that are in themselves works of surrealist art.
New York-based painter, designer and street artist Ron English will serve as special guest juror for the upcoming exhibition. For the first time, artists from other countries were invited to submit work.
In his decade working for one of the region’s most important contemporary arts hubs, Andreasen said the city has grown more receptive to the arts. But there is more work to be done.
“Are we where we’d like to be — in terms of people going out and experiencing the arts or collecting local art? No,” he said.
However, more arts-related events are being held, he said. More public art is being displayed. Institutions like Louisiana Art & Science Museum and the LSU Museum of Art are getting more adventurous and trying to reach younger audiences.
For the growth to continue, he said, the arts community needs to keep working to provide more arts experiences for more people. The general public also needs to be open to those experiences.
“Get out there and see something new,” Andreasen urged. “Challenge yourself.”
At Baton Rouge Gallery Center for Contemporary Art
The latest works from Christopher Brumfield, Scott Finch and Ross Jahnke
WHEN: On display through Thursday, Dec. 28. Gallery hours are noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.
WHERE: 1515 Dalrymple Drive, Baton Rouge
INFO: Call (225) 383-1470 or visit batonrougegallery.org.