You don't have to be an artist to be deeply impacted by the arts.
That's why the Acadiana Center for the Arts is launching Raise Your Voice, a public campaign to encourage people to share stories of how the arts, culture and music have changed their lives for the better.
"We know what we've done, but we don't know the effects of what we've done," said Sam Oliver, executive director of the AcA. "And that's a problem. We're not about art just for art's sake. We're about art as a positive community program. That's why we want to begin collecting those stories and sharing them as well."
Raise Your Voice is tied to #GivingTuesday, the movement fueled by social media to encourage charitable donations on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Raise Your Voice is also a part of the AcA's big end-of-the-year push for donations that are vital to the nonprofit's sustainability.
The AcA aims to raise a total of $20,000 — or about 1% of its annual operating budget — in the final two months of the year.
Lafayette businessman Corey Jack's Raise Your Voice Moment happened last year.
The Mamou native had limited experiences with the arts growing up, and he didn't have a good understanding of what "the arts" even meant until he participated in Leadership Lafayette.
Jack learned that the arts can include everything from paintings and poetry to music and dance. He realized the artists who spoke with the Leadership Lafayette class that day had the same entrepreneurial spirit he has.
"I realized they pour their heart into their art and craft and product just like I care deeply about my services and what I provide to clients," Jack said. "I saw the similarities, and I began to appreciate it. What really drove it home for me was seeing how art could help kids from low-income areas and show them talent they might not even know they have. I began seeing art as something that could teach kids or be a side hustle or a hobby or a career."
Unlike Jack, AcA Board Member Annie Spell has appreciated the visual arts for most of her life.
Her Raise Your Voice Moment happened in 2013 while fighting stage four Hodgkin's lymphoma. While going through cancer treatments, Spell would conjure up a peaceful image in her mind to cope with the physical pain. She found that exact mental image painted onto a canvas one day in a painting by Lafayette artist Kathy Dumensil.
"What I saw in that painting was the exact depiction of what I saw during those moments of meditation," Spell said. "I think being ill gave me a lot more moments like that. Art continues to seize me in that way. It's a reflection of myself in that moment."
Oliver's entire career has been shaped by the arts, but he considers his Raise Your Voice moment to be a kindergarten experience with music that helped shape his future.
"We were ushered in for a jazz performance — a full jazz quartet — and it was my first time seeing anything remotely like that," Oliver said. "I learned you could clap during their performance, and it was fine. I'd never experienced anything like that before. They were telling us what they were doing — improvising with one another, comparing it to chatting back and forth using instruments."
Oliver said he left the performance thinking about how much fun it was, which stuck with him. He was more open to jazz than most people his age because that door had been opened to him. He knew jazz was more than background music. It was something to experience, and more importantly, it was fun.
Oliver would learn years later that those jazz musicians visited Woodvale Elementary because of a partnership with the Acadiana Arts Council, which would become the Acadiana Center for the Arts. That partnership continues in Acadiana schools today.
"We've been around for a long time — more than 40 years — as an arts council before we were ever the AcA," Oliver said. "We've had touch points for so many people for so many years. For some, over and over again, but for some, there's been one specific moment. We don't have a way of knowing what we've done unless people tell us."
Participate in Raise Your Voice, make a donation or learn more at acadianacenterforthearts.org/support/raiseyourvoice.