Gov. John Bel Edwards and former Gov. Kathleen Blanco attend a groundbreaking ceremony for George Rodrigue Park Thursday, February 7, 2019, in New Iberia, La.

Two of New Iberia’s most notable natives will continue to inspire Acadiana through a new public park and exhibit hall under construction in the city’s historic downtown district.

Thursday’s celebration started with a groundbreaking ceremony for the George Rodrigue Park, which will pay tribute to the late Louisiana artist with a colorful 8-foot blue dog sculpture and children’s activity pavilion.

The park is at the corner of East Main Street and Serret Alley on the site of an old Masonic Lodge that burned down in 2012.

New Iberia art teacher Paul Schexnayder had the idea to transform the charred city block into a space that could inspire children like the ones he teaches.

“I think it’s going to be really inspiring to anyone, but especially to a child,” Schexnayder said. “What child doesn’t like a dog? And this one is colorful and three-sided. It’s childlike and wonderful. Art should inspire people and make them want to do more creative things and that’s what this does.”

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After the groundbreaking, a crowd of about 150 attendees then walked from the corner of East Main Street and Serret Alley to the Sliman Theatre for a ceremony dedicating the new Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Exhibit Hall that will be installed inside the Bayou Teche Museum.  

The exhibit hall will feature Blanco’s desk, an American flag that flew over the capitol on Blanco’s birthday, a research library and an art gallery with Rodrigue paintings.

Members of the Rodrigue family were in attendance, as were Gov. John Bel Edwards and former Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

During the dedication, Blanco recalled how her husband, Raymond, who was one of Rodrigue’s schoolteachers, had kicked Rodrigue out of class for doodling. When Blanco was governor, she said, Rodrigue loaned her several paintings that hung in her state capitol office — which he gave to her following her governorship.

The George Rodrigue Park and the Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Exhibit Hall are expected to be completed in about a year.

Follow Megan Wyatt on Twitter, @MeganWyattACA.