After going through the trauma of the past few weeks in our city, it was nice to do something normal last weekend. It helped that two of the events featured music and art because both of those experiences can heal the soul — and they did.
It started out on the night of July 22 at the Capitol Park Museum with Forum 35 kicking off its 13th annual Art Melt with the VIP Preview Party, which allowed attendees to rub shoulders with many of this year's participating artists. We got to visit with them as we checked out their creations while sampling the goodies provided by Ruffino's Catering and listening to the sounds of a quartet from the Baton Rouge Symphony.
During a formal presentation, Art Melt Chairman Jeremy Meiske was joined by Forum 35 President Kelly Bienn and this year's judges — Amy Moorefield, of the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia; Bradley Sumrall, of the Ogden Museum of Art in New Orleans; and Elizabeth Weinstein, of the Louisiana Art & Science Museum in Baton Rouge — in announcing this year's winning artists. They included Kristen Downing, Forum 35 Choice Award for "Brave Little Girl"; Robert Fogel, Ann Connelly Fine Art Award for "Meander 16; Riders of the Purple Sage"; Collin Riche, first place for "60 Years"; Muffin Bernstein, second place for "Monarch Mandela"; and Matthew Barton, third place for "We're Not Who We Used to Be." Judges' honorable mentions went to Robert Drutruch, Frank Hamrick and Eliseo Casiano.
Christen Losey-Gregg and John Jackson announced that this year's Louisiana Art Legend Award is Baton Rouge Gallery in celebration of its 50th anniversary. The award will be presented at Forum 35's Viva il Vino gala Sept. 29.
"I know it might seem trivial to celebrate art right now," Bienn said, "but artistic expression is one of the things that unites and heals us, and it's exactly what we need right now."
That sentiment was echoed by East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden, who proclaimed it Art Melt Day throughout the parish.
"Baton Rouge will not be defined by events of the past few weeks but by the people who are standing together," Holden said. "Tonight, I see positive in our community."
The Art Melt exhibit remains on display at the Capitol Park Museum through Sept. 3.
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It was all things Italian on Saturday night at the Greater Baton Rouge American Italian Association's Italian Heritage Festa dinner and show featuring Lena Prima at the Belle of Baton Rouge Atrium. This was a repeat performance for Lena and her amazing band, all of whom were better than ever to the delight of the sold-out audience. She wasted no time zipping through her dad Louie Prima's repertoire, putting her own spin on the hit classics and sharing stories of her father. She enlisted help from local "gigolos" Nickie Dimaio, brothers Frank and Paul Arrigo and Dr. Phillip Cancilleri in performing "Just a Gigolo." That in itself was worth the price of admission — check out the video for proof.
The mayor joined us for a bit, presenting Lena with a proclamation making it her day throughout the parish. Also in the audience were LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva and wife Annie, Joanne and Juan Carrillo, Julie Baxter and Rob Payer, Karen and Bill Profita, Re and David DiVincenti, Suzanne and Jim Horton, SJ Montalbano, Dr. Charles and Elise Kaufman, DiAnn Blouin, Helen Graf and Laura and Scot McDavitt.
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The fun picked back up Sunday at 11 a.m. with the actual festa, which included another performance by Lena Prima and her band, a Vino Stroll for charity, Italian 101 lessons, genealogy, dancing, shopping, activities for children and the Celebrity Grape Stomp. Judges for this always-fun event, organized by GAIA board member Bill Bryan, were Joe Alleva, Advocate Outdoor writer Joe Macaluso, Anthony Marino and the Profitas.
The winning team, earning $1,000 for their charity, was the well-choreographed ladies from Anna's Grace. Coming in a close second were Carla Pesona and Rosa Edwards, of Team NBC33, whose saucy routine to Frank Sinatra's "That's Life" earned $500 for the first responders' fund at the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Joining me on The Advocate team were my grandson, TJ Kennon, and Joe's grandson, Hank Macaluso. We stomped and earned $250 for Big Buddy.
Also earning $250 for their respective charities were the teams from Visit Baton Rouge, Capital Area United Way and the Baton Rouge Irish Club.
Casas for CASA
After rinsing all the grape gradeaux off my feet and legs, I headed to Court Appointed Special Advocates Casas for CASA Fiesta at the Renaissance Hotel. Attendees had the first opportunity to purchase tickets for this year's playhouse raffle of the "Grand Victorian" playhouse valued at $25,000. Designed by Lilliput Play Homes and assembled by Faulk & Meek General Contractors, the playhouse will be on display at the Mall of Louisiana through Aug. 14, when the ticket will be drawn for one lucky winner.
Aside from first dibs on the $5 raffle tickets, fiestagoers also shopped the silent auction with its array of items including a trip to Disney World, Southwest Airlines tickets, dance lessons, jewelry, artwork and a plethora of offerings from local restaurants. Several of my Advocate co-workers were busy placing their bids when I arrived. Lou Hudson, Gary Miller, Charlene Robert and Lori Tucker, did you win?
Adding to the event's ambiance were delicious Mexican dishes from Caliente Mexican Craving, adult libations from Mockler Beverage Co. and music by DJ Lightfoot.
In the middle of all my party hopping, I joined a special group of friends in bidding an official farewell to LéBrian Patrick, my Dancing for Big Buddy partner. He's moving to the desert — Phoenix to be exact — where he'll be teaching at Glendale Community College. The party was hosted by Stephanie Haas, Leonard Augustus and Debbie Daniel at the Daniel home July 24. Among the guests were those of us who've had the pleasure of dancing with this lovely, graceful, gracious gentleman: Shelly Beall, Claire Broyles, Ryn Jones, Diane Kirby, Aimée Russo-Mounger and Allison Young. Thank you, LéBrian, for dancing into our lives and making them so much richer. We'll all miss you and wish you all the best as you start a new chapter in your life's journey!