The Hammond Regional Arts Center celebrates 40 years of bringing visual, performing and literary arts to Tangipahoa and surrounding parishes.
The celebration continues through the end of the year with exhibitions and special programs marking the four decades the center has served as a beacon for those who appreciate the efforts of local, regional and national artists and performers.
Exhibits detailing the center’s history were installed in early August and will remain open to the public until the end of December. The exhibits tell the story of the arts center which, with the Columbia Theater across from the center, draws patrons from across the region for monthly visual art exhibits, lectures, and performing arts presentations.
The arts center is housed in the Levy Building, one of the venerable buildings in Hammond’s nationally awarded downtown historic district. The building was donated to the town of Hammond in 1978 by Alycee Levy, owner of a clothing store that bore her name for many years.
In the early 1980s, a group of local organizations with an interest in the arts obtained permission from the town of Hammond to establish an arts center and began renovating the building. Their efforts paid off in April 1982 when the building was opened with a ribbon cutting and the first art exhibition soon followed.
The initial effort to open the arts center was made by a group known as the Hammond Cultural Foundation. The foundation was made up of the Hammond Art Guild, the Columbia Theater Players, the Hammond Arts Council, the Central Business District Association and the Hammond Heritage Foundation.
Melissa Griffin, executive director of the arts center, said the anniversary celebration “is a celebration for the community…a time to look back and visit the humble beginnings of the arts center and the achievement of a Dream come true.Our citizens were the first champions of an arts center in Hammond and their hard work in the beginning and over the years is worthy of the recognition that is now on display.
Griffin expressed his thanks to the town of Hammond who helped found the arts center and support community leaders over the years. She also offered her appreciation to all those who provided what she called general support throughout the life of the center.
The first exhibit featured the works of 20 Louisiana artists, including Gloria Ross and Roy Blackwood. Blackwood, who was a professor of sculpture in the art department at Southeastern Louisiana University and who would later become department head at the university and director of the Columbia Theater, said, “Since its inception, the center has provided local artists and regional a place where their works could be shown. At the same time, the center offers residents from across the region the opportunity to appreciate the works of local artists and the many varied programs that have been part of the center.
“A Labor of Love”
Eric Johnson, retired from a career as chief librarian at Southeastern and a member of the arts center’s board of trustees, served as curator for the center’s 40th anniversary celebration. Johnson, who was helped by Griffin, Gabrielle Landry and Victoria Montalbano in researching photos and information about the center’s history, called his involvement a “labor of love”.
“Art in its many forms enriches the life of a community and opens the eyes of so many people to see and appreciate things they otherwise might not see,” Johnson said. “Our arts center is important because of all the many things it offers. Here we show the visual arts, hold talks and performances, host community gatherings, music productions and art classes for all ages.
Johnson said going through old files and collections of photographs and clippings was a time-consuming but very interesting undertaking. “We found a wealth of information about the early years of the center and its growth over the years and had to limit what we could expose,” Johnson said.
A look at the history of the center
At the center of the exhibit telling the story of the center is a breakdown of the major events that have occurred in each decade since the founding. In the 1990s, a production of Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls” and an art exhibit reflecting the black experience drew good attendance at the center.
During the same decade, the ever-popular culinary arts series featured a cooking demonstration by a local chef paired with a delicious dinner. The Columbia Theater Players have performed many comedies and dramas in the Levy Building, expanding the center’s offerings beyond the visual arts.
In February 1998, the 15-year-old Hammond Cultural Foundation changed its name to Hammond Regional Arts Center to better reflect its status as Tangipahoa Parish’s official arts agency serving artists, arts organizations and enthusiasts. of art.
In 2009, the first biennial exhibition of Marjorie Morrison sculpture paid tribute to a long-time arts advocate and founding member of the center. Morrison, the wife of longtime U.S. Congressman James H. “Jimmie” Morrison, has made numerous contributions to the visual and performing arts during her many years of involvement in community activities.
The center expands its offerings
Over the years, the arts center has brought the creations of renowned artists to the community. In 2010, for example, works by famous Louisiana artists George Rodrigue and James Michalopoulos were hung in the gallery. The new decade also saw an emphasis on HRAC’s support of arts education in the parish with the Maya Levy Arts Education Grant and the distribution of art supplies to local schools. In 2018, the new Art-O-Mat, which offers small works of art at a reasonable price, was introduced at the center.
Music became part of the center with the introduction of “Playing the Staircase”, which features a series of concerts performed by local musicians.
In 2020, in response to the coronavirus outbreak, the arts center offered art activities such as “Chalk the Walk” and “Art in the Park” at outdoor venues.
More recently, the center hosted an exhibit borrowed from the National WWII Museum in New Orleans that highlighted the role Louisiana played in preparing men and women for battle in World War II. The center also participated in the first Arts in Bloom weekend in June which attracted attention.
Looking to the future, Johnson said, “We will continue to expand and grow our membership base which helps fund the many things we offer. At the same time, we will continue to bring visual art exhibits to the center with our music programs and art classes. We will listen to the community to try to find out what the community wants and we will strive to meet that need. Forty years ago, a group of local citizens with a vision set to work to give an arts center to the community and their efforts bore positive fruit perhaps in ways they never would have. could not imagine at first. Our community is enriched by these efforts and it is an honor to continue their work over the next 40 years and beyond.