Louisiana ArtWorks, New Orleans (2003)

R. J. Preece
Creative Business & Entrepreneurship | 17 March 2011
This interview took place in December 2003 and was previously published in Sculpture, 23(8), October 2004, page 11.

Officially [scheduled for launch] in New Orleans in September 2004, [1] the five-story, 90,000-square-foot, $26 million Louisiana Artworks is a unique art-production and visitor center. On the art and exhibition front, the site consists of 8,500 square feet devoted to workshop space for metals, glass, printmaking, and ceramics. Studios occupy 5,000 square feet, and exhibition space another 2,500. Louisiana Artworks also features a gourmet café, a retail outlet, and an “interactive visitor pathway” that aims to attract 200,000 visitors a year. (Admission to the ArtWorks is set at $7.) The building also includes conference facilities and space to house the Arts Council of New Orleans. Louisiana ArtWorks is a project of the Arts Council. In this interview, Shirley Trusty Corey, President of the Arts Council of New Orleans, and Mitchell Gaudet, Artist Services Manager, talk about the ins and outs of Louisiana ArtWorks.

R.J. Preece: What were the challenges in realizing this project?

Shirley Trusty Corey: Helping others to comprehend new ways of thinking. Raising major dollars during an economic down period. Sustaining movement over a seven-year period, from the announcement of the capital campaign to the opening of the facility. Sustaining fundraising, human resources, construction, and design— all at one time. And lastly, actualizing the working concept. We’re implementing a new kind of institution. But this is the easiest of the challenges— why we did the project in the first place— and it is a joy.

R.J. Preece: Louisiana ArtWorks has a range of objectives. How did the idea come about and develop?

Shirley Trusty Corey: It all grew out of the Arts Council’s mission to serve creative communities and the public through the arts. We identified major gaps in our region. We went from a master plan to research, to implementation over a 12-year period.

R.J. Preece: Mitchell, could you tell me about the workshop facilities? For instance, what can be found in the metal and glass shops?

Mitchell Gaudet: The metal shop includes two furnaces, one with a capacity of 90 pounds of bronze and the other with a capacity of 250 pounds. Both are rather expensive pieces of equipment that allow sculptors to literally compose their work. There’s a slurry mixer that increases flexibility in designing large mold production. TIG, MIG, and stick welders and a plasma torch enable sculptors to weld or cut any metal. The glass shop includes a 1,500-pound continuous melt furnace with flame safety controls and ventilation, which provides perfect glass at all times. Twenty-four-inch and 16-inch diameter glory holes allow for fabrication of large-scale work. Seven annealers and kilns will increase the amount of work that can be done in the workshop and serve more artists. A copper wheel engraver carves glass precisely, and four flamework torches and tools enable beadwork, blown glass, and lampworking sculptural work by four artists simultaneously.

R.J. Preece: How about the ceramics studio and the ArtYard?

Mitchell Gaudet: The ceramics workshop includes six heavy-duty wheels (motorized, kick, and ADA-requirement wheels), as well as a 24-cubic-foot gas shuttle kiln and a 16-cubic-foot gas kiln. The ArtYard is an outdoor professional workspace with a foundry that can melt and pour bronze and aluminum for metal casting in less than 45 minutes, a gas-fired forge, a 250-pound anvil and blacksmithing tools, a wood kiln for firing ceramic sculpture, and a raku kiln.

R.J. Preece: Shirley, New Orleans increasingly relies on tourism. How will Louisiana ArtWorks contribute to this economy?

Shirley Trusty Corey: The addition of Louisiana ArtWorks to the New Orleans cultural landscape, especially in the Warehouse District, helps to create more of a distinctive museum district [including the Louisiana Children’s Museum, the Ogden Museum, and the National D-Day Museum], which can be marketed as such.

R.J. Preece: Your organization estimates that Louisiana ArtWorks will bring annual visitor spending of $72 million, generating over $6 million in local and state tax revenues. What are these numbers based on?

Shirley Trusty Corey: They appear in a 1995 study done by a university economist, and the figures are confirmed by an independent review. The numbers will fluctuate, but all of the estimates show that this type of facility should be a major draw and have a significant impact on the dollars generated.

R.J. Preece: A visitor component aims to generate admissions revenue and is built into the design. Could you explain how this works?

Shirley Trusty Corey: Five revenue-producing schemes will sustain the ongoing operation of the facility. These streams dictated the design of the building. We built it in an urban center not only to provide working space and equipment for artists, but also to appeal to the paying public. The scope included the renovation of two existing buildings plus new construction. There is a specifically designed visitor studio tour of the facility. It begins with a dramatic entrance to open-air catwalks, which are located nine feet above the shared workshop spaces and provide views of the artists’ activity below. The extended tour provides an interactive pathway— which includes “meet the artist” visits to individual studios and standing next to artists as they demonstrate visual arts processes. There are opportunities for hands-on activities, a resource room, and a 2,500-square-foot exhibition area. It is a designated pathway— a very specific experience in the building’s design.

R.J. Preece: Have any artists voiced concerns about the possible impact of the visitor component on artists’ ability to concentrate on artistic production?

Shirley Trusty Corey: Good question. The project was intended from the beginning to provide a creative environment for artists at work, while also providing the public with the opportunity to see and enjoy the process of making art. There were certainly concerns about the impact. This has been addressed through a series of planning sessions over the years. Many artists feel a responsibility— and a sense of pleasure— in sharing their thoughts with the public. And for those who don’t, they are informed that this facility is probably not for them. All criteria for artist applications— for individual studios, shared studio space, and the use of equipment— spell out the specific policies. The costs are all subsidized, and the application process is competitive. It’s important to note that the public hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., six days a week, but the artists who have studios have access to the facility 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

R.J. Preece: Your promotional literature states that Louisiana ArtWorks will create employment for local artists. What will they be hired to do?

Shirley Trusty Corey: All of the workshop managers and studio assistants are artists. Artists who have the desire and the skills to communicate with the public will be hired for demonstration purposes. And there are numerous opportunities for internships, residencies, and special workshops. Our retail shop manager is also an artist. We will be buying and showing work from artists throughout Louisiana.

R.J. Preece: You have a personal stake in the project since you and your husband have contributed financially to the project.

Shirley Trusty Corey: My husband and I were very pleased to join the many generous donors who have contributed to Louisiana Artworks. We believe in the value of artists— and the value of creativity to the community at large.

R.J. Preece: Looking back on this long and challenging road, is there anything you’d have done differently?

Shirley Trusty Corey: I know a lot more now. It’s harder than I anticipated. But isn’t it always? Having said that, I wouldn’t have hesitated from taking it on at all.

Added Footnote, 2011
[1] Louisiana ArtWorks opened four years later. To learn more, search "Louisiana ArtWorks" in the Google news archive.