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War of Art
This hooded effigy was discovered in the vacant lot that is the planned future site of Caddo Common, a community park developed by the Shreveport Regional Arts Council.
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The effigy was placed in the area where SRAC hosted Unscene, a yearlong monthly event, bringing in artists and performers of international notoriety to create works in Shreveport.
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In addition to the effigy, these circles with a variety of critical statements targeting SRAC were hung in the area.
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Pam Atchison, executive director of SRAC, called the accusations “offensive” and said “nothing could be further from the truth.” In her words, the Common is a “vision, not an illusion.”
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SRAC views the Common as a positive endeavor for the arts in Shreveport. Some local artists, however, see it as more about business than art.
The vacant lot at the intersection of Texas Avenue and Cotton Street, planned future site of Caddo Common (a community park developed by the Shreveport Regional Arts Council), recently served as home to some controversial street art. On Aug. 10, a hooded effigy was discovered in the vacant lot. An unknown artist stuffed a jumpsuit complete with shoes and a black hood and strapped it to a chair. In addition to the stuffed effigy, the artist also stuck black paper circles on the walls of surrounding buildings and other structures.
The circles display a variety of critical statements targeting the Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC). They accuse SRAC of being “an illusion” and refer to the Common as a “capitalist tool.” One source in contact with the mystery artist gave this explanation: “[Our] message was that art is being tortured, abused and killed by the quasi-bureaucratic corporate structure that is SRAC....which is currently manifesting itself as the Shreveport Common/Unscene."
Pam Atchison is the executive director of SRAC, and her response to the accusations is that they are “offensive” and that “nothing could be further from the truth.” In her words, the Common is a “vision, not an illusion.”
Atchison said that, while some other communities have seen negative effects as a result of creative place-making, what SRAC is doing is different. When asked how SRAC can ensure that the Common will not displace current residents and artists, Atchison’s response was, “You keep your friends.” She said they are doing this through partnerships with local organizations, churches, and businesses.
Still, there are those that are not convinced SRAC is a good thing for local artists. So concerned that one was motivated to produce guerrilla street art in protest. One local artist who has been openly critical of SRAC is Debbie Hollis.
Hollis has been outspoken about her disapproval of the arts council. In a blog post from March of this year, Debbie Hollis accuses SRAC of “failing in its mission to promote the arts.” Hollis has particularly taken issue with the “UNSCENE!” project, calling it an “eyesore” and saying that SRAC is “an old-money/old-school leadership team that would rather throw monthly drinking parties than invest in a thriving, sustainable arts community.”
Unscene was a yearlong monthly event, bringing in artists and performers of international notoriety to create works in Shreveport. Musicians, puppet makers, skateboarders and more, Unscene was certainly diverse and ambitious. Atchison extoled the project, saying it was great exposure for local artists. She cited Unscene as an example of how SRAC is giving local artists the chance to gain national recognition. When asked, however, whether any local artists have been discovered as a result of their involvement with Unscene, Atchison said that so far there are no examples to speak of.
As for the street art, it was surreptitiously removed around midday on Aug. 11. An individual was seen removing the figure, but the person has not been identified. Atchison explained that she never saw the figure. The art was removed before she or any others at SRAC were aware of it. There is no indication that anyone at SRAC was responsible for removing the figure. Though she finds the message of the art offensive, Atchison said that the Common is a place for art even if that art is critical of SRAC.
The debate is complicated and impassioned on both sides. Atchison and others at SRAC are dedicated to producing a vibrant community around Common Street. They view the Common as a positive endeavor for the arts in Shreveport. Some local artists, however, see it as more about business than art.
By Josh Guthrie