BOSSIER CITY, La. — Leigh Anne Chambers is the beat of Bossier arts.
As executive director of the Bossier Arts Council, her goal (since beginning just over a year ago) has been to deliver quality and diverse arts programming throughout Bossier Parish and beyond.
Her job is not an easy one.
Faced with a recent $500,000 state cut from arts funding, plus a space that needs an overhaul, what does she do? She executes a plan.
“Leigh Anne has been very proactive in preparing for cuts in the arts. The most important thing she is doing is taking on the role of being an art advocate, using events like DigiFest South and our education programs to show the direct impact the arts have not only to our culture, but to our economy,” said Bossier Arts Council president Clinton McCommon.
BAC’s mission is to dedicate, promote, support and provide cultural events and programming that help to enhance the quality of life and develop a cultural identity for Bossier Parish. McCommon, board president since April, said he’s excited to continue to work with Chambers on future projects.
“To say her work is impressive is an understatement,” McCommon said. “She has accomplished so much so fast it is hard to keep up with her. Her energy and dedication is amazing to see.”
Chambers is no stranger to the art world. At just 30 she’s led the North Central Louisiana Arts Council in Ruston, a three-year commitment she made after graduating with her masters in theater with an emphasis in arts administration from Louisiana Tech.
“I applied to 62 places and that was the first place I got a job,” Chambers said. “Right there in Ruston.”
Coming from a larger city (Tulsa, Okla.), Chambers said she knew the importance of having a connected arts community.
She moved to Ruston with her husband, Joshua, and soon after beginning at the NCLAC, gave birth to her daughter, Sophia.
“We knew very early on that we wanted to give our daughter opportunities available in a city,” Chambers said.
After hearing about the position of executive director at BAC, Chambers said she knew that she wanted to work for a larger arts nonprofit. She said she wanted to work one-on-one with individual artists more, from “the little old lady” to “trendy shock artists.”
Chambers officially started at the BAC in June 2012, and went full time by July (she was working three days at BAC and three days at NCLAC, commuting between both jobs as she trained her replacement).
“Anytime you start a new job you walk into a little bit of a difficult situation,” Chambers said. “I was walking into an organization and a building with endless possibilities.”
The space, located at 630 Barksdale Blvd. in Bossier City, is currently undergoing renovations — something Chambers said has continued since she began last year. She said it was important to not only her, but her staff and board.
“We want to take pride in this space that the city lends us,” Chamber said.
The BAC was created in 1980 through a joint effort by a local arts organization and the city of Bossier. In 1984 the Council separated from the city, but remained then, as it is does now, a partner with the city in providing arts for citizens and visitors.
Part of those renovations include new flooring and gallery paint, along with working on the outdoor landscaping.
“The board has been on me about (the landscaping),” Chambers said. “I keep telling them ‘We can’t plant stuff in the middle of July. It’ll die.’”
As far as new programming, BAC now offers a songwriter series at Gallery Fine Art Center, a recently accumulated space made possible by Susan Bruner. Thanks to BAC board member Meredith Hammrick, and two other individuals, GFAC was donated to the Council. The space is paid for an entire year, and Chambers said she’s eager to see if BAC can maintain it.
“We couldn’t let fear of not being able to pay for it next year hinder us from doing it this year,” Chamber said. “We have so many talented artists. We cannot provide enough exhibition space.”
Another space that Chambers sought to utilize: East Bank Theatre.
Previously the theater (located inside BAC) had been rented out for various theater companies in the area. Chambers said she’s adamant about offering up originality when it comes to the theater’s programming.
“I will always do an original play,” she said. “Every year we will do an original script.”
Richard Folmer, previous artistic director of East Bank, has spent 25 years working with the theater and is eager to see what Chambers will bring to the stage and surrounding venues.
“She’s given local artists a chance to show their works, not only in theater but in visual arts, and is allowing local artists to display their work,” Folmer said, who retired from East Bank in 2010. “I’m excited to see her moving the arts council forward.”
Just as Chambers faces budget cuts now, Folmer stood in her shoes as executive director for a short period of time.
“I walked into the building, the day I was taking over, and the president of the board came into my office and said ‘Richard, the city has cut all of the funding to the Bossier Arts Council,’” recalled Folmer, who rallied with other artists in the ‘90s to restore the arts budget for the Council as well as arts in Bossier City.
Virginia Cook, founder of BAC, is still employed through the Council and works weekly as an oil painting instructor. She said continuing to be part of BAC is a dream, especially seeing the organization flourish in such tough economic times.
“I was there last Tuesday ,and I saw all of these cars and folks going up to the theater,” she said. “We could hear the piano and we could hear the stomping of the feet. I just sat there and it was like a dream come true, 30 years later, to have that much activity around me. It still makes me come to tears.”
Between the bustle of art openings and theater performances, Chambers is also handling “one stop” artist classes, a junior arts council and the upcoming DigiFest South in September. She said she’s making the most out of a recent internship program she’s implemented for extra help along the way.
“I think a lot of organizations miss out on using their interns in a creative programming way. I think that it is because we have a fear that they will do something wrong or make a mistake,” she said. “I think that hinders growth when you’re afraid of doing something wrong.”