Dana P. Baker

With a prime location at the corner of Jefferson and Congress streets, FIL’s new headquarters has plenty of room for staff, performers and visitors.

By Lisa Hanchey

This year, the staff of Festival International de Louisiane will celebrate the organization’s 26th year from a new location. Since its inception in 1986, Festival has grown from a quaint celebration of South Louisiana’s French cultural heritage to the largest outdoor free Francophone event in the U.S.
Until recently, the hard-working staff was crammed into a 750-square-foot area in the old City Hall building at the corner of Jefferson and Lee streets. That all changed when FIL moved down to 735 Jefferson St., and into a spacious 3,685-square-foot area.

With a prime location at the corner of Jefferson and Congress streets in the building owned by attorney Thomas E.Guilbeau, FIL’s new headquarters has plenty of room for staff, performers and visitors. The space, formerly occupied by BBR Creative, remained vacant for two years. After BBR left, agent Jim Keaty of Keaty Real Estate painted the walls white for more marketability. Last August, FIL leased the first-floor space fronting Jefferson Street, gaining higher visibility in the downtown area.

When FIL relocated, staff transformed the bare white walls into visually stunning blocks of color. A bright greenwall showcasing this year’s festival poster greets guests as they enter from Jefferson. Hanging from the ceiling are eye-popping paper balls from World Market accenting the colorful walls, which reflect FIL’s bright theme colors. Each office is painted in a different bold hue — purple, gold, red, chocolate brown and blue.

FIL’s staff includes Executive Director Dana P. Baker, Development Coordinator Michel Pio Reviere, Marketing Coordinator Apiyo Obala, Production Coordinator Diane Harris, Programming Coordinator Lisa Stafford, Technical Coordinator Greg Robertson and Bookkeeper Shantell Gomez. Currently, seven interns from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette are helping with this year’s quarter-century celebration. Instead of being separated by a flimsy partition as at FIL’s former location, workers now have separate offices with doors. 

“Our new office literally allows room for more creativity among the staff, “ says Obala. “You feel it from the minute you walk in, passing by this year’s official artwork in the lobby, to standing in our main office surrounded by posters from Festival’s 25 years in Lafayette. Our new offices are a now a visual representation of the creativity we feel year-round working for Festival.”

A spacious conference room awaits FIL’s many planning meetings. Across from the staff offices are extra work spaces concealed by curtains dotted with mini festival posters. An old bank vault provides for creatively concealed storage.

Prominently displayed in the front window is this year’s signature artwork, “Windows to the World,” a collection of colored mosaicglass, sparkling emerald/blue/red dancing shoes, wood, metal and silk created by local artists Megan Barras, Michelle Fontenot and Vergie Banks. The pieces meld together while preserving each of the artists’ signature works — Barras’s silk design, Fontenot’s colorful mosaic glass and Banks’ creative painting.

“This is the second year that we had three artists create the piece together,” Obala says. “The artwork is an incredible piece that represents what Festival means to our artists.”

As the artists assembled the final art piece, graphic designers Curtis and Ann Darrah of Darrah Designs+ Marketing captured its essence for this year’s poster and pin. Sales of these items benefit the Festival to keep it free.

“It will be great to have a physical representation during the festival,” Obala observes. “Everything about our new office, the fun and creative interior, the Festival information decals on our windows, the street level location, allows us to be more accessible to the community and Festival fans.”

FIL is a five-day event featuring six music stages, a food court area, street musicians and animators, arts and crafts boutiques, art galleries, beverage stands, cultural workshops, cooking demonstrations and a music and merchandise store. This year’s festival will be held April 25-29 in historic downtown Lafayette.

On opening night, Terry & the Zydeco Bad Boys and Brian Jack & the Zydeco Gamblers will kick off the festivities. Thursday’s lineup includes Lafayette’s own Sonny Landreth (slide guitar), Robert Randolph &the Family Band (U.S. – funk/rock/soul), Ceux Qui MarchentDebout (France – brass funk) and Debot Band (Ethiopia – Ethio-Groove).

Friday night features CheikhLô (Senegal – African/World), Bombino (Niger – Desert Rock), Guy Clark, Jr. (US – blues), Pedrito Martinez (Cuba-Latin Percussion), Beats Antique (US – Electronica/world/dance), Chico Trujillo (Chile-Cumbia), Kharia Arby (Mali – Desert Rock), Radio Radio (New Brunswick – Hip Hop), Lindigo (Reunion Island – Maloya/Sega), Vagabond Swing (Louisiana – Gypsy/Afrobeat/Swing), Joel Savoy’s Honky Tonk Merry-Go-Round (Louisiana) and Pine Leaf Boys (Louisiana – Cajun).

For the full 2012 schedule, visit festivalinternational.com.  

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