As much as I love a good sports team to keep a community glued together, if I had to make a choice, I would hand my money over to arts and culture every time. Perhaps it’s because I grew up immersed in dance. Maybe it’s because I loved theatre and was encouraged to pursue public speaking. It might be because I can’t imagine a life without reading and writing and dabbling in creativity.
Whatever it is, though, it sets off a little spark in me when I see that communities are invested in making their towns a better place for their citizens by providing a space to celebrate the arts.
This is one of the reasons why I loved the Historic City Hall in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Destroyed by a fire in 1910, the Lake Charles Historic City Hall was rebuilt and reopened in 1911. For 90 years this distinct-looking building with it’s tall clock tower, well-kept gardens and showcase windows served as a seat of government. Trials were held here, and footsteps echoed the hallways as people came and went on their judicial and legislative business. In 2004, the city closed the building down for refurbishment purposes, and when it reopened, it had a new purpose: It now serves as the city’s arts and cultural center.
Now, not only is the outside of the building photo-worthy (it is on the National Register of Historic Places), but the inside is filled with rotating exhibits, and a full roster of speakers and cultural presentations are showcased in the hall every year. Occasionally, local organizations sponsor art shows, such as the black-and-white photography exhibit featuring images that capture the essence of the United Way, which was on display when I was there in February. Other recent exhibits have featured the work of Charles M. Schulz and his Peanuts characters, art of Africa and water reflections in American painting.
The inside of the building is simple and well-lit, and there’s plenty of space to appreciate the art displays. The stairways lead visitors up and through several levels, and poking in and out of the old rooms is almost as much fun as browsing through the art itself.
Though the building itself is truly beautiful and the variety of exhibits is appealing, I think the real kicker is this: The Lake Charles Historic City Hall is free to visitors (though donations are accepted, of course). What do I love more than arts and culture? A community that makes it 100% accessible to the people who live there, and that’s exactly what’s been done with this building.
This particular corner of Lake Charles has several distinct and interesting buildings that were all rebuilt around the same time due to the fire that destroyed the original city hall, so if you have a few minutes after enjoying the art here, walk around the few neighboring city blocks and admire the other buildings and homes here … they all have a very distinct style and personality, just like Lake Charles itself.
My visit to Lake Charles, Louisiana, was compensated by the tourism board, but all opinions are my own.