Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cambria Matlow Digs Cajun Country

So….Lafayette, Louisiana. If you’re reading this, you just need to go there, shake your head in disbelief at how surprising the town is, how talented its artists, how rooted its traditions and how swingin’ its Cajun and Zydeco music is, and then you need Executive Director of the Acadiana Center for the Arts, German expat Gerd Wuestemann, to take you to the dancehall at Whiskey River, 25 minutes outside of town. I regret to tell the rest of my upcoming tour stops that they are going to have to really step it up if they wish to gain as much affection from me as I have for Lafayette and the surrounding areas. Definitely a showstopper, and this is after spending a day off in New Orleans. Unlike New Orleans, Lafayette is a little-known secret of Louisiana and the residents like to keep it that way, though I am here to blow their cover.

Here’s a sample of some Zydeco music:

The Acadiana Center for the Arts is a stunning, newly rebuilt facility with major gallery spaces and a brand new theater. Burning was playing at 8:30pm on the eve of Lafayette’s Art Walk as well as the Arts Center’s Grand Reopening. I heard 1200 people were on the premises throughout the evening, so I had high hopes for our turnout. I think people were pooped though at that point, and the film had a modest turnout of about 20 people. (The Acadiana Film Festival was also playing down the street, which might have affected the audience showing too). For whatever reason, this audience was extremely warm, and the Q & A turned into an intimate affair, mostly involving my riffing on the question: ‘How did the experience of making this film change you?” One would think this would be a question I’d fielded before, but I hadn’t, and it stirred up some emotions in me, and I think too in the audience members. I know it’s a good screening when I sell multiple DVD’s afterward, and this night I sold 3. Afterwards, E.D. Gerd and local artist Shawne Major took me to a classy Spanish restaurant to decompress. Friends Gerd and Shawne entered into a major discussion about Louisiana state arts funding priorities that set off some unexpected nerves between them, but provided me with some real insight into the tough choices that state legislatures, arts funders and artists alike are being forced to make these days under the duress of extreme budget cuts. After that, Shawne and I were ready to explore the Lafayette nightlife a bit more and headed out.

I had my next screening today in Auburn, AL, a 6-hour drive from New Orleans, through hurricane-battered Mississippi gulf towns along I-10 and then straight up through Alabama. Knowing the abundance of country roads all around me, it was hard to press on through the Interstates, but duty called for expediency and an on-time arrival. As I arrived in Auburn the sun was setting and the cumulous clouds were lit up a bright pink color. Soon thereafter, it began to rain. The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art was an elegant structure affiliated with Auburn University (which it seems like most everything is here). After saying hello to Curator of Education Scott Bishop, I was introduced to Liddy Biggs and Matt Williams from the University’s Office of Sustainability, who was co-sponsoring the event. While the film played in yet another stunningly updated theater, I took the opportunity to tour the museum. On permanent display in the Audobon Gallery were several prints from their large Audobon collection. As I’m a big fan, this pleased me. The text accompaniments had obviously been updated to include discussions of current environmental issues affecting Gulf-region birds such as the recent BP oil spill and runoff pollutants from chemical manufacturers along the Mississippi River. About 40 people, many of them AU students, had assembled to watch the film, and for the Q & A I invited Liddy and Matt onto the stage with me, hoping to open up the range of questions I could field. The students were rather timid, but Liddy and Matt were great in providing some additional perspectives on solar and sustainability issues. A quick session of coffee and cookies and I was beat!