By Catherine Bares:
Instead of my usual destination for my morning walk, I decided to visit the Lasalle Park walking loop. Surprisingly, I noticed something interesting as I turned off Airline Dr; an artist was painting a large utility box in front of the Jefferson Performing Arts Center. I've noticed these colorful works of art popping up on traffic light utility boxes all around Jefferson Parish for the past few years, undeniably making these inanimate objects a reflection of life in Louisiana. This one was different though; it represented the arts, which was fitting since it was located near the Performing Arts Center. For this reason, I decided to delay my walk and hold an impromptu interview with the artist.
I walked up to her and introduced myself. She was delightful and quite gracious. She took the time to stop and talk with me about her work. You can see the excitement and pride in her eyes as she discussed the project with me. The artist, Jan Wilken, was also a founder of the Jefferson Art Guild. Turns out, the Guild had reached out to our parish councilman, Paul Johnston, and introduced him to the idea of the project.
Catherine Bares: Jan, how long have you been painting?
Jan Wilken: Oh, all of my life! I started studying art with John McCrady in the early '60s.
CB: Tell me about the Jefferson Art Guild.
JW: It was established in 1996 as a non-profit organization with open membership. The only requirement is the desire to have fun as an artist. Our Mission is to integrate fine arts to the community. Fellowship, friendships, and fun capturing performing arts through fine arts.
CB: What are some of the struggles taking on this type of outdoor art project?
JW: Weather is a challenge. Sometimes rain delays the project. Humidity makes it hard for the paint to dry, but today's challenge is the heat. The sun is heating up the utility box, which is the canvas in this case. It dries the paint and makes it uncomfortable to sit here.
CB: How is an artist chosen for the project?
JW: Artists from the Guild submit sketches of their ideas, and an artist is chosen. My sketches, that I am holding, were chosen for this project.
CB: Do the artists receive feedback while working, and what is the local consensus on the project?
JW: Yes, everyone shares stories of people pulling over or rolling their windows down at traffic lights to compliment them while they are working on their paintings. The general consensus is everyone appreciates the art and what we are doing to dress up the utility boxes.
Afterward, I thanked Jan for meeting with me and sharing her story, promising her that I would return to take pictures of her completed work. Then, I went on with my walk. When I left the park, Jan was still sitting there working on her paintings. A few months later, I made it back, as promised, to take pictures and to write up this piece.
What do you think about these works of art? Does your parish or county have any similar projects supporting local artists?
Catherine Bares is a blogger, wife, mother, grandmother, Profit Coach & Trainer in the A/C and Heating Industry, and Group Fitness instructor residing in Southern Louisiana. Her mission is to be a source of inspiration for self-improvement for others to live a happier and healthier life.
Visit her blog : www.beentheredonethatblogger.com
Read Elizabeth Gracen's interview with Catherine Bares here.