Talk of the Town - December 2017
- story by Ellis Anderson
A powerhouse pair of New Orleans artists is one step closer to leasing a city-owned building in Waveland, with plans to open an arts center there - something local leaders believe could be an economic game-changer for the entire city.
Glass artist Mitchell Gaudet and wife, sculptor and furniture designer, Erica Larkin Gaudet are best known regionally for three working arts communities they’ve created in New Orleans.
In the early 90s, Mitchell began Studio Inferno in the Bywater neighborhood as a hub for glass-workers and other artists, while Erica founded Toulouse Street Studios in Mid-city. The two collaborated on Studio Arabi, a thriving arts campus in St. Bernard Parish, which opened in 2014.
Talk of the Town
“They [the Gaudets] have their own studios, but they also lease out spaces to other artists,” said Smith. “I can see how what they’ve done has revitalized the community there. They’re proposing doing the same thing in Waveland. I’m really excited about the possibilities.”
Waveland Alderman Jeremy Burke agrees.
“Coleman Avenue has never really come back after Katrina,” Burke said. “This could breathe new life into Waveland. It’s the outside-the-box project that we’ve been looking for.”
The building under consideration was completed as the Waveland Business Center in 2012. The 10,000-square-foot facility has a striking contemporary design (by Bay St. Louis firm, unabridged Architecture).
Although a few tenants have come and gone and three businesses currently lease small sections of the building, Mayor Smith says that for the most part, the business incubator has not been utilized as was originally hoped.
But Mayor Smith is not disappointed. “My expectations are high for this particular proposal.”
Smith says that he hopes the bid will be formally accepted at the first Alderman’s meeting in December (December 5th). Then negotiations will be entered into for the lease, which could be finalized later in the month. All parties stated that they hoped the Gaudets – under their Studio Waveland, LLC - would have possession of the building by the first of January 2018.
“The minute we sign the lease, my wife is packing the truck and moving her studio over,” said Mitchell Gaudet. “Or rather I’ll be packing the truck and she’ll be telling me what to pack.”
“We see this also as a place where the public can interact with workshops and classes and lectures and art openings, with a cool gallery space. Nothing hoity-toity.”
Since the city built the incubator in partnership with other government entities, they won’t own the building in entirety for another year. According to Mayor Smith, that necessitates a one-year lease at this time.
The Gaudets are hoping that after the initial year, they’ll be able to secure a longer lease that would warrant the $120,000 investment required by the Gaudets to build-out and equip the building for Mitchell’s glass-making.
“Erica will move her studio over this first year,” said Gaudet. “And then we’ll move over full time… If we can really crush it that first year, we can create more live-work spaces in the area. It could be huge. We’re really excited.”
Gaudet says that the New Orleans art community is buzzing as well. Bay St. Louis is already seen as a popular arts center and the Waveland facility would add to Hancock County’s reputation as an arts destination.
The Gaudets have already driven artist friends over for tours. Gaudet points out that New Orleans and the Bay-Waveland area are “sister cities of sorts,” so many people in the city already have familiarity – and fondness – for the area.
“There are still a few hurdles ahead, but they’re getting smaller,” said Gaudet. “We’ll do whatever it takes. I’m already growing a beard and mustache to look more like George Ohr.”