By Bill Forrester
n 1984, budget cuts threatened the arts programs in schools in Caddo Parish and around the region. But a grassroots effort led by educators, students, parents, and community leaders came together to save arts education. They rolled up their sleeves and did what Louisiana does best — they planned a festival. Today, ArtBreak continues to give students a showcase for their artistic achievements. "It was a huge success," Casey Jones, marketing director for the Shreveport Regional Arts Council, said. "We're still doing it. It's one of the most successful programs we do."
ArtBreak is SRAC’s weeklong celebration of visual, literary, cultural, and performing arts, open to K-12 students in Caddo Parish and regional public and private schools. It has become the largest student arts festival in the Southern United States. This year, ArtBreak is April 8-14 at Shreveport Convention Center.
This is the 38th ArtBreak festival in 40 years. The event took a two-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic. In those years, the festival has not only showcased arts education in the schools, but it has also become a foundational part of Shreveport/Bossier’s arts ecosystem. “We were commissioned to do a study on the arts ecosystem in Shreveport,” Dei Lanza, program director for SRAC, said. “It starts with arts education at the schools and ArtBreak. Hopefully, they stay in Shreveport.” Jones added: “We see ArtBreak as the beginning, a stepping stone into this cultural life. Some grow up and become artists, while some get a taste of enjoying the arts.”
ArtBreak has grown through the years to reflect Shreveport’s changing artistic landscape. In addition to displays of traditional visual arts, students have the opportunity to compete in Film Prize Jr., as well as fashion, culinary, and performing arts competitions. “The goal is to reflect the artistic programs of Caddo Parish schools,” Lanza said. “As new programs develop and become more robust, they are asked to be featured in ArtBreak. Caddo Career and Technology Center has a lot of its programs featured, like fashion design. It’s the same with culinary competition. We thought that would be a fun way to showcase what they are doing as well. With Film Prize Jr., they were working more within the schools to create a program.”
One of the festival’s highlights is the ArtBreak’s Got Talent competition. Open auditions are held in March, and the top 20 acts will perform live during ArtBreak. The competition has been a launch pad for a number of young performers. Last year’s winner, Caddo Middle Magnet School student Max Chambers, got the role of young Michael Jackson on Broadway in “MJ the Musical.” Other entertainers who performed in ArtBreak’s Got Talent include Grammy-winner Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Matthew Davidson, and actor/producer Blayne Weaver, Jones said.
Jones added there is more to ArtBreak than showcases and competitions. During the festival, thousands of students will get hands-on experiences and in-depth studies in art, as well as how art integrates with the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math curriculum. For example, students can learn to weld virtually or program the lights on the Bakowski Bridge of Lights on the Texas Street Bridge. “There’s a lot to ArtBreak,” Jones said. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and I don’t have the full scope. There are so many aspects going on within each project.”
As Shreveport’s arts community has influenced ArtBreak and arts education in the schools, ArtBreak also has influenced Shreveport’s arts community. SRAC now offers local creatives training on how to make a living with their art. Critical Mass is an open call for artists to submit their work and have it judged, just like ArtBreak for the students. “Those programs are not part of ArtBreak,” Jones said. “But they are part of the ecosystem that was observed. Now, we kind of feed it. Back then, we saw it happen naturally.”
For more information about the festival, including a schedule of the week’s events, visit www.artbreaksb.com