Morning Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1988  
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Guest Columnist
Why every city needs the arts
By Al LaVergne

 The first impression can be most important. Growing up in Evangeline Parish, my first impression of Baton Rouge had to do with its hospital. When someone was too sick to be treated in our local hospital, he or she was transferred to Baton Rouge because of its better equipped facilities. Being a sickly child, hospitals were an important part of my early life.
 On my first trip to Baton Rouge, more than 20 years ago, I realized that there were other buildings besides hospitals. There were banks, churches, schools and refineries, which gave the city a very functional and Rougeans, I was told that they lived here because of their practical needs. Unfortunately, no consideration was given to the city's beautiful location on the Mississippi River and the area's almost year-round greenery.
 When I confront my students with the same question — why do you live in Baton Rouge — the majority say that they are just passing through, and as soon as their educational requirements are complete, they plan to move on to greener pastures.
 It seems people feel that Baton Rouge is a great place to convalesce, work and get an education, but not necessarily the ideal place to live. Seemingly, other cities make a more attractive impression.
 I felt the same way when I first visited Baton Rouge. After having lived in several other cities, I quickly realized that there were no utopias. Any success that I achieved was through my own efforts.
 As a sculptor who worked in large scale, it was difficult to find places to exhibit my work. When I returned in 1974, there were fewer examples of large-scale sculptures around the city. It seemed that would have a better chance at a market for my work in a larger city. However, because of my job, I stayed and I am glad that I did.
 There are many avenues by which people form impressions. Three of them are: media, actual visit a word of mouth. I personally feel that the strongest impression that a city can make is by the efforts that it makes in supporting the humanities. The development of a program to support the humanities is like any other business: Work hard at it and hope that you improve with experience. Some people commented to me, stating that art is a gift. I feel, however, that there is a gift, perhaps, it's the willingness to pursue what you love.
 Over the years, I have exhibited my work in major bank lobbies, libraries, hospitals, churches and on the lawns of many governmental buildings in this city. I was fortunate to have some of the sculptures purchased which have become a part of the impression on the face of Baton Rouge.
 The landscape of Baton Rouge is molded by its people. It is the quality of their education that will make an impression on the future. The arts are not new for this city but a continuation of efforts to expose the public to the humanities is essential.
 When a youngster is discovered to be above average in capabilities, efforts are made to expose the individual to more of the humanities. This is an understandable and sound approach; however, all youngsters and adults need the arts. The less proficient who never attend a gallery or go to an opera because of their inaccessiblity are being neglected. In some incidences, the education of the community toward the arts may compete with tradition. But tradition can be negative if It prevents someone from developing his or her full potential.
 In order to grow healthy, a community must nurture its people's dreams. In speaking to youngsters, it's often stated that many of them feel left out because they feel that their opinions are unimportant. These are the people who need to be reached out to.
 A concert performed in open spaces, works of art displayed in front of public buildings will reach a broader audience. When the city hosts its festival, it brings out the widest range of social and economic background of its people. Perhaps, they feel less competitive in this environment. A city's churches, hospitals and banks serve humanity, but the arts celebrate humanity.

Editor's note: Al Lavergne is a sculptor who teaches at Southern University.

Al LaVergne's "Musicians" near State Capitol