Iberia Preservation Alliance
● By Aimee Cormier
By Shanna Perkins
With so much history and culture in Iberia Parish, it takes a village to protect and preserve it. In September of 2010, Director of the Bayou Teche Museum Marcia Patout, Director of the Shadows-on-the-Teche Pat Kahle and President of Iberia Cultural Resources Association Cathy Indest joined forces to promote New Iberia’s cultural richness through the Iberia Preservation Alliance.
Iberia Preservation Alliance
“We headed this effort to form the Iberia Preservation Alliance and it was formed as a coalition between three organizations – Iberia Cultural Recourses Association, Bayou Teche Museum and Shadows-on-the-Teche,” explains Indest. “We did this because we wanted to show that we had this mutual mission of preservation. We wanted to support each other’s projects and efforts because we believe there is strength in that partnership.”
Initially, the effort began as a way for Patout, Kahle and Indest to better support one another’s events. They worked together to schedule their respective events to ensure they never overlapped. The removal of all levels of competition has allowed them to stay true to their mission statement: “Bayou Teche Museum, Iberia Cultural Resources Association and Shadows-on-the-Teche working together to make our community a better place to live, work and play.”
The three entities retain their individual fundraiser, but they come together to share efforts and proceeds for two Alliance projects. The first being Beneath the Balconies and the second being the anxiously awaited Dave Robicheaux’s Literary Festival.
Beneath the Balconies
Beneath the Balconies, which took place on Sunday, Oct. 18, started six years ago when local CPA Bob DeRouen stepped out onto his office’s balcony at Broussard Poché on Main Street and recalls feeling as if he should launch into “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” Shortly after, he contacted Indest and the idea was born to put together a program featuring performances held off of the balconies down Main Street.
“What makes it so wonderful is that you have all different ages performing and you have all generations walking down the streets,” says Kahle. “We have high school and adult participants and we have a really strong community theatre It’s not a ticketed event and it was never meant to be. We want it to be free to the public. I don’t think that anything else like it takes place anywhere else. It’s a unique experience.”
The event begins at the Shadows-on-the-Teche where guests are met by the Bunk Johnsons Brazz Band who guides them down Main Street. There is one performance of 8-10 minutes per balcony. Some of the performances are reenactments of theatre classic while others are written especially for the Beneath the Balconies. The members of the Iberia Preservation Alliance state that the event usually begins with about 400 people and because of its ability to draw people in it ends with 600-1,000 spectators.
“These events attract people to our Parish and create an economic impact,” says Executive Director of the Iberia Parish Convention & Visitors Bureau Fran Thibodeaux. “Beneath the Balconies promotes New Iberia’s award-winning Main Street, a tremendous tourism asset. It brings awareness to the importance of preserving historic awareness in all of our communities. Communities around the state use New Iberia as a model for Main Street development.”
At this year’s event guests were treated to performances by The Berry Classics and dance routines from the winners of Catholic High School’s Dancing with the Stars, Ted Viator and the historic and beloved Sugar Lumps. This year’s event also featured a few changes. Beneath the Balconies finally received its own logo and the event was moved to a Sunday.
“I feel like it’s our gift to the community,” Indest elaborates. “I think New Iberia is becoming a center for the arts, culture, history, literature, music and theatre. It’s become such a festival of the arts.”
“I think it’s a good reflection of the community,” Patout reasons. “It shows off all of the talent and skill that we have in this area. It also gives insight to that talent for people who don’t get to go to the community theatre.”
Dave Robicheaux’s Literary Festival
When James Lee Burke decided to write his expanisve 20-book Dave Robicheaux series, he could think of no more intriguing and descriptive place to set them than New Iberia. The books have a global almost occult following. “It’s almost like they come to the shrine,” Patout says of the fans who come from around the world to stand where Robicheaux stood. So the Iberia Preservation Alliance decided to create an event that would benefit the fans, honor the legacy and add another level of preservation to New Iberia. The Dave Robicheaux’s Literary Festival will take place in April 8-10 of 2016.
“Even though James Lee Burke wasn’t a permanent resident in Iberia, he spent a lot of summers here and all of the Dave Robicheaux books are based here,” explains Patout who began communication with Burke in 2014. “The literary festival seemed like the natural decision for our second event of the year. Once we started talking to people about it, it really started taking on a life of its own and we’re just trying to keep up with it at this point.”
All three of the ladies of the Iberia Preservation Alliance credit Michael Manes as the one who came up with original idea – the one who realized that the city of New Iberia is sitting on a “goldmine” that is Dave Robicheaux. Kahle says that she doesn’t believe a day passes when someone doesn’t come into the Shadows with a map of Iberia Parish looking to see all of the places mentioned in the novels. She recalls fans from the Philippines, Sweden, Germany and Russia.
The Iberia Preservation Alliance is presenting the festival along with the Main Street Program. They’re also partnering with UL Lafayette to present literary panels and discussions. The festival will include a 5K, “which Dave Robicheaux would never do,” Kahle adds. They’re will be presentations of “In The Electric Mist” at the Grand Theatre throughout the day and Bouré (or Bourré or Boo-Ray) lessons and tournaments.
Dave Robicheaux loved blues, po’boys, boudin and a good meal from Victor’s Cafeteria. Festival guests will have access to all of these delicacies and experiences. But the most prominent festival attraction will be the Dave Robicheaux tour. Patout explains that the tour is going to be the key component of the festival. And Kahle adds that the tourist she sees have clearly been bitten by the James Lee Burke bug and cast under Acadiana’s spell.
“People who come in are asking for the tour; they want to see the bait shop and experience everything in the books - well, except for being murdered,” Kahle says in jest of the books’ murder mystery genre. “But they ask for everything else. The description in his books, it just catches you after the first line and pulls you in. I think that all of these people from everywhere else in the world recognize the value of this area, we need to recognize it and take advantage of it, too.”
Thibodeaux agrees that Burke’s vivid descriptions of Main Street and Iberia Parish are another tourism asset. “Just today, my office received an inquiry about the festival from someone in the UK,” she adds excitedly. It’s through these endeavors by the Iberia Preservation Alliance and the committees, conventions and commissions throughout Iberia Parish that performance and preservation continue to meet on Main Street.
“We need to take advantage of the gifts that we have in this community,” says Indest. “It’s a gift that a well known author chose New Iberia because of its beauty and culture for the setting for his books. We love our community and we know that after they visit, everyone else will, too.”