Breaux Bridge Dreaming
07/08/2016 07:30AM ● Published by Christy Quebedeaux
Gallery: Teche Center For The Arts [7 Images] Click any image to expand.
By Erin Z. Bass / Submitted Photos
Chad Theriot has fond memories of growing up in Breaux Bridge, participating in Boy Scout activities at St. Bernard Church and going to the movies with his friends at The Murph Theater on Bridge Street. “When I grew up here, there were a lot of things for children to do,” the president of CBM Technology says.
Over the years, Breaux Bridge’s venues for community events and involvement have all gone by the wayside. The Murph evolved into a dance club before becoming another empty building, the old skating rink in St. Bernard Gym closed, along with the town pool. Even the Crawfish Festival moved out of downtown, leaving much to be desired in the city’s center.
In 2012, local businessman Johnny Raymond approached Theriot with an idea: Turn the old theater, which Theriot and his family now owned, into a community center.
Raymond had already begun to transform the scene in downtown Breaux Bridge with his renovation of the old Domingues Motors building as Buck & Johnny’s restaurant. A military veteran and one of the first U.S. Army Rangers, Raymond’s original vision was for a military history organization.
As more people became involved and an informal board formed, the idea evolved into a nonprofit community center with a mission to be the principal cultural, arts, music, educational and historical center for the residents and visitors of Breaux Bridge and St. Martin Parish.
Theriot’s parents were using the old theater building as the town food pantry, but had a desire to see it become something more. This summer, Teche Center for the Arts (TCA) at 210 E. Bridge St. officially takes off. Unfortunately, Raymond passed away and never got to see the fruits of his vision, but his wife, Coatney, carries on as a board member.
“There’s been so much community involvement,” says board member and Executive Director of St. Martin Economic Development Authority Beth Guidry. “Elected officials have stood back and let us fly. We have a family-owned building and community stakeholders on our board.”
TCA’s first big event was Treble on the Teche with Brazos Huval last year in which 40 children ages 5-18 had the chance to play music with local stars like Yvette Landry, Sam Broussard, Mitch Reed and Blake Miller. The three-day camp culminated in a Thanksgiving concert on the TCA stage with about 250 people attending.
“It was all local people teaching all local kids and the kids loved it,” says Huval. Ten underprivileged children with no previous musical experience also received scholarships to participate. “There’s a lot of kids who just weren’t exposed to music and some of them turned out to be real great and they’re still playing now,” Huval adds.
This summer, area kids will have more chances to learn new skills as TCA launches its full series of summer camps in June and July. Cajun Cooking for ages 8-14 with Georgie Blanchard recently wrapped up and Montessori School classes for ages 5-8 with Vanessa Williams were held in June. In July, kids can sign up for two sessions of Theatre Camp with Jamie Monette, a Cajun French Camp for ages 8-13 with Jane Labbie and a Photography Class for ages 10-16 with Lucius Fontenot. The Robotics Program from UL Lafayette is also coming to town July 18-22, providing students ages 10-14 valuable skills and knowledge through experiences with coding, robotics, service learning, design and collaboration.
For adults, a French Table is available at the center on the first Monday of each month. Huval says he’d also like to offer beginner guitar classes and plans are in the works for dance classes and a farmer’s market. Treble on the Teche will return in November, and for Christmas a musical skit will coincide with Breaux Bridge’s Papa Noel Celebration.
“We all are dreaming very big for what TCA can become,” says Guidry. “We all have a rendering in our mind of what we want it to look like. We’re still in our formative stages, but I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish thus far.”
Architect Glenn Angelle is responsible for that rendering, which shows an open-air pocket park next to the building entrance complete with a stage, canopy and custom sculpture. People are walking by on the street out front and a band plays in the courtyard. TCA accomplished the first step toward making that rendering a reality when its sign was hung June 1.
Inside the center, Theriot and his family had restabilized the structure and stripped things down to bare bones, while TCA upgraded the air conditioning system and leveled the pocket park grounds. The now wide open space is ripe with possibility and just in need of restroom facilities to meet building code requirements. Other than office space in the entrance where the movie concessions once stood, the 45 x 90 main theater is all a stage for whatever board members can dream up. Art could line the walls and even hang from the rafters. Currently being used for storage, the theater balcony could honor Raymond with a military exhibit and the old projection room used for storage.
TCA does plan to keep a few mementos from the theater’s early days, like a historic bill and original lighting sconces found during the renovation. And a future phase will relocate the current stage back to its original location.
Theriot envisions a cultural anchor with a museum, art gallery and French table. Guidry sees a hybrid between NUNU’s in Arnaudville and Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette. TCA’s official business plan outlines plans to feature historic milestones of the parish, men and women of accomplishment, military contributions and an oral history program including interviews with noted residents.
“We want to fill a void and a need that we don’t currently have,” Guidry says. “Our hope is to become a cultural center for St. Martin Parish.”
Breaux Bridge has filled many voids in recent years: paddle tours through Bayou Teche Experience, expanded antiques shopping at Lagniappe, coffee, pastries and live music at Joie de Vivre and events like Teche Fest that celebrate the Crawfish Capital’s bayou side location.
Residents are taking pride in their community again, and tourists are coming for more than just dancing at Cafe Des Amis. Through their Facebook page, TCA has had requests for adult art classes and general volunteer opportunities. Those wanting to get involved can subscribe to TCA’s newsletter Talk of the Teche through techecenterforthearts.com or support the center through a capital campaign by buying a commemorative brick to be placed in the courtyard.
“The more we do, the more people are talking,” says Huval. “We have to show everybody we have something going on over here.”
Adds Theriot, “There’s a huge groundswell of people who want to do stuff. What I see when I look at this place is a blank canvas for the community to paint on.”