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The Queen City Of Culture

03/17/2017 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey

Gallery: New Iberia Reigns Royal Throughout The Year [2 Images] Click any image to expand.

New Iberia Reigns Royal Throughout The Year

By Anne B. Minvielle

Most people in New Iberia identify it with the snake-like river that winds its way through the city, along paths of moss draped oaks and aside Acadian and pre-Civil War homes, rich with history. There was once a time when the preferred language, in fact, the only acceptable language of Iberians on the Teche, was French. In such a manner, popular forms of entertainment were events like horse racing, and not on Triple Crown raceways. Be it “kick the can” or “hide and seek” among tall stalks of sugar cane, grateful hearts have long appreciated whatever fun they could find. There was culture in the simple and sublime.

Today, there is no shortage of lists to choose from, whether you are a tourist or a native, to guide you on your way to find cuisine or Cajun customs in the city that lies along Bayou Teche. Local promoter of all things great about the city, Cathy Indest, says, “You will find unique events celebrating just about everything, and you will be able to sample, for a day or for a weekend, that unique hospitality that Southerners are known for.”

 Her promise is not made possible through the efforts of any one person or patronage. New Iberia now has many names, from Home of the Sugar Cane Festival to Queen City of the Teche. There are more eponyms for the city than a tour brochure could hold. Through the united effort of primarily three organizations, the city has now been crowned “Queen City of Culture.” 

In September of 2010, Iberial Cultural Resources Association led the way to fulfill a unique mission, by establishing a new and exciting group that would spotlight the many cultural activities of the city. Joining that group were the Bayou Teche Museum and the Shadows-on-the-Teche. The purpose of this fusion of interests is, according to Indest, “to coordinate and support the three organizations’ mutual interest in the preservation of the history and culture in the city of New Iberia.”

The three groups already had noteworthy goals, but their leaders decided that there was strength in unity, and they brought to the table each group’s mission and discussed how their aspirations were all linked by the desire to highlight the culture and history of this city, made royal by more than the kings and queens of Mardi Gras. Whether it is time for celebration or introspection, the city shares many jewels.

One such gem is the Iberia Cultural Resources Association, the president of the board being Cathy Indest. Having only four one-hour meetings a year, the group has succeeded in accomplishing a myriad of objectives. A major achievement in the eyes of the Spanish, French and English in the community is the restoration of 21 tri-lingual historical markers that provide information for tourists and residents alike, on important older building in New Iberia. It remains for all, the thrill of seeing those reading the markers, regardless of nationality or heritage. The very nature of the markers presenting information in French, Spanish and English, defies the ruling of the past of speaking only English at school, and, in turn, at home and at play.

Now heritage is honored, the French immersion program is one that encourages mastery of the French language in speaking and writing. That achievement can only be called one diamond in the rough of several languages from Spanish to Vietnamese, but it is a beginning of the recognition of all cultures of the city.

Young and old alike value the performances of the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra in concerts, during each calendar season. The concerts, sponsored by the Iberia Cultural Resources Association, are free and open to the public and include an outdoor concert entitled “Symphony in the Park.”

Other civic groups, such as Iberia Performing Arts League and the New Iberia Main Street Program, appreciate the support of the Iberia Cultural Resources Association. This organization is joined in the alliance by The Bayou Teche Museum, founded by Paul Schexnayder and Becky Schexnayder Owens. The doors opened in 2010, with the help of its board members, city officials and interested citizens. 

It was important to the museum’s original supporters and founders, that the facility be able to showcase to visitors as well as natives, the history and culture of New Iberia, so that children of today might be able to answer the next generations’questions, such as, “Can you tell me stories about the olden days?” The basics of answers to such questions can be found in the treasure, the Bayou Teche Museum. What a perfect place to house artifacts, as well as oral histories of education, Mardi Gras, Cajun music, the great floods; and stars on the crown such as James Lee Burke and his compadre, Dave Robichaux, as well as artist George Rodrigue and his amigo, the Blue Dog!

Shadows-on-the-Teche forms the third of the alliance of cultural groups. The list of activities sponsored by this historical site that houses treasures of the past and stories within its walls, is endless. Indest explains, “This is a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a private non-profit organization. The Friends of the Shadows help in keeping its history alive by sponsoring and supporting fundraisers such as “Evening under the Oaks,” as well as fall and spring crafts shows. 

The Iberia Preservation Alliance is proud to be a sponsor of cultural events that are certain to capture the interest of all. There are festivals to promote the major assets of the city and include the World Championship Gumbo Cook-off, the El Festival Espanol de Nueva Iberia and the Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival.

The Alliance realizes the culture contained in the volumes of works by James Lee Burke and supports the Iberia Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau (IPCVB) and the New Iberia Main Street Program in presenting The Dave Robichaux’s Hometown Literary Festival. Save the date for the 2017 celebration on March 31-April 2 

Fran Thibodeaux, Director of IPCVB, says that her office promotes cultural tourism and works with non-profit programs. “It takes the work of all our organizations to promote the cultural aspect of our community. The James Lee Burke brand has brought many to the setting of his books. He writes so vividly that people want to visit the sites of his characters and their settings,” she says. Assistance from the alliance is crucial to the success of the many festival activities; such as, guided tours of Dave’s domain, experiencing bouree and Dave’s cuisine and music.

Thibodeaux also stresses that the Iberia Cultural Preservation Alliance has assisted her office by helping to write scripts and brochures. She says, “We are happy that the alliance has chosen to work together with us and that we can work as partners to promote the culture of our city.”

There is no end to the thrills and appreciation of culture and history in this city on the Teche. To assure its preservation, the Iberia Cultural Preservation Alliance will see that the history and culture will live on for generations to come. If you wish to become a part of the project, to learn yourself or assist in educating others about New Iberia culture, contact Cathy Indest at cathy.indest@lhcgroup.come. Check also the website of the Iberia Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Iberia Cultural Resources Association also supports “Beneath the Balconies.” Indest says, “This project highlights theatrical performances on the balconies of New Iberia’s award winning Main Street.” There is no doubt that such an endeavor provides culture from “on high.” As heads turn upwards, actors from school children to those more seasoned in the art of theater, are the stars embraced by New Iberia. 

There is no need to work to find the gems of this Queen City. Whatever the season, the city lies in wait for characters that will be thrilled and form a plot of their own.

Life+Leisure, Today, In Print New Iberia Culture

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