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  • Before and After the StormsHigher Education Funding and the Arts in Louisiana
  • Carrie Robison (bio)

Practically since Louisiana was purchased from the French in 1803, the production, performance, and study of the arts has been a vital part of the state's sense of self. From the constant mélange of overheard music-jazz, zydeco, Cajun, blues, and rock-to the sight of John Kennedy Toole's Lucky Dog carts patrolling the French Quarter, Louisianians have always lived with their arts, understanding creative production as a fact of everyday life and the essence of our life in the Gulf South.

Louisiana's higher-education community fully endorses the centrality of the creative arts to our way of life, and has contributed to them substantially through its excellent programs and faculty in a wide variety of disciplines. In turn, the Louisiana Board of Regents, the state's governing body for higher education, has provided significant support to the arts and humanities through a series of constitutionally guaranteed competitive grant programs known collectively as the Board of Regents Support Fund, which in recent years has distributed approximately 30 million dollars per year in awards to Louisiana institutions. The Support Fund was established in 1986 through a trust fund created out of the settlement of a dispute between Louisiana and the federal government over oil and gas revenues. The Support Fund provides grants to all disciplines at all levels in four major categories: Endowed Chairs for Eminent Scholars, Recruitment of Superior Graduate Students, Infrastructure Enhancement, and Research and Development. Arts disciplines have been eligible since the establishment of the Support Fund for participation in Enhancement, Endowed Chairs, and Graduate Fellows. Through these programs, the Board has provided substantial equipment, infrastructure enhancement, curriculum development, and professional development opportunities for arts faculty, graduate fellowships in studio and performance arts, and endowments for chairs in a wide variety of creative disciplines.

In 2004, recognizing the need for faculty support in disciplines traditionally excluded from R&D programs, the Board of Regents made a major contribution to arts funding in Louisiana by approving the Awards to Louisiana Artists and Scholars (ATLAS) program. This program, created on the model of the Guggenheim awards, provides support for faculty in arts, social sciences, and humanities to complete major scholarly and creative projects with the potential to have a broad impact on a regional, national, and/or international level. The activities of ATLAS grant recipients contribute to the Support Fund's comprehensive objective of strengthening the educational, artistic, and research bases of Louisiana institutions, as well as helping faculty to achieve or sustain national eminence. The primary focus of ATLAS is the scholarly or artistic merit of the proposed work. Projects are assessed based on their importance, originality, and likelihood to have an impact on a broad academic and/or artistic community.

ATLAS's pilot competition took place in 2004/05. Of the 50 projects submitted for consideration, 14 were funded while 22 others were deemed worthy of funding should additional monies become available, demonstrating the high quality of the initial submissions. Among the funded projects several were in the arts, including a collection of short stories by Loyola writer John Biguenet, a novel by Louisiana State University author Moira Crone, new installments [End Page 5] for National Public Radio's American Routes, and a major art exhibition by Loyola artist Gerald Cannon.

By providing support for productive faculty, the ATLAS Program will enable faculty to complete and disseminate their important scholarly and artistic work. This, in turn, will help to foster the reputation of these faculty members, bring attention to Louisiana's rich academic culture, and bolster the state's already strong reputation for quality education, scholarship, and art.

The vital significance of the arts to Louisiana's unique culture was made clear in the days and weeks following Hurricane Katrina's landfall on 29 August 2005, as the communities directly and indirectly affected by winds and floodwaters struggled to comprehend the disaster. For many people, the arts served as an important measure of loss. The local television and print news, blogs, public forums, and personal conversations pondered the dispersal of New Orleans' famous communities of musicians and performance...


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