Tag Archives: interview

Meet the Artist: Linda Lavender Ford

No matter who they are, every person in Northeast Louisiana can immediately recognize the name Linda Lavender. When I heard that name, I thought of the all the flashy Twin City Ballet recitals I have attended, the iconic Ballet Under the Stars performances in Kiroli Park, and of course the famous Christmas Gala plays I went to every year of elementary school; to sum it all up, I thought of extravagance and the biggest arts powerhouse in our area. However, I realized when I was presented with that name, I thought of literally everything other than an actual individual, and that made me start to think. The name just felt like an unattainable and unidentifiable person; why did everyone know the name Linda Lavender but they did not know Linda Lavender?

As it is the last week of my summer internship for the Northeast Arts Council, my final assignment was to “write about whatever I wanted to and to have fun with it.” Not to mention, I was also finally given the approval to write in first person. I racked my brain for an underrated event I have always wanted to share about or an influential artist I’ve always wanted to know more about, and then it came to me: Linda Lavender.

I emailed a couple questions to Linda with the mindset she would never reply; where would an unbelievably successful local celebrity find the time to type out lengthy answers for a teenage intern? And then I got an email informing me Linda Lavender Ford wanted to have a phone interview with me. With my heart pounding out of my chest, I grabbed my phone and dialed her number. I expected to have a speedy five minute Q and A where I read off the questions and she rapidly gave her answers, but I ended up having a lengthy heartfelt conversation which I will remember for the rest of my life:

So now, what do I think of when I hear the name Linda Lavender Ford?

I think of a small girl who was born in Mississippi and grew up in West Monroe- a little girl who was from a very poor family with a mother who was a factory worker and a father who was a mechanic. That little girl’s parents made sure they could give their daughter the best training in the best dance studio available. When the little girl grew up to be a teenager, she was discovered and was invited to become a dancer and hostess for the KNOE television show, Happiness Exchange.

I picture a stubborn teenager telling her mother she didn’t want to teach dance when she graduated high school because she was going to school in New York City to be a performer, even though her family could not afford to send her to the dance academy. However, when that recent West Monroe High School graduate began to teach dance, she knew it was her calling.

I see a young woman who built Linda Lavender School of Dance from the ground up and founded the Twin City Ballet Company. That company is now an honor member of Regional Dance America and has four directors and three season performances. In addition, it gives dancers the opportunities for scholarships and the ability to further their dance careers.

I hear a woman, who has taught dance for 57 years, asking me about myself and telling me how she is proud of me for aspiring to be an arts educator one day. I hear her giving me the advice to make every effort to bring the best I can to my students and to continually keep my mind open to learning.

Most importantly, I know a strong and driven woman who recognizes the talent every individual possesses and who utilizes art to allow them to see the worth in themselves. She is a kindhearted and humble woman who pays respect not to herself, but to the power of the arts and to divine intervention.

“I still say that this area is especially gifted with talent. I always say I can’t imagine a child not getting to dance. I just feel like it’s a terrible mistake when they do not get to because I know what it has meant to me and what it means to so many people.” -Linda Lavender Ford

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Meet the Executive Committee: Alex Schott

The Northeast Louisiana Arts Council is excited to announce that we have elected multiple accomplished and influential people onto our Executive Board. We think it would be great for the community to get to know the leaders of our Board and how each of them are using their own unique abilities to promote the arts in our area! This week, we had the pleasure to interview our newly elected Administrative Vice Chair, Alex Schott.
Q: Tell me about your background; where are you from, what was your childhood like, what is your family like?

A: I’m originally from New Orleans, which is where my father is from. Our family business, Schott & Company Meats, was firmly established in New Orleans for over a century, beginning in 1879. My mother’s family is from Nicaragua, which they fled during political unrest in the late 1960s and came to New Orleans, and where she would eventually meet my dad. I’m your typical child of the late 1970s and 1980s- not too different from the upbringing displayed by Netflix’s “Stranger Things” kids. My days were spent riding bikes, playing Atari, watching MTV and visiting our local record store on a weekly basis to get the latest new release… and that I would proudly play on my double tape deck boom box.

Q: What is your current job, and what else are you involved with in the area?

A: For my day job, I’m CenturyLink’s director of internal communications, which involves serving as the front lines of communications for nearly 50,000 employees. My other job is dad and husband. My wife and I have two rambunctious boys, aged 10 and 12, so the majority of my free time in the area is spent doing activities with them, which includes baseball, soccer, boy scouts, bike riding, foosball, and hanging out on the bayou when we can.

Q: What made you decide to pursue a career in communications?

A: It certainly wasn’t planned. I was initially going the law school route while an undergrad at LSU, but after working at a few law firms, I felt a different career path should be explored. Long story, short… I wound up graduating in political science and moving to California to get a Masters degree in film and media studies. Having always enjoyed experimenting with new technology, it was during this time that I was self-taught in web design and coding and became involved in digital communications in the early days of the internet. I parlayed that into a career that has seen me serve in a series of roles from media relations, public relations, business development, public policy, digital media, employee communications and executive communications.

Q: I know you have only been living in Ouachita Parish for a couple years; how is your life different compared to living in New Orleans?

A: It’s obviously a lot smaller that any city we had ever live and, though my wife and I lived in California for a few years, it was first time we’ve moved with kids. We also knew no one. However, within the first three days, we made great friends who helped ensure that we acclimated to the area quickly. This is a very family-oriented area, and my kids love it. It has been a great experience.

Q: So far, what is your favorite thing about Northeast Louisiana?

A: The people here are awesome. Small town life suits us well! When it comes to raising two children, I have to say that there is a unique sense of family and safety that allows them to grow up in a way that isn’t an option in most larger cities. We love the neighborhood we are in, and it’s great not to have to deal with traffic every morning. It’s really the small things you don’t realize you’re missing out on until you leave a big city.

Q: What special asset do you believe you bring to the table on the Board of Directors?

A: With a PR/communications and digital-focused background, I think I can help provide guidance on creating greater awareness around the Arts Council and as it builds a larger digital presence in the new media landscape. The board is really committed to growing the Council’s membership and the ideas that are being shared are very exciting for the area. I believe having a communications background will help us bring those ideas and projects to life.

Q: What are some things most people do not know you are passionate about?

A: Outside of my family and work, my biggest passion is music. I’ve always loved music, but it wasn’t until 5 years ago that I actually decided to play music and picked up a guitar. It was a game-changer for me as it helps me relax and is so therapeutic. While it’s a great creative outlet and it keeps my mind sharp, it’s not something anyone would pay to hear so I won’t be quitting my day job anytime soon. By the time my kids go to college, I figure I will be good enough to play in a band so I can embarrass them covering “Free Bird” in the bars around their school. Kidding, of course.

Q: What are you most looking forward as the Arts Council’s new Administrative Vice Chair?

A: I see a tremendous opportunity for the Arts Council and the board is really engaged in making a positive difference for Northeast region. I am looking forward to keeping the momentum going. I have seen the Council do so much in the past couple years and I want to make sure that creative and energy only increases.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to mention that I did not cover?

A: I do this when I interview people… How about 5 quick favorites?
Favorite Book – Catcher in the Rye (I named my son Holden)
Favorite Movie – If you ask me today, “There Will Be Blood”… if you ask me tomorrow, “Dr. Strangelove”
Favorite Band – Pink Floyd
Favorite TV Show – Seinfeld
Favorite Team – New Orleans Saints
We as the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council are so excited to have Alex on our Executive Board. We admire his energy and humor and also is experience and intellect. We know he will be a great leader not only for the Arts Council but also for our arts community as a whole.
-Joanna Calhoun
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Meet the Board Member: Brandi Cole

We, the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council, have had the honor to recently elect multiple wonderful people onto our board. Continuing our blog post series called Meet the Board Member, we think it would be a important for the community to get to know our new board members and to learn what they are doing in our area! This week we had the pleasure to interview one our new board members, Brandi Cole.

Brandi Cole

Q: Tell me about your background; where are you from, what was your childhood like, what is your family like?

A: I was born in the Dallas area and grew up in West Monroe with my parents (a schoolteacher and a salesman) and two siblings. I had an awesome childhood in north Louisiana – back in the good old days when we didn’t have electronics and spent a lot of time outside. I also spent a lot of time with my nose in a book. I graduated from Louisiana Tech with an accounting degree and then went to LSU Law School. I practiced Labor & Employment law in Baton Rouge for five years at a regional firm.  About 4 years ago, I found my way back to northeast Louisiana with the hope of providing my kids with the same upbringing I enjoyed – being surrounded by family and a great community.

Q: What is your current job, and what else are you involved with in the area?

A: I am an in-house attorney at CenturyLink, where I am in the Ethics & Compliance group and perform internal corporate investigations. We now have nearly 50,000 employees around the globe, so every day brings on a new set of rewards and challenges. I am also involved with the Twin City Ballet, my kids’ schools, and my church.

Q:  I know you are affiliated with the Twin City Ballet Company; can you tell me about the organization and your involvement?

A: I am on the board of the Twin City Ballet, which is a non-profit operated under the artistic direction of Mrs. Linda Lavender Ford. The two main purposes of the TCB are to create exciting dance experiences in the community and to offer an opportunity for training and stage experience for young talented dancers. I love being part of an organization that provides such opportunities for dancers and brings culture to our area through dance performances and events throughout the year.

Q: When did your passion for dance begin, and why are you so passionate about it?

A: I first fell in love with dance at the age of 3, and I still dance with my kids, my husband (who is actually an incredible dancer, especially for a banker) and at my weekly adult hip-hop class, which is the most fun I have had in years! I can’t think of anything that feels better than dancing. Dance is an outlet for artistic expression, and it is a beautiful way to tell a story.

Q: Where do you go or what do you do to get inspired?

A: I run, I pray, I spend time on the trails at Kiroli Park or I talk someone into taking a trip with me!

Q: What are some things most people do not know you are passionate about?

A: I don’t keep many secrets, but I am secretly passionate about some classic rock – think Bob Seger, Eric Clapton. I credit my dad for making me listen to all his music growing up.

Q: What made you decide to accept the position as a board member for the NELA Arts Council?

A: Barry is very persuasive. Just kidding – I think we are lucky to live in a small town with a talented art community and rich culture, and I want to be involved in making sure people in NELA are aware of how great it is to live here. I also love the events the Arts Council puts on.

Q: What special asset do you believe you can bring to the table as a board member?

A: Although I wish I could offer up something more interesting, I will have to say – my legal skills.

Q: What are you most looking forward to as a new board member?

A: Learning more about the Arts Council!


The Northeast Louisiana Arts Council is absolutely thrilled to have Brandi as one of our newest board members, and we know she will be a wonderful asset to our Board and as well as towards our arts community.

-Joanna Calhoun

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Meet the Board Member: Jay Yates

We as the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council have had the privilege to recently elect multiple wonderful people onto our board, so we will be starting up a short blog post series called Meet the Board Member. We think it would be a great for the community to get to know our new board members better and to learn what they are doing in our area! This week we had the pleasure of interviewing one of our newest board members, Jay Yates.

Q: Tell me about your background; where are you from, what was your childhood like, what is your family like?

A: I was born in Monroe in 1982. When I was young, my mother Nancy King and I moved to Harvey, which is on the west bank of New Orleans.  I grew up happy and loved living in New Orleans. Regularly we would come back to Monroe to visit family and I always enjoyed that too. My mother remarried before I got to high school, and we then moved back to West Monroe permanently. My stepfather Terry King has always been and continues to be a big influence on my life. After high school I took my time through college and ended up finishing up at North Texas in Dallas in 2006. My father moved to the Florida Keys when I was young, so I spent my formative summers there on the ocean working for his various water sports businesses. The ocean called me back after college, and I spent the next few years mostly in Key West Florida, where I eventually met my beautiful wife Heather.  We have been back in Monroe almost 10 years now. We have a 9-year-old daughter Emma and a 6-year-old son Isaak.    
Q: What is your current job?
A: I am the Director of Sales and Marketing for Kingsland Ranch.
Q: Can you tell me more about Kingsland Ranch and what makes Kingsland Ranch special?
A: Kingsland is a 900 acre cattle ranch in West Monroe. We provide all natural retail beef to the area via private sale and grocery stores.
Q: What are some things most people do not know you are passionate about?
A: The ocean or really any water will do.  I love going to the beach and being on Lake Claiborne with my family. 
Q: Why are you passionate about the arts in Northeast Louisiana?
A:  I’ve always loved art. Growing up if you’d asked me what I wanted to do for a living I would have said “Comic Book Artist.”  Nowadays the only time I draw is with my kids.  But I do love the arts culture I’ve watched develop over the last decade or so in Monroe.
Q: What made you decide to accept the position as a board member for the NELA Arts Council?
A:  I’m 35 and through the most time-consuming part of raising children, I figured it was a good way to get involved with the community.
Q: What special asset do you believe you can bring to the table as a board member?
A:  I’ve always been a people person. I enjoy meeting new people and having fun. 

We are very excited to have Jay Yates as one of our new board members, and we know he will be a wonderful contribution to our Board and towards the arts community.

-Joanna Calhoun

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Meet the Artist: Courtney Wetzel

Continuing our newest blog series, Meet the Artist, we believe it would be such a pleasure for our community to personally get to know its hometown artists and what awesome achievements they are making to transform the 318! This week, we had the pleasure to interview the talented local artist, Courtney Wetzel.

Courtney Wetzel

Photo by Kelly Moore-Clark

Q: Tell me about your background; what was your childhood like, when did your interest in art begin, what’s your family like?
A: Growing up my family moved around a lot. When I got into high school, I had a hard time finding friends- that is until I was introduced to the Meridian, MS Little Theatre. It was there that I was introduced to art through a local artist named Greg Cartmell. I began working at his art gallery/frame shop. He was an incredible teacher; however, it wasn’t until college that I actually tried my hand at it. I graduated with a B.S. in Graphic Communications and a M.A. in Art.

My husband, Zeke, completed his military obligation in the U.S. Navy five years ago then took a job here at St. Francis. We made our family transition to Monroe, and couldn’t be happier to call ourselves locals. I have two busy, creative kiddos, Genevieve and Vaughn, who are both newly involved with Strauss Youth Academy for the Arts, another incredible arts organization. There is never a dull moment in the Wetzel house.

Q: I know you have a specialty in printmaking; can you tell me a little more about the method and why you love this process over other media?
A: In college I experimented with all kinds of media only to find I was at best mediocre.  During this exploration, I took a printmaking class. The deconstruction of subjects into shapes and curves and lines is something I found interesting. Working with the extremes of positive and negative space is easier to communicate with printmaking rather than with painting.

Carving and printmaking is a slow and steady process. I can zone out for hours.  I use traditional carving tools on a wood or linoleum block to create a “stamp” for prints.  After the image is carved, the block is inked. Paper is then pressed on top and the ink is massaged into the paper. I can make as many prints as needed from a single block. Once the series of prints are completed the block is painted and sealed thus ending the life of the “stamp.”

Q: How/ when did you become affiliated with the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council, and what do you do serving as a board member for the Arts Council?
A: It didn’t take long to discover the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council and the amazing efforts being made by the organization to promote and celebrate the arts in this community. Right away I knew I wanted to be involved, and I was given the opportunity in 2015. I like to think of myself as the Arts Council idea fairy and worker bee.

Q: You attended an entrepreneurial training program organized by the Arts Council in February; can you share some concepts you learned there and how your business has changed because of the program?
A: This was an Art Business Boot Camp presented by the Ella Project brought to NELA by the Arts Council to help visual artists navigate through business management and marketing. As an artist, I have zero experience with business, and I am not alone. The boot camp covered many areas of art including copyrights, tax matters, and marketing/promotion. Wow! Who knew social media could give an artist such exposure! I think many artists have concerns about putting their work on this public forum. For me, the training program highlighted the importance of understanding the business aspect of being an artist.

Q: When looking at your website, I read you went through a 13-year art hiatus. Do you mind sharing what you were doing during that time and what compelled you to reenter the world of art?
A: I often joke that it occurred to me in my mid-20s that I needed health insurance which was not included in the benefits package for independent artist. Though that does have some truth, simply put, life happened. I relocated, got married, relocated, went back to school and got a master’s in Teaching: Special Education; relocated, had children, relocated, relocated, relocated, went back to school this time to be an Educational Diagnostician, and relocated. My life wasn’t settled for many years. About two years ago, I finally felt like I was firmly planted. The desire and need to create came back. I started producing work again to have something that was mine.

Q: Where do you go or what do you do to get inspired?
A: The inspiration comes from daily life, the people around, and the places I go. I’m simple. Recently, silence and the journey to finding peace has provided some inspiration.

Q: Other than art, what are some things most people do not know you are passionate about?
A: I have discovered a spiritual teacher/author named Anthony de Mello.  His studies and philosophies of spirituality are fascinating. Also, I really like dogs, sponge textured deserts particularly with fruit, Nina Simone, discount stores, and exploring new places.

Q: What was your first artwork you ever sold?
A: It was a nude print that was included in an all black and white group show at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans at White Linen Night in 2001. A man bought it for his wife who was a ballerina. I ate that week.

Q: What is the most touching or rewarding moment you have experienced in your art career?
A: It may sound silly, but anytime anyone positively acknowledges my work, I am thrilled! I would never be so bold as to think that others should like anything I make. I’m tickled when they do.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to all the artists out there?
A: Here’s more than one:

  1. Hone your craft. Become an expert at what you do.
  2. Ask questions to experienced artists. Ask lots of questions.
  3. LISTEN to the answers they give you and apply them where you can.
  4. While you are working your way up, sometimes you have to paint chickens and magnolias. What I mean is sometimes you have to paint what pays the bills.
  5. If you put the brush down for a while, even 13 years, pick it up again. You’ll know how to use it.
  6. Go to an art business boot camp sooner rather than later.
Courtney Wetzel

Photo by Kelly Moore-Clark

The Northeast Louisiana Arts Council is so thankful for having Courtney on our board and for all the hard work she contributes for artist relations and strategic planning. We are inspired by her enthusiasm for what she is so passionate about, and we cannot wait to see what great achievements she will be making in the near future.

-Joanna Calhoun

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