Dig Baton Rouge

Pop!Smart

By Tara Bennett

A vision to fuse art and technology into a unique experience has resulted in Baton Rouge’s latest non-profit organization focusing solely on the arts community.

Pop!Smart, the brainchild of local artist Neda Parandian, serves as one of the newest types of exhibitions in Baton Rouge, where the space of the Varsity Theatre is transformed into a one-night-only art exhibition, combining local artists and the latest in tech to bring a new progressive experience to Baton Rouge.

Throughout each Pop!Smart event, an array of talent and activities are presented throughout the evening. Artists will have their work on display and for sale while entertainment akin to the likes of Cirque du Soleil occurs onstage. Guests can also find interactive media, hear live music and discover the latest in scientific breakthroughs, be it 3-D printing or robotics. There is always something new and entertaining to see.

One of Parandian’s goals has been to create a launching place for artists in Baton Rouge, which she decided to pursue after leaving her state job.

“I decided to pursue my dream with my fine art to sustain a living, but it was difficult,” said Parandian. “I had very little resources and had to learn to network and PR. It was difficult to sustain a living, but I kept at it. Then I began doing live art with nonprofits to help raise funds and donating artwork.”

Since then, Parandian has worked with over 15 non-profits in two years, and it opened up a whole new world of opportunities she wasn’t aware of for artists.

“Right when I began thinking about applying for an individual grant from the Arts Council there were huge cutbacks in funding for the state that wiped out individual grants. At this point I progressed to sitting on several event planning committees with The Walls Project and Stabbed in the Art. Shortly after I met Eric Holowacz, who helped mentor me about non-profits and I began volunteering with the Arts Council and sitting on grant committees.”

Last year she co-created a series of successful art shows called The Splatter Effect, and this year, she spoke with the Varsity about bringing a strong art and music series to the Highland Rd. location to provide Baton Rouge with a regular, continuous pop-up art event where local artists can gain exposure.

While her passion and drive came from finding opportunities for artists, there was another factor that was closer to home for Parandian.

“In January, my mom went in for routine surgery but they had to stop halfway because they found cancer,” said Parandian. “She was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer, which cannot be detected any earlier. My dad devoted his time to helping my mom, and I was on my own. A week later I met Henry Turner Jr., who gave me an opportunity to get my name out as an international artist through the Listening Room.”

Parandian’s willpower, determination and drive all kicked in at that time, and she wanted to make an impact by helping others in the community.

“I thought I had a short amount of time with my mom while she was battling cancer to prove to her I could make an impact in the community,” said Parandian. “Everything started to fall into place and in three weeks I created an event with my number one cheerleader and ambassador, Andre Francois, who has been by my side, called Pop!Smart.

Driven by survival, and hyper-focused on growing the event from the ground up, Parandian ensured her marketing, PR and strategic planning was all on point.

“I didn’t have time to get someone to give me a shot, so I created it myself,” said Parandian. “My friends and I love innovative technology like drones, submersible LED lights, etc. I felt that there was an underground group of progressive minded individuals that were growing here, I just put a spotlight on it. I am one if those introverted extroverts that love the energy of others, but I have to go home and isolate to research, learn and master a new subject.”

From its conception, Parandian always envisioned Pop! growing to become a non-profit, that much was clear. Parandian’s vision includes serving the community by benefitting the next generation of artists, and it’s off to a great start. This past installment of Pop!Smart focused on collecting donated art supplies for the Future Fund.

“You have no idea how much it touched my heart with the help people gave to get art supplies for the Future Fund,” said Parandian.

But the best part of the story?

“One week before my third pop show, my mom had the surgery she tried to have in January were they cut off the remaining cancer,” said Parandian. “She beat the cancer right when I’m beginning my nonprofit.”

For more information visit www.popsmartshow.com. See you in 2016 Pop!Smart!

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