By Tara Bennett
For arts to thrive in a city, individuals must commit themselves to the cultivation and care of artists, resources, and works. One woman has dedicated her life to this pursuit, and now she is ready to step into perhaps her greatest role yet.
The Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge has found a new President and CEO to drive the next phase of its growth and expansion in Baton Rouge resident and arts aficionado Renee Chatelain.
Chatelain was appointed to the position of president and CEO on Wednesday, June 3, following a decision by the Arts Council’s board of members made on Tuesday, June 2. Chatelain was introduced during the Arts Council’s annual public meeting last Tuesday, where she was well-received after the announcement of her new position.
“When it was announced that I would be the next president and CEO, the response in the community was overwhelming,” said Chatelain. “People were really positive and really supportive…I think that’s what I loved as well, that there was a trust. I find that really, really exciting because it seems like a team effort.”
Throughout her life, Chatelain felt that art has always played a role, even when she didn’t pursue artistic endeavors. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Chatelain began as a student of ballet, who sought and achieved a career in dance. After dancing professionally for several years, Chatelain went back to school and obtained her law degree, but she continued to dance and choreograph, and also co-founded the Mid-City Dance Project for low-income children. She also served as arts administrator and teacher at Episcopal High School and the Dunham School. Currently, Chatelain works as the executive director of the Manship Theatre at the Shaw Center for the Arts, which she has held for the past five years.
“In that time, we have been able to grow the theatre in some interesting ways, and create programming that has kind of let the theatre stand as an energy and entity that reaches out to the community, as well as presenting things from the community,” said Chatelain. “I guess the experience and skill set that I have and that I developed at the Manship Theatre gave me the tools to say ‘You know, maybe I can take these and expand on them at the Arts Council.’”
With the Manship Theatre now at a stable, growing state, Chatelain felt that the timing was right where she could look out to new horizons. It is her goal to bring similar growth and renewal to the Arts Council.
“[Chatelain] has the knowledge, experience and leadership qualities to bring the Arts Council to a new level of impact in our community,” stated Board Chairman Brian Haymon in a press release. “We are thrilled to have her on board.”
Chatelain’s combination of financial, non-profit, operational and fund-raising experience make her uniquely poised to help drive future growth for the Arts Council.
“The Arts Council has been a part of my life since I was a child,” said Chatelain. “Over the years, the various entities, the Arts Council has always played an integral, supportive role.”
“I think that is part of what is exciting about this whole endeavor,” she added. “Really, I see the Arts Council as an entity that serves the region, and how can we best do that in 2015? How should we do that as we move into the future? That’s what I’m really excited about.”
Her immediate plan of action for the Arts Council is to be a student of the organization from the bottom up and take inventory of the current programming, and plan on making it more efficient. Another item on her agenda that Chatelain is very passionate about is meeting with business leaders in the community to create a new standard for the city’s quality of life.
“People want to move to a city that is vibrant,” said Chatelain. “And all roads lead back to arts and cultural entities, organizations, and events.”
During the next couple of months, Chatelain will transition into her new position and remain as an advisory board member for the Manship Theatre. Though she will not remain as the executive director of the Manship, she is confident that her work at Manship will be sustained and is left in good hands.
“I’m enthusiastic about where the arts are, but also where they’re heading with regards to this city,” said Chatelain. “And I think looking into the future, and seeing how they’ll be working together with business development, I’m excited for Baton Rouge. It’s going to be exciting.”
Chatelain will assume her new position at the end of August.