May 18, 2016 (St. Bernard, Louisiana) — The Arlene and Joseph Meraux Charitable Foundation announced today that it has partnered with the artistic team of Erica and Mitchell Gaudet to develop a two block stretch of vacant and underused properties along St. Claude Avenue into Studio Arabi, an “arts campus” that will include studios, galleries, artist residences, and a theatre. Borrowing from creative placemaking approaches, the project will leverage arts and culture as a driver for economic development and enhanced livability in the parish.
The Meraux Foundation acquired the properties as a public interest project and is leasing them to the Gaudet’s, who will operate them as the master tenant and sublease spaces to artists and arts-related businesses. Studio Arabi will celebrate a grand opening event that is free and open to the public on June 25, 2016 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Additional details to be announced.
“We are very pleased to have helped in the creation of Studio Arabi. The destination will enrich the neighborhood and improve the quality of life for locals in the parish,” said Rita Gue, the president of the Meraux Foundation.
Studio Arabi is strategically positioned within the newly designated Old Arabi Cultural District, a state-certified Cultural District. The arts campus is expected to serve as an anchor and ignite positive development by attracting other arts and culture related businesses to the area.
“Erica and I are excited to see that Studio Arabi is already filling with artists, and we are grateful to the Meraux Foundation for assembling the properties to jumpstart and instantly scale the concept,” said Mitchell Gaudet. “Studio Arabi is a win-win-win for local residents, for artists, and for art lovers.”
Mitchell first opened his glass studio, Studio Inferno, nearly 25 years ago in the New Orleans Bywater neighborhood. He was amongst the first professional artists to locate to the neighborhood, which has since blossomed into a thriving arts community. Erica was one of the first professional artists to set up shop in the Bayou St. John area with her studio complex more than 20 years ago. In 2014, Erica and Mitchell relocated their studios to Arabi, and they are working to position the St. Bernard neighborhood as a the next emerging arts hub.
The Studio Arabi arts campus includes a number of venues along the 6600 and 6700 blocks of St. Claude Ave.
Mitchell will continue to operate Studio Inferno in what was once the Arabi Theatre. An industrial warehouse has been renamed Studio Arabi and renovated into 12 studio spaces varying in size from 500 to 2,000 square feet. Erica, a sculptor and furniture designer, will relocate here from her current location on Mehle St. a few blocks away. She will be joined in Studio Arabi by folk artist Wendy Haines, glass blower Jim Vella, woodworkers Ed Derringer and Kiff Magor, painter Mimi Stafford, and mixed media artist Amy Newell. Spaces are still available, and anyone interested in leasing can contact Mitchell Gaudet at 504-945-1878. The Gaudet’s plan to convert an existing sixplex apartment building into artists residences in a future phase of the development.
An old, vacant pawn shop is currently being renovated as a theatre and upscale lounge. Named ‘The Valiant’ in honor of a large, historic crown that adorns the building, the 210 seat theatre will host a wide variety of performances, including cabaret, puppetry, musicals, plays, and more. Operated by Richard Mayer, audiences can expect to see the return of their favorite groups from Old Marquer, Mayer’s previous venture, as well as bigger, better shows in the new, larger space. It will also feature live music, including weekly blues bands. The lounge will have live piano and acoustic guitar several nights a week. Mayer is partnering with Paul Chiriaco, owner of Mag’s bar on Elysian Fields, to operate the bar.
The St. Bernard Economic Development Foundation (SBEDF) was instrumental in attracting Mayer’s project to the Studio Arabi. Building upon the momentum generated by the cultural arts, SBEDF reached out to Mayer to offer a tour of the unique potential venues in St. Bernard Parish. Once committed to the new venue, SBEDF guided Mayer and Chiriaco through the permitting process.
“Attracting the Valiant to St. Bernard is a direct win for us in our efforts to grow the cultural economy. The theatre and lounge will not only create a new, regional destination, but will drive new sales and investment in the bourgeoning cultural arts district,” said Andrew Jacques, the executive director of SBEDF.
Studio Arabi is located at an entrance into St. Bernard and will complement an $811,000 median beautification project currently underway along St. Claude Ave.
About The Meraux Foundation
The Meraux Foundation is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was established by Arlene Meraux to benefit the community of St. Bernard Parish by leveraging its landholdings. Today, the Foundation’s board of directors is presided over by Arlene’s niece, Rita Gue, and members Floyd Gue, Bill Haines, Chris Haines, and Sidney Torres, III. Guided by Arlene’s vision, the Board is implementing an innovative strategy to create lasting change and build a better St. Bernard.
About Erica and Mitchell Gaudet
Mitchell, of Studio Inferno, is a highly-regarded artist who has exhibited work throughout the United States and has taught at prestigious schools around the world, is also an experienced businessman. Throughout his career, he has sub-leased studio space to meet persistent demand. Erica has for the past 25 years owned and operated a metal arts and furniture business that also provided artists with studio spaces. Her sculptural work has been displayed in conjunction with Sculpture New Orleans, and her design work can be found in many homes in the area and across the country. She has also taught nationally and internationally. With their network within the arts community and experience managing studios, the Gaudet’s are well positioned to lead Artifi Arabi to success.
About St. Bernard Economic Development
St. Bernard Economic Development Foundation is 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2005 to promote economic development and commercial growth of St. Bernard Parish and to lead the initiation of partnering organizations seeking to improve the quality of life for St. Bernard Parish citizens. To achieve this mission, SBEDF primarily engages in business attraction, retention, and expansion. Additionally, workforce development and policy development are pursued as key initiatives to drive economic development activities. The Board of Directors consists of 28 voting members and 8 non-voting honorary members and public officials, all of which serve as volunteers to the organization. SBEDF’s work is made possible through the general support of its investors, St. Bernard Parish Government, St. Bernard Port, Harbor and Terminal District, the Arlene and Joseph Meraux Charitable Foundation and Cox Communications at the Champion Level, the Law Offices of Sidney Torres, III and Associated Terminals at the Pillars Level, and Palmisano Group and Meyer Engineers at the Community Leaders Level.