Around two years ago, the life of Lafayette’s Susan David took a sharp turn. Before this time, she was like many professional artists out there: a post-grad toiling away at a day job while doing her best to breathe life into a personal creative practice. Then, David also became the founder and executive director of the non-profit print shop and multidisciplinary arts center, Freetown Studios, which officially opened this past fall. Today, she balances running the non-profit in her spare time, working a day job as a waitress at a restaurant in downtown Lafayette, and maintaining an artistic practice that includes printmaking and painting, while also trying to maintain her sanity. Watching David live through the ups and downs of her life is like watching a soap opera: it is a continuous saga of love, ecstasy, frustration, triumph, and disappointment on a personal level with broader implications for the city’s creative culture. As David so wryly puts it, Freetown Studios is now her “leading man.”
Freetown Studios is Acadiana’s first and only non-profit multi-media arts center to open its doors in Freetown-Port Rico, the up-and-coming neighborhood adjacent to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette known for its roaming chickens. Near downtown Lafayette, the neighborhood is also home to many private artists’ studios, including the Francis Pavy studio and the Warehouse on Garfield studios, as well as the hybrid bed and breakfast/saloon/concert venue, the Blue Moon, which have all been part of the neighborhood for over a decade. The city government of Lafayette is planning to designate the neighborhood as an arts district in the near future with a new sculpture park possibly running along the train tracks that form one of its borders.
When asked how she would describe Freetown Studios’ place in the community and the region, David says that the center “provides space, machinery, and equipment for visual artists to make art and to earn a living in a community operation. It provides all equipment necessary for a printmaking co-op. This is a venue that bridges the gap in available printmaking resources between Lake Charles, New Orleans, and Shreveport.” David just finished introducing printmaking to five adult students who gathered for a series of Monday night classes, and she’ll begin the second round of classes in June. She’s still looking for professional printmakers who’ll want to roost in the shop on a permanent to semi-permanent basis.
David says she’s most proud of achieving a 501(c)(3) status for the center and receiving three of the five grants she applied for last year. Indeed, these grants have fueled an array of improvements to the studios that include new lighting for the gallery area and two new presses that will arrive in September. These grants have also assisted in bringing an ambitious variety of programming to the studios that has included classes, lectures, literary readings, and exhibitions. On May 31st, visual artist Stephanie Patton will deliver a lecture, and a new season of printmaking and painting classes for adults and children is scheduled for the summer and fall. The Lafayette-based Milena Theatre Group will take over the space for an immersive theater performance in November, and the PrintZero Studios traveling printmaking portfolio exchange exhibition will arrive in December. These days David’s main complaint is that she’s not able to do more, citing a lack of human resources in the form of a solid group of instructors for more programming and classes. When asked what challenges she foresees for Freetown Studios in the future, David replied jovially, “Oh let me count the ways …” Nevertheless, she’s committed to expanding the center’s impact. It’s just like she says, “My art doesn’t have an off switch.”
Freetown Studios is located at 421 East Convent Street in Lafayette.