The panorama is impressive, but it’s another sort of vision that drives this vibrant and captivating cultural venue.
Opened in the spring of 2005, the Shaw Center's mission is to give the arts in Baton Rouge a prominent downtown address and to be a catalyst for the Capital City's emerging arts and entertainment district.
I'm taking in the view from the building's rooftop lounge after exploring six floors of museum and gallery space, performance stages for homegrown and touring talent, restaurants, shops and studios – all centered on the arts. The LSU Museum of Art is a major tenant here, taking up the Shaw Center's entire fifth floor. LSU's Manship Theatre is located on the first floor, along with two art galleries, a museum store, eateries like the Capital City Grill and PJ's Coffee, while stunning public spaces are spread across the building's lobbies and terraces. As the Shaw Center rises floor by floor, the number of attractions and organizations grow too, and each contributes their own energy to the place.
The Shaw Center’s striking physical design gives the building an undeniable presence in Baton Rouge, and so it was no surprise to learn that it recently won an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects.
In the towering main hall of the center, one side is dominated by the elegantly sloping white bowl shape of the LSU Manship Theatre. With 325 seats, and not a bad one in the house, I envy the audience that experienced folk music legend Arlo Guthrie, the youthful Soul Street Dance Company and the Latin-tinged rock of the Iguanas in this unique space.
Just down the hall, I peek into a pair of black box theaters. Part of the Shaw Center's vitality comes from having so many different arts organizations working in close proximity within its walls. The pair of gallery spaces on the first floor is an example of just how much diversity this arrangement offers. I first visit the Brunner Gallery, created by gallery director Susan Brunner and sculptor Rick Brunner. Their walls feature well-known and emerging regional artists such as sculptor Claudia Meyer and painter Dennis Campay, and the space proves as hip and original as any big city art gallery. A short walk to the other side of the lobby brings me to the LSU School of Art Gallery. Both galleries change exhibits frequently.
On the fourth floor, I wander out to a terrace, a favorite venue for wedding receptions and photo shoots. Partially shaded by a trellis, it offers outdoor seating and even sports its own sculpture garden.
Here I relax and read up on the history of the Shaw Center. I learn that its roots go back to plans in the late 1990s to build a new art museum for LSU on the outskirts of town. In 2000, however, a consortium of university officials, government leaders and local nonprofits agreed that a larger vision could be fulfilled. The Arts Council was already redeveloping a downtown property and a performing arts center. Why not combine these plans with LSU's new museum and its School of Art to create a downtown multi-use arts hub? That vision led to the Shaw Center just five years later.
Finally it was time to see the museum concept that started it all. A quick elevator ride delivers me to the LSU Museum of Ar. I start with a turn through the visiting Rodin exhibit, with its original sculpture and exhibits on the French master's own influences. Then I come to the museum's permanent collection with displays of Newcomb pottery, Chinese jade, Louisiana-made furniture, 19th-century landscapes, mid-century lithographs and paintings by self-taught Louisiana artist Clementine Hunter. In another room I find "LSU Art Past and Present," an ever-changing exhibit of work by LSU students and professors.
The day has left me famished, so I go up to the rooftop deck to enjoy Tsunami Sushi at The Shaw Center. I dig into alligator sushi rolls and soba noodles among young couples and businesspeople.