Wherever she goes, CultureCandy executive director Rodneyna Hart is guaranteed to encounter someone she knows. Our interview at Driftwood Cask & Barrel is no exception. She sees her friend passing by outside through the window, and they both instantly press themselves up against the glass in excitement. “I am surrounded by the best humans in the world,” Hart says, “all the time.”
Those who know her say this enthusiasm and genuine love for people makes Hart the perfect person to bring back CultureCandy, an arts nonprofit that aims to help artists monetize their work that has been on hiatus for the past few years.
Hart continued to run into familiar faces throughout the interview, and it became clear the gastropub on North Third St. was indeed her home turf. A self-described “townie,” Hart is a Capital City native. It is one of the few things that has been a constant in her life longer than art — which is saying a lot, considering Hart drew her first recognizable figure at the age of 2 and hosted her first solo show when she was 14 years old.
Seeing the way Hart’s eyes light up when she talks about her passion and hometown make it easy to understand the mission of CultureCandy: “making Baton Rouge synonymous with art.”
Hart wants every artist in a city of 20,000 to have the opportunity to show their work and embrace their creative side, instead of shying away from it or thinking of it as a childhood hobby, she says. To make this happen, CultureCandy focuses on connecting patrons to artists.
“If there’s no venn diagram overlap of art and money, then people don’t make art,” Hart says. “We have to try to bring industry to the arts and bring artists to that level of professionalism that they are able to market themselves.”
For some artists, marketing and self-promotion doesn’t come naturally. Coding their website or doing taxes is a far cry from the painting and sculpting that is second nature to them.
CultureCandy helps artists navigate both the offline and online arenas of selling their art. Members can post arts-related events to the website’s calendar and create their own searchable website through CultureCandy’s main site.
The organization also puts on its own events, including the return of Stabbed in the Art, a monthly art gathering that first became popular in the city about 10 years ago and allowed local artists to exhibit their work for free on a first-come, first-served basis.
The show was started by local artists Jared Loftus, Alex Harvie, Otto Orellana and TJ Black in 2009 in a neighborhood space off Perkins Road. It quickly garnered popularity among artists, their families, college students and older art collectors alike. “In just a few months, you couldn’t walk through the venue. It was that packed,” artist Sarah Grubbs says.
As both Grubbs and glass blowing artist Nicko tell it, Stabbed in the Art was too hot. It was too crowded. The music was too loud. But that was part of the magic of it, they say.
“For young people, it’s easier if it’s loud and crowded,” Nicko says. “You can just disappear into the crowd. No one can hear your conversations.”
Grubbs met some of her long-term customers there over the years and made connections that opened doors for her in the future. “Basically, it got me in with everyone who was doing things,” she says.
Not only did the event connect artists to the community, but it also made art accessible to residents who may not have bought local art otherwise.
“There were so many people who purchased their first work of art at Stabbed in the Art,” Hart says. “They thought, ‘Oh, art collectors are these hoity-toity people who have all this money and live on hills.’ But things like this teach people that you are an art collector. Everyone can appreciate and even invest in the arts.”
But when Loftus — the owner of the space — sold it, the founders struggled to find a new location for the event and recapture the magic, causing the beloved event to eventually fizzle out. When pitching the idea of resurrecting the event, Hart wanted to focus on creating a new version of the event, rather than trying to recreate the past.
“That’s why Rodneyna called it Re-stabbed in the Art,” Grubbs says. “We stabbed it, but it has to be a restabbed. I think that’s going to be better — it being its own thing.”
The “re-stabbing” looks a little different. Artists have to sign up ahead of time online and artists are limited in how many pieces they can bring.
The third restabbing will be on Sept. 29 at Perkins Rowe, a venue Grubbs and Nicko are excited about because of passing shoppers.
The revival of Stabbed in the Art comes at the same time CultureCandy returns from a break of its own brought on by the advent of Facebook Events, a feature for which its website was prominently known. Hart says that with Facebook changing its algorithms and a lack of show space in the area, she saw a need for both in the community again.
CultureCandy has officially been reinstated for just six months, but it is already planning weekly art studio tours and an examination of the abandoned architecture in Baton Rouge. And that’s only a hint of what’s to come.
“We have more hidden pages on our website than we do public ones because we are constantly coming up with new ideas for how we can help our artists,” Hart says.
Above all, CultureCandy aims to make pursuing art in the community inclusive and accessible.
“Talent is evenly distributed. Opportunity is not.” Hart says, quoting Sama Group founder Leila Janah. “It’s our goal to provide that opportunity for artists who don’t necessarily have it.”