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Monday, Oct. 9, 2017

WATER WORLD Making a Splash Re-envisioning a Landmark

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For decades, The Barnwell Garden and Art Center on the Shreveport riverfront, has provided Shreveport residents and out-of-town visitors with an oasis of nature, flora and beautiful and inspiring art across all styles. However, a victim of an ever-fickle public, the Barnwell is no longer the Barnwell. However, the facility is currently being transformed into the Shreveport Aquarium, owned and managed by parent company Planet Aqua, headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif.

To that end, two of the area’s most creative artists and artisans are spearheading the metamorphosis of this facility. Bruce Allen and Jim Hayes, through their partnership Jim & I Design Collective, are turning the former Barnwell Center into several rooms of aquatic fantasy.

Allen has been with the Centenary College art department and a community activist involved in local Mardi Gras krewes, SRAC’s super-fund-raiser “Christmas in the Sky” and the Robinson Film Center, just to name a sampling of his community projects. As an accomplished artisan, Hayes moved to Shreveport from Los Angeles when the film business was booming here, having built props for some high-profile movies like “Austin Powers Goldmember,” where he designed and built the chairs for Dr. Evil and Mini-Me. In Shreveport, he exercised those same talents in working on projects for the local film industry. He designed and constructed props for the Moonbot Studios’ Oscar-winning project, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore.” For the past five years, Hayes has expanded his services to meet the demand for custom furniture, functional art and themed environments.

As themed environments go, Hayes’ current project, The Shreveport Aquarium, is an exciting and challenging one.

Together with his Jim & I Design Collective partner, Bruce Allen, they are creating a stunning water world that includes 22 aquariums set within waterscapes of tropical islands, underwater caves, shipwrecks, mangrove islands, a Jules Verne-like submarine and a sunken treasure ship.

In the lobby, they have created a spectacular jellyfish chandelier to greet patrons and give them an appropriate welcome to The Shreveport Aquarium. In the Aquarium’s SALT Restaurant, guests will be dazzled by a 4-foot-by-16 -foot custom-built bar backlit with recessed LED lights and an actual wall of salt.

Jake Wood is marketing director for The Shreveport Aquarium and is a real fan of the work that Allen and Hayes are doing for the project.

“We’re thrilled to have Jim and Bruce on our project with Shreveport Aquarium and SALT. As you walk through the entire site, you’ll see their work every where!

When we initially put the plans together for the aquarium, we were wondering where we’d find the talent to make this dream a reality.

To our pleasant surprise, we’ve been able to use about 90 percent local companies in our construction – including Jim and Bruce. Their artistic vision has transformed areas within the aquarium so creatively you’ll forget you’re in Shreveport. Heck, you’ll forget you’re in Louisiana! From the literal wall of salt in our restaurant, to building a fishing village, a sunken ship and a submarine in the aquarium, we’re in awe of the incredible talents of Jim, Bruce and their entire team,” Wood said.

“I think we work together so well as a team because we bring a different set of skills to the table but maintain a shared vision. I come more from the engineering side while Bruce has more of a pure artist’s temperament,” Hayes said.

“It has been a long road of creating this attraction within the walls of the Barnwell Center, transitioning it into the area’s only aquarium. We couldn’t have done it without Bruce and Jim. I’ve never seen a team work so hard,” Wood said.

Allen just reported the arrival of 1,000 tropical fish from Key West and notes that there will be jellyfish, manta rays, lion fish and more exotic marine attractions to be announced soon.

“After collaborating on a wide array of projects for almost 10 years, Jim and I work well together because we have a similar vision and complementary experiences and skills. He is also a people person good at making and keeping contacts,” Allen said.

Plans are already under way for the Jim & I Design Collective team to work their magic on another Planet Aqua project in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Whether a resident or a visitor, you should not miss the Shreveport Aquarium, sure to become one of the most exciting destinations in the Ark-La-Tex. Come on in, the water’s fine.


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