Dr. Robert Darrow has seen the Shreveport Little Theatre through challenging times and great successes
Significant leadership changes in nonprofit organizations
The Shreveport-Bossier City area is rich with nonprofit organizations making a difference in our region. Recently, leaders of several of those organizations have announced their retirement or departure. Below, these leaders reflect on their accomplishments and their legacy.
Pam Atchison, Shreveport Regional Arts Council (on the cover)
Pam Atchison, the executive director of the Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC), has announced that she will retire this year. Her last day with SRAC is April 30. But she is not stepping entirely away. On May 1, she will take on a new role as director of the 2024 Christmas in the Sky (happening on Dec. 14).
“I want to feel I am still making a contribution,” Atchison said. “I will always love the arts. I hope to have more time to enjoy the arts.”
Sandy Kallenberg is SRAC’s chairperson and Atchison’s friend. It was essential to her to keep Atchison connected.
“I haven’t really dealt with it yet,” Kallenberg said of the news of Atchison’s upcoming departure. “All the years are a gift. One thing the arts council does is that we listen and respond. We act. It’s been great working with Pam, coming up with all these projects with the board, and working with all these community groups. I am excited that things will continue. Her mark will always be here. The show will go on. SRAC is bigger than Pam, bigger than me. It’s a force in the community.”“I want to feel I am still making a contribution, I will always love the arts. I hope to have more time to enjoy the arts.”
– Pam Atchison
SRAC serves as the officially designated arts agency for Shreveport. Atchison began her career with the organization as an artist in residence in 1981. She moved into the arts education program in 1982 and became executive director in 1986.
While working in arts education, Atchison created the ArtBreak Festival in 1984. ArtBreak celebrates art and arts education in Caddo Parish schools.
“Under Pam’s leadership, the ArtBreak Festival was created in 1984 when funding cuts threatened to eliminate the arts instructors’ positions and the community arts partnerships in Caddo Parish Public Schools,” said Henry Price, fine arts curriculum specialist with Caddo Schools. “The first ArtBreak Festival was held outside of the Municipal Auditorium, and with the help and leadership from Mrs. Atchison, the ArtBreak Festival has grown to be the largest student arts festival in the southern United States and is now held at the Shreveport Convention Center.
“More than 50,000 students, parents, teachers and festivalgoers from northwest Louisiana participate in this weeklong arts celebration,” continued Price.
“More than 2,500 original visual and literary artworks created by students in grades K-12 are on display, and more than 100 student performances are featured on three stages by Caddo School’s performing arts programs. Pam provided leadership for all second and third grade students throughout northwest Louisiana to participate in hands-on art workshops, rhythm dancing sessions and entertaining stage performances throughout the week preceding the ArtBreak weekend.”
Those programs have left their impression on Atchison, too. “I am proud that the arts council has been able to develop long-term programs, and also long-term public art, that have changed the community,” Atchison said. “It’s not an organization that does an event, and it’s over. It’s about the longevity of the programs. Like Artbreak. Like the neon bridge that’s now LED and programmable.”
Heidi Kallenberg has worked closely with Atchison as an SRAC board member and on the biannual Christmas in the Sky fundraising event.
“She’s amazing to work with,” Heidi said of Atchison. “She is so compassionate and personable. She never forgets a birthday or a holiday. She writes thank-you notes. You could give her a pack of pencils, and she’d write a thank-you note. And she means it. She’s a superhero. I have never known anyone like her.”
Kallenberg said Atchison has changed the perception of Shreveport from the inside and the outside.
“Anywhere you look in Shreveport, her legacy is right there before you,” Kallenberg said. “She has changed the face of our city. We are distinct among cities our size, and it’s all because of Pam. We should build a monument to Pam as high as the Washington Monument.
“You can look at the murals and Artstation and all the beautiful things. Caddo Common Park. Or you can look into the eyes of every kid going to school. They learn so much through the arts. Pam has made that effort. And we need that today. Art gives you a reason to go to school and to be excited. Art can influence your learning in every area. Pam has done that.
“We compete artistically and have the vision of cities like Chicago and San Francisco,” Heidi added. “Nick Cave came here. He could have gone anywhere and came here because of Pam.”
Atchison’s legacy will live on beyond the programs and artwork created under her leadership, Price said.
“When I think about the number of initiatives we have done over the years, it brings me joy to know that Pam is leaving it so much better than she found it,” he said. “There is only one Pam Atchison, and as president of the Shreveport Regional Arts Council, I’m so proud of the results of the long hours of working and planning with Pam where she developed, produced and educated the public on the arts and she has made a difference in the lives of so many to ensure access to the arts to all of northwest Louisiana.”
He said he has seen Atchison work tirelessly to foster an all-inclusive arts culture in northwest Louisiana.
“We don’t think that she ever sleeps,” Price said. “She is always working on a grant, meeting with supporters, working with artists, planning GloFest with the Bakowski Bridge of Lights, scheduling community activities for Caddo Common Park, working with the Mayor’s office, City Council, Caddo Commission and community leaders and the list goes on and on.”
Atchison said that the spirit of teamwork has come to define SRAC; that’s part of what she is proud to leave behind for the new leadership.
“I just think because of the teamwork we have, programs aren’t going away,” Atchison said. “The new executive director, Rebecca Bonnevier, will do a good job keeping those relationships. I am glad I am leaving the organization in good health.”
Dr. Robert Darrow, Shreveport Little Theatre
Dr. Robert Darrow is retiring at the end of this season after 27 years as the managing and artistic director of the Shreveport Little Theatre and Academy. Darrow said he is proud of how the theater has overcome adversity during his tenure and its impact on the community.“I kept the doors open during some very challenging times and provided artists in this area a hub for honing their skills and their growth,”
– Dr. Robert Darrow
“I kept the doors open during some very challenging times and provided artists in this area a hub for honing their skills and their growth,” he said. “I think the theater has increased the quality of life for our citizens. I also am very proud the theater has become very inclusive.”
One of the most trying times was 2008, when a fire destroyed Shreveport Little Theatre. Darrow led the renovation and expansion of the theater after that fire, and he directed the first production after the fire, Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
“It was a very exciting time for the theater,” Darrow said. “We had been out over two years from the space during construction. We were in a new, state-of-the-art building with a tremendous set and lighting. It was a magical time.”
In 2022 and 2023, Darrow marked the centennial of Shreveport Little Theatre with a pictorial history book, “Maker of Dreams,” that he wrote and published, and he assisted in producing a documentary film by the same name that premiered on Louisiana Public Broadcasting. He is proud to have been a part of that piece of the legacy of Shreveport Little Theatre and its supporters.
“The theater exists because generations of local residents, our neighbors, have come together on a volunteer basis,” he said. “I wanted their legacy to be remembered. It’s there for posterity, and it’s recorded.”“The symphony is now viewed as a strong institution and has the community’s confidence, which was not true when I arrived,”
– Lois Robinson
Lois Robinson, Shreveport Symphony
Lois Robinson has been executive director of the Shreveport Symphony since 2011. She is happy to pass that baton and the organization to Morgan Walker when she steps down on March 6.
One of Robinson’s first tasks as executive director was to repair a broken relationship between the symphony’s administration and its musicians, which included a two-year strike from 2008 to 2010, culminating only shortly before she took over.
“It was about as tense as it could possibly be,” she said. “There was a lot of work to do to develop a good and trusting relationship between the two.”
Reflecting on her time as executive director, she is proud to have changed the narrative surrounding the Shreveport Symphony.
“The symphony is now viewed as a strong institution and has the community’s confidence, which was not true when I arrived,” she said. Now people feel the symphony is in solid shape going forward.”
In addition to serving as executive director, Robinson has also played the bass in the symphony. She said she would continue to perform even after she steps away from the administration. Before coming to Shreveport, she had served since 2006 as the general manager of the Louisiana Philharmonic in New Orleans.
“It’s been a long road,” she said. “I have been able to make a difference here. As an end to my career, that’s valuable to me, that I ended with important work to get orchestra through a couple of crises and have it come out in strong shape.”
The accomplishments of Shreveport Regional Arts Council’s Executive Director Pam Atchison cannot be overstated and her stamp can be seen all over Shreveport.
Donna Curtis, Shreveport Green
Donna Curtis has spent almost 34 years beautifying Shreveport as the founding executive director of Shreveport Green, the local Keep America Beautiful affiliate.
“This has been my calling,” she said. “I graduated from LSU in speech pathology. But I got hooked on the environment.”
In her 34 years at Shreveport Green, Curtis has organized citywide neighborhood cleanups in which volunteers spent a day collecting as much as 50 tons of trash across the city. She recalled some unusual items collected during those cleanups, including a Halloween prop coffin and a forklift.
“It took 20 volunteers pushing that onto a trailer,” Curtis said of the forklift. “People are willing to do that. It instills a sense of pride in the community.”
That sense of pride and heightened awareness are two of the things Curtis is most proud of in her career.
“I know we have made a difference in educating people on a cleaner, safer, more successful community,” she said.“I know we have made a difference in educating people on a cleaner, safer, more successful community,”
– Donna Curtis
Curtis said Shreveport Green volunteers have planted over 250,000 trees under her leadership and have given away additional trees.
“Shreveport is at the age where older neighborhoods are losing trees because they are aging out,” she said. “We lost a lot of trees in that horrible storm last summer. A lot of them were old-growth trees.”
Shreveport Green also spearheaded an effort to plant trees at the exits along Interstate 49. She said the project, funded by a DOTD grant, took 17 years to move from vision to reality.
Shreveport Green’s Donna Curtis reflects on her time at the organization and is proud of the volunteers responsible for these successes.
Shreveport Green also has community gardens and a mobile market to bring fresh produce to Shreveport’s food deserts.
Under Curtis’ leadership, Shreveport Green has earned 21 national awards, including 11 first-place designations from Keep America Beautiful, six Keep Louisiana Beautiful awards, including two top affiliates in the state, and various youth and volunteer awards.
She and the organization have come a long way in 34 years. “We started out with me sitting in the office,” she recounted.
“Within a couple of years we had computers and three people on staff. The community realized we were making a difference.”
As she prepares to leave, Curtis is grateful for that support.
“The city and the parish have been wonderful partners for us,” she said. “I can’t thank them enough. And the citizens have responded unbelievably.”