Locals Share Race-Centered Experiences Through Exhibit

Symone Graham


Portraits revealing the race-driven stories of 19 Lafayette citizens scatter the walls of Acadiana Center for the Arts in celebration of Black History Month.

Conversation Starters presented the Voices of Race in Portrait of 19 people willing to reveal their story of how race played a role in their life.

Well-known local influencers were a part of the project such as councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, KATC reporter Marcelle Fontenot and dance instructor Leigha Porter.

There were 55 participants consisting of the photographers, facilitators and 19 locals. Elsa Dimitriadis, co-founder of Conversation Starters, participated in the project as one of the facilitators and photographers.

Dimitriadis took the portraits of Boudreaux and Clayton Shelvin displayed in the exhibit. She said people who go and see the art project have an opportunity to see a perspective they may not have before.

Portrait of Clayton Shelvin smiling beside his story on the wall at the exhibit.
Clayton Shelvin’s portrait and story. Portrait photographed by Elsa Dimitriadis.

“Your story dies with you if you don’t share it, but if you do share it, you can let go of that pain,” Dimitriadis said.

Dimitriadis said her favorite portrait was of Boudreaux because he has such a radiant smile. She said she wanted to make sure Boudreaux’s thoughtful side was revealed through the portrait.

Leigha Porter, part of the 19 portraits, told her story to the public about a time she went to an interview for a dance teacher position. At the interview, she was looked upon as someone who only does hip-hop or “booty shaking dance,” when she does much more, Porter said.

Porter also uses ballet, modern, and many other forms of dance genres as her roots in the dance industry. After the interview she encountered, Porter chose to go by movement specialist or artist instead of dancer, she said.

“Being an artist, and one of color, it is important to make the world we live in a better place,” Porter said.

Educating her students and being able to live her truth as a role model is how she heals the world, she said.

The Voices of Race in Portrait project was initiated by Lynn Musumeche who approached Conversation Starters about doing some portraits of Catalyst Dinner participants, according to Dimitriadis. Dimitriadis and co-founder Skyra Rideaux helped to give the project more impact through the exhibit.

The Voices of Race in Portrait will be featured at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in the Coca Cola Studio from now until Feb. 29, 2020, for Black History Month. Dimitriadis said there might be a follow-up event about the successful presentation of the portraits discussed in a radio interview with Boudreaux.

video footage from the opening night of the Voices of Race in Portrait exhibit at Coca Cola Studio.

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