By Hannah Richardson
The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (LEH) has awarded the first 2021 emergency relief grants from the Louisiana Culture Care Fund to 24 organizations in 17 parishes. One of those is the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches (APHN) and they were awarded a grant of $10,000.
The Louisiana Culture Care Fund provides emergency relief funding to humanities organizations impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. With initial funding provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the federal American Rescue Plan Act, awards range between $3,000 and $20,000.
The APHN operates the historic Melrose Plantation. Heather Tichenor, site director at Melrose Plantation, said they were grateful for the grants they have received after such an unpredictable and difficult year.
The grant is designed to help with operating costs for these entities that have received them. “Operating costs are usually the lion’s share for an organization and it is the hardest part to get grants for,” said Tichenor. These costs include salaries, rent, utilities, mortgages, etc. Tichenor said these funds would come from admissions, but those stopped once the pandemic started. They are looking to put the grant funds to their salaries and utilities. Tichenor just recently went back to full-time from being part-time, and there are nine part-time employees, which are tour guides, gift shop employees and gardeners.
“This grant gives us some breathing room. We don’t have a large budget so $10,000 goes a long way towards being able to cover salaries and utilities,” said Tichenor. “The only way to cut back on salaries is to cut back on hours. That impacts our ability to keep us open and running. [This grant] means so much, and it really is a sigh of relief.” The Cane River National Heritage Area (CRNHA) has also been a great help in providing grants for the APHN. They gave another $10,000 earlier this year to assist in repairing storm damages.
Because of the pandemic, the site was closed in mid-March and remained closed for about three months. They opened on a limited basis in the summer of 2020 with fewer operating days with shorter hours, fewer daily tour times and online appointments only. It was a drastic change especially in the spring and fall months, as there was an increase in bus tours of both children and adults groups coming to visit the historic plantation. “Even after we reopened, that market was gone,” said Tichenor. “Students, if they’re in school at all, they’re not doing field trips. We’ve just started to see a couple of groups in the past month, which has been very gratifying. Otherwise, it just has been people on short road trips or day trips in the local area.”
The site was only open for a few months before Hurricane Laura hit near the end of August. Tichenor said the hurricane took down about 20 trees on the property, which was the bulk of their damages. Windows were broken and roof shingles needed replacing. The buildings were largely spared, save for the weaving cabin, which was already in need of restoration and now stands at a tilt. “We took all of September to clean up,” said Tichenor. “We had already started to plan a rescheduled Arts and Crafts Festival in October because we normally hold it in the spring. The week we were supposed to hold it, Hurricane Delta came through.” The site didn’t see as much damage as with Laura, but still lost a few more trees. After scrambling to get everything cleaned up, they hosted the festival the following weekend. “It was very successful for having been rescheduled twice,” Tichenor said. Many visitors and vendors were excited to be out after being cooped up for the last half-year, and in two weeks they opened up again for regular tours after putting all their efforts on restoration and event planning.
“Since October, as COVID guidelines have relaxed, we’ve slowly started to expand our number of tours and bring back our tour guides that had been furloughed,” said Tichenor. They have also hosted another Arts and Crafts Festival in the regular springtime in 2021 now that guidelines have relaxed even further and are already planning tours and events for the fall season, including the new Folk Art Festival set for Oct. 9-10.
Many factors made it so this new festival could be celebrated at Melrose Plantation. The Arts and Crafts Festival was so successful last fall and vendors told organizers it was a perfect time of year to host an outdoor event, with the weather being cooler and Christmastime right around the corner.
They have been hosting the annual Fall Pilgrimage for decades, but with the lingering effects of COVID, people are less willing to invite others into their private homes and vice versa. “Rather than push that, we thought we would just change gears entirely. Outdoor festivals are still the way to go,” said Tichenor. Folk art is very important in the history of Melrose Plantation. Clementine Hunter, a world-renowned African American folk artist, lived and worked for 75 years at the plantation. Another folk artist, Koi Hatchootucknee AKA Hambone, is also the live-in caretaker for the site. Hambone is the fifth great nephew of Grandpere Augustin’s twin sister, Marie Susanne Metoyer, by way of Augustin’s brother, Dominique Metoyer. His great-grandmother is Marie Therese CoinCoin. Her other son, Louis Metoyer, was deeded the land Melrose Plantation is located on today. The Metoyer family owned Melrose Plantation from 1796 until 1847. Hambone’s art can be viewed on site during the Folk Art Festival.
“The setup for this festival will be similar to Arts and Crafts, but some of the vendors will be quite different. We’re looking for vendors to do hand-made objects in traditional, cultural and self-taught ways,” said Tichenor. If interested in becoming a vendor for the Melrose Folk Art Festival, call 318-379-0055. For more information, visit www.melroseplantation.org, where the vendor application is also located.
The site is also planning for day-time events on two weekends during the Christmas Festival; more information will be available soon.
“We’re looking forward to opening back up the fullest we can,” said Tichenor. “We hope these events will bring people here, and allow us to do more. We want to set up more exhibits and events, and make this place pretty lively.”