Celebrating the Junior League of Lafayette The original angel investors

Junior League members gather in front of the future site of the Hilliard University Art Museum

On Thursday, April 19, the ICON Acadiana Arts and Cultural Awards will celebrate 10 distinctive honorees, which include some of the brightest stars of the creative community. One of those awards — the “trailblazer” — will spotlight an entire organization that has humbly worked behind the scenes for the past 60 years, shaping Lafayette’s most beloved arts and nonprofit institutions.

The women of the Junior League of Lafayette — originally founded as the Service League of Lafayette — now total 650, but even more impressive is what they have gifted the community through a combination of ingenuity, resourcefulness and sheer force of will.

Take a minute to think about where you go when you want to experience art in Lafayette. Where do you bring your children to spark their creativity? Chances are, the Junior League had a hand in creating it. Its tireless efforts have bolstered the Acadiana Center for the Arts, the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum, the Lafayette Science Museum, the Children’s Museum of Acadiana, Christian Youth Theater and Free Little Libraries.

Janet Begnaud, former president and current sustaining member, will accept the ICON award, along with the League’s president-elect, Mary Courville.

Begnaud represents a driving force for arts appreciation within the organization from its earliest days. Begnaud, whose late brother Robert Rauschenberg is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, recalls when the Service League of Lafayette pledged the first major gift of $25,000 to the building fund of the University Art Museum in the 1960s.

“It was unheard of that ladies could get this kind of money together,” she says. “Of course, we did end up making the money.”

Begnaud also served as president when the League created Talk About Good, the legendary cookbook that has become a cultural icon in its own right and is now celebrating its 50th anniversary.

“We had no idea how big it would become when that first cookbook rep came in,” she says.

That cookbook, and the many other fundraisers the organization has spearheaded since then, continues to fuel cultural innovation throughout the city.

According to Begnaud, one of the ways the Junior League is able to make such a big impact is through its core philosophy: “The League’s process is to discover a need, to research it and then execute it,” says Begnaud.

In other words, it acts as an angel investor without the stock options — not to mention the hours and hours of hands-on volunteering members have dedicated to power the projects they fund.

Fittingly, all proceeds from the ICON gala go back into supporting Acadiana’s creative economy through the Arts + Business + Culture (ABC) Fund at the Community Foundation of Acadiana.

Cathi Pavy, chair of the ABC Fund advisory board, told KATC-TV3 earlier this month that the event is about honoring creative leaders who have gone above and beyond when it comes to “paving the way for our arts and culture community members.”

The women of the Junior League have indeed trailblazed their own road — paved in yellow striped cookbooks.

Additional 2018 ICON Award recipients include: D.L. Menard, trailblazer, Philip Gould, lifetime achievement-visual; Michael Doucet dit BeauSoleil, lifetime achievement-performing; Dr. Gerald and Geraldine Hubbell, patron; Sonny Landreth, artist-performing; Dennis Paul Williams, artist-visual; John Williams of Blue Monday, leadership in the creative economy-project; Steve and Cézanne Nails of Dockside Studio, leadership in the creative economy-individuals; and Alex “Poetic Soul” Johnson, rising star.

The 2018 Icon Arts and Cultural Awards will recognize Acadiana legends on Thursday, April 19, at 7 p.m. at the Acadiana Center for the Arts. Tickets can be purchased at AcadianaCenterForTheArts.org.