Reese Johanson's Involvement in the NOLA Theater and Arts Scene
Story by Libby Allen
Photos by George Long, Ride Hamilton
New Orleans artistic entrepreneur, Reese Johanson, is a creative jack of all trades … and a master of many. Johanson has made a name for herself in the Marigny and Bywater areas since her arrival in the Big Easy fourteen years ago. She has taken part in founding, creating and nurturing some of the most innovative theater and dance projects here in New Orleans.
A classically trained actress with an emphasis in physical theater, Johanson studied at the National Shakespeare Conservatory in New York City. And, after stints in New York and in Boston - where she started the production company, Open Faucet - Johanson moved to New Orleans and discovered a new landscape to cultivate artistic mediums.
“I like to be busy. I’m a creative person, so that needs to be fed a lot, and keeping my hands in different projects allows me to exercises a lot of those creative muscles. A lot of that has to do with me figuring out ‘what I want to be when I grow up’. So the act of me exploring different artistic avenues is how I discover a lot of the projects that I love,” Johanson said. “When I moved to New Orleans in 1999 I was coming from working in Boston, France and New York. I had been in many other culturally vibrant places before. But, here in New Orleans you really had to find the niche, and then find the niche within the niche. So theater and art were here, but it wasn’t something that was easily accessible.”
Johanson began working in event planning not long after migrating to New Orleans. And her involvement in the arts community slowed down while she raised two young children. But, like many residents, after Katrina hit in 2005 Johanson began to re-evaluate exactly what she wanted out of her passion in the arts.
“Everything sort of came full circle post-Katrina. I think people in the area began to realize that we needed to get down to business because the thing that had been supporting the dream became the job. That’s when I decided to go back to theater. I ended up with James [Micha-lopoulos] and he is so wonderful and supportive of letting me live and find what I want to discover as an artist. So, since the storm, everything has shifted back. It’s now 2013 and I’ve been re-finding my roots since 2006.”
In recent months, however, Johanson has come across yet another shift in her artistic explorations; she is consolidating the proverbial pots that she’s had her hands in for so long and concentrating her efforts on projects that have the potential to merge together.
“The shift that’s happened is that I’m looking at what a scramble it is to keep everything going, and realizing that I should let the things that are on the back burners just go to rest. Now, my focus is all about re-exploration, and focusing on a few projcets that I can really sink my teeth into.”
In 2007 Johanson stepped into the role of executive director for a non-profit called Artist Inc.; its mission is to help fund artists doing what they do - creating art. Last year, Johanson founded the Reese Johanson collective, which produces work by artists that are creating, performing and exhibiting projects that might be produced by Artist Inc.
“The non-profit is kind of the umbrella and then there are all these smaller companies below it; everything is sort of gelling together. I’m going to continue to create performance art. In the spring, there will be a show called Les Gitans, which is a family show for people of all ages. It’s a story about zenophobia and biases based on outward appearances and being afraid of people who look different. The story focuses on how a community clashes and then comes together in the end. We’ll be taking it to different schools.”
One of the main projects that Artist Inc. features is called The Art Klub, which happens every Wendesday from 7-10pm at the Michalopoulos Studio on Elysian Fields.
“Every Wednesday there will be a different focus. Maybe a forum discussion, maybe a lecture, maybe a performance. There will be a refreshment bar and free wifi for people to work on projects.”
Though Johanson has decreased the amount of projects that she takes on in her busy schedule, these days her involvement in the New Orleans theater and arts scene has only intensified. The creative shift she experienced has allowed for more permanent projects to be ushered in, such as The Art Klub, The Reese Johanson Collective and Artist Inc. Her entrepreneurial spirit and creative vision have built pillars for the art community of the Bywater and the Marigny to build upon.