Volunteers Behind the Beauty

Lafayette Square’s visible renaissance

 

A volunteer group from Shell at the square

A volunteer group from Shell at the square

Like everyone who saw it, I was completely captivated by the surreal beauty of Luna Fete at Gallier Hall. I cannot possibly begin to comprehend the technical mastery that went into it, but the effect was purely magical. Not only was the symmetry of James Gallier’s Neoclassical design the perfect backdrop, having Lafayette Square as a Luna Fete viewing point was the icing on an already gorgeous cake. It wasn’t long ago that Lafayette Square seemed to be an afterthought to Jackson Square. As anyone who has stepped foot in Lafayette Square in the last few years would be able to attest, however, it has evolved into a vibrant and well-used park that is, quite literally, thriving. An afterthought no more, Lafayette Square has undergone a visible renaissance.

Several times in the past few years, I’ve had the great pleasure of coming into contact with the organization largely responsible for resuscitating the square. The nonprofit Lafayette Square Conservancy is a group made up entirely of volunteers who are dedicated to ensuring the well being of every aspect of the square (and I do mean volunteers; this group doesn’t have any paid staff positions). Having banded together after Katrina, the Conservancy has transformed the square into a beautifully landscaped park. Dotted with a variety of sculptures and several benches, the square has a warm and welcoming presence. Everything about it encourages visitors (human and canine alike, both have their own drinking fountains) to spend a few minutes enjoying its lush plantings, outdoor art and majestic oak trees. All of these improvements sprung from a detailed plan that was instituted and efficiently executed by the Conservancy.

The Lafayette Square Conservancy seems to epitomize the spirit of cooperation — I can only presume that a desire to form and nurture partnerships has been a priority since its inception. I recently asked Sally Shushan, an involved and passionate advocate for the square who sits on the Conservancy’s Board of Directors, to give me a bit of insight into how this group impacted change so effectively. Shushan detailed several significant accomplishments, each one more impressive than the last; to list but a few: the initial post-Katrina clean up of downed trees and broken glass; the replacement of termite-infested protective bollards surrounding the square; and the installation of the all-important lighting that has been a key ingredient in the square’s ability to host evening events (the spectacularly popular free concerts among them). Each time Shushan mentioned an accomplishment, she specifically noted the partners, whether public, private or volunteer, alongside whom the Conservancy volunteers had worked. With even one quick look at the Conservancy’s website (Lafayette-Square.org) or a glance at their Facebook page (which I encourage you to visit), it’s abundantly clear that hard work, cooperation and gratitude infuse the spirit of this organization and its work in the square.

Next time you’re driving by, walking through or enjoying a concert in the square, take a minute to think about the thousands of volunteer hours that have made it what it is today. Endless possibilities emerge when people, like those who have revitalized Lafayette Square, come together to make a difference.