It’s called Municipal Plaza Park, and few people know it exists. Based on information in our files, it appears it was constructed in 1980 from funds given to the city of Shreveport through the federal government in the form of a UDAG- Urban Development Action Grant. We are unsure why the park, which sits just to the east and north of Municipal Auditorium, on both sides of Milam Street, was built during a time when activity at the auditorium had waned. We are also unsure of who championed the building of the park.
There is a lot we don’t know- but what we DO know is that in 2006, a group called the ASEANA Foundation approached Shreveport Public Assembly and Recreation (SPAR) and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) about adopting a portion of the park, which they have- with community help- turned into the beautiful Asian Gardens. The Asian Gardens, which is the portion just to the east of the auditorium, is now the host of multiple yearly events, from cultural festivals to cleanups. It is filled with flowers and beautiful plants, statuary and talismans. It is quite clearly loved.
Not so across Milam Street at the ‘other’ Municipal Plaza Park. This is the one that sits in the shadows of First United Methodist Church and the Oakland Cemetery, hidden from view. This section of the park needed a champion, and appears to have found one in the Pamoja Art Society, which promotes itself as ‘Northwest Louisiana’s Oldest Black American Arts Organization.’ Pamoja Art Society has a storied history. It was chartered in 1977 by three well-known local African-American
artists and educators, Roosevelt Daniel, Henry Price and Jessie Pitts, Jr. Their goal in forming the group was to promote and inspire other community artists, especially African-Americans. In the years since, Pamoja has expanded their services to open a gallery/theater and meeting space, host yearly cultural heritage events, and most recently – they acquired a house on Anna Street in Allendale. They are currently fleshing out the exact ways in which the house will play a role in their artistic outreach.
The Municipal Park has been on their radar since at least 2015, says executive director Jameelah El-Amin, and recently, SPAR gave them the go-ahead to start planning events for the park, which Pamoja would like to be known as ‘Pamoja Heritage Park.’ Pamoja’s plan of action includes three phases that range from cleanup and beautification to programming and development. Cleanup, with help from the city, is already happening. The once dingy concrete has been the recipient of an industrial power-washing, things are neat, the tall beautiful shade trees are healthy. By 2020, El-Amin wants to be promoting outdoor chess tournaments on the built-in tables, Shakespeare in the park, poetry readings, music, even fashion shows. Pamoja will handle scheduling and a master use calendar, wrangle volunteers and develop policies for concessions and catering and the types of performers/events. “At present, we are looking for donations for large garden pots, sturdy wrought iron benches, and statuary,” says El-Amin, “and we could certainly use some pro-bono help from a local landscaper or landscape architect”. As Pamoja gets deeper into planning, those needs will no doubt expand.
The ASEANA Foundation spends hours each month and personal money on the Asian Gardens across the street and El-Amin knows that managing a park will take time, sweat, money and community support…but she is ready. “We’re at no one’s mercy,” she says. “We’ll do what we need to do.” And what they need to do is this park.
Congratulations to Pamoja and their plans! We’re excited that an organization with grit and gumption has realized the possibilities of this beautiful space, and we’re excited about what’s to come. As they say…stay tuned.