Reese Johanson "Making Art Happen"

by Dean M. Shapiro


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When Reese Johanson arrived in New Orleans from Boston in 1999 she “didn’t know a soul” here. That phase didn’t last very long.

Fast forwarding to the present, Reese now heads up one of the city’s most active, extensive and inclusive performing and fine arts organizations – The Art Klub – which she founded eleven years ago. Housed in a former grocery store, warehouse and private residence complex – coincidentally located on Arts Street (corner of North Johnson) in the St. Roch neighborhood, the Art Klub has been steadily attracting a dedicated following and clientele of mostly young people to its dance performances, art exhibits, and other showcase events.

Recently the Art Klub enjoyed one of the crowning achievements of its existence when it was selected to participate in the prestigious Prospect4 citywide art exhibition between November 2017 and February 2018. Not only did it attract art aficionados, this event gave Reese and the Art Klub added impetus to innovate beyond their original scope, including the establishment of a fine arts gallery with rotating exhibitions on the premises.

“Prospect4 was definitely a learning experience,” Reese said. “It was a nice format for me to structure opening up an art gallery and a great way for me to bring in artists who wanted to have a part in the Prospect experience. It was an amazing experience to be a part of and we were very honored to be in it.”

Although many of the recent photos of Reese depict her in offbeat costumes and/or poses, those who know her know that this quirkiness is an essential part of her persona, as well as a key component of her occupation as an actor, performance artist, producer, and presenter. Behind the camera-mugging and outlandish outfits are an astute, hardworking businesswoman and a meticulous, detail-oriented organizer.

“When I first came here from Boston where I had started a performing arts company, I was looking for something similar in New Orleans but I couldn’t find it anywhere,” Reese noted. “This was after I’d spent three years building another performance company and I thought, ‘I can’t do this again. I can’t start from scratch.’ But I did anyway.”

The route to getting her New Orleans- based company off the ground, however, was a circuitous one. Some of Reese’s first jobs here involved helping to set up special events and staging product promotions, especially for wine and liquor distributors. Eventually, she established her own event planning company which she named Party Girl Productions and each endeavor brought her fortuitously closer to her ultimate goal.

“Doing special events was where I started meeting people in the arts,” Reese explained. “I started to wrap the arts into mainstream events and reach audiences that way. If I was doing some crazy, avant-garde performance somewhere, not everybody would go to see that, but if I put the crazy, avant-garde performance into a Beaujolais wine event, then I reached a new audience that might not have gone to see the performance.”

Reese Johanson