Lakeland celebrates first La Francophonie Day

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Ariel Molinaro

Over 750 guests attended the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College’s first annual La Francophonie Day celebration on March 23 in recognition of celebrating French heritage.

Throughout the last three months, the Polk Museum of Art hosted the 2019 French Immersion. French Immersion spotlights a wide array of exhibits and events with the aim to educate guests of all ages on the French influence in art, language and culture. The series of events opened on Dec. 22, 2018 with the exhibition of French impressionist, Edgar Degas; the Museum later concluded the series by partnering with Lakeland City Major, William “Bill” Mutz, and French dignitaries to bring an international celebration of French language and culture, La Francophonie Day, to the Central Florida museum on March 23. Léopold Sédar Senghor, founder of the African Diaspora literacy movement, described the term, francophonie, as “an integral humanism, which forms bonds around the world.” 

La Francophonie Day took place from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and featured numerous events throughout the afternoon, including festivities and French-inspired performances. Students from Florida Southern College, Polk State College and the Florida Dance Theatre showcased music, dance and poetry readings from a variety of artists representing different French-speaking countries. 

One performer included Ronnie Rodriguez, a cellist for the FSC Symphony Orchestra. Rodriguez preformed the movement Le Cygne (The Swan), composed by French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns, with pianist Shanequa Eberhart at the event.

“The opportunity to play the piece [Le Cygne] dedicated to the celebration of French culture and language gave the piece a brand new meaning for me,” Rodriguez said. “ I feel like it connects the two worlds into one. Not only am I celebrating the culture as a whole, but by performing Le Cygne, I get to celebrate the artistic side.”

Guests got to participate in a scavenger hunt to further explore the Degas exhibit while challenging their application of French language. They were additionally able to take part in an interactive still life pastel illustration of French landscapes led by art teacher, Julie TerHaar. There were also two opportunities to walk-through the Degas exhibition with guidance and discussion led by the Museum’s Art Curator, Director and FSC professor, Dr. Alexander Rich. “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist” exhibit is a traveling exhibition and visitors from across the U.S. stopped by the Museum to see Degas’ works.

“[It was an] excellent exhibit showing many unknown works, and the volume of Degas’ works and his many friends, thank you,” attendee said.

During the welcome ceremony and opening remarks, Mayor Mutz spoke in regards to the historical background behind the event and its influence on the local Lakeland community. He additionally declared March 23 as La Francophonie Day in the City of Lakeland and awarded the French dignitaries in attendance with the proclamation.

Dignitaries of honor included: Consul General of France in Miami Clément Leclerc, Consul General of Canada in Miami Susan Harper, Consul of Haiti in Miami Myrlande Lafont Pillet, Consul of Haiti in Orlando Pierre Max Charles, Honorary Consul of Belgium in Miami Manuel Molina, Honorary Consul of the Principality of Monaco in Miami Tomas Abreu, Honorary Consul of Switzerland in Orlando Luc Burkhardt, Honorary Consul of France in Orlando Brigitte Dagot Jensen and Honorary Consul of France for the West Coast of Florida Jean-Charles Faust. Mayor Mutz expressed his desire to continue to hold La Francophonie Day celebrations at the Museum for its unique combination of art and education.

“I was elated that everything came together as well as it did; that everyone that worked on the project enjoyed themselves and learned a lot and for me it’s all about teaching and learning. I hope to teach people new things every day,” the Museum’s Director of Arts Advancement Suzanne Grossberg said. Despite the months of planning behind the event, Grossberg expressed an interest in the La Francophonie Day celebration becoming an annual event at the museum.

The Museum continually has new exhibitions and corresponding events for guests to have the ability to create their own experience within their visit and, if they so choose, further analyze art pieces on display through panel discussions, talks, tours and more. Current and upcoming exhibitions can be further explored on the museum’s website: polkmuseumofart.org.

The Museum’s hours are 10am to 5pm Tuesday – Saturday; 1pm to 5pm Sundays and closed on Mondays and major holidays. Admission to the Museum is free to all guests year-round.  

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