Shreveport and Bossier City both have lively arts and entertainment scenes, with people dedicated to bringing out the best this city has to offer.
As we chose our People to Watch, we looked for individuals with projects on the horizon, or whose talents spread education or entertainment.
We searched for people who could pivot when it came to COVID, or who had overcome adversity, and were using their skills to make Shreveport and Bossier City better places.
These people are among the best and brightest in our area’s arts and entertainment scene. They will feed us, entertain us, create for us, and teach us. Some are fresh faces, while others are community staples.
While our selections represent the diversity of our area, they all share one trait, they’re taking the lessons from 2021 to create a brighter new year.
Exhibits & Special Events Designer, R.W. Norton Art Gallery
As a Shreveport native, Emily Feazel fell in love with art at the R.W. Norton as a child when her grandmother would bring her to the museum to explore the collections and botanical garden. Feazel found herself interning at the Norton in 2011 and eventually became a full-time staff member in 2012 after graduating from LSU Shreveport with a double major in Art History and Studio Art.
Emily wears a lot of hats, from bringing in large traveling exhibitions and working with artists on their solo shows to planning both free programming and special events with the museum’s team. 2022 is looking promising as returning favorites like BLOOM!, the Norton’s annual juried exhibition featuring local, regional and international artists, Twilight Talkies, Food Truck Nights and more.
“I love Shreveport and the arts community here. I love that I get to raise my son in a museum where I grew up and where he feels he belongs. The Norton’s have given me the wings to fly and bring fun and interesting exhibitions and events to the community for all ages to enjoy.”
Mark D. Bonner
Screenplay writer, director, actor and producer
Born and raised in Shreveport, Mark D. Bonner always possessed creative talent, as a kid, he drew cartoons and comic book characters, wrote his own stories and raps. He eventually moved on to writing screenplays, plays and novels. Bonner says he accidentally got into acting when he attempted to produce and direct one of his short screenplays when one of the main actors bailed last minute.
Since then, he has turned his attention to the acting side of filmmaking. A lull in bookings had him questioning his path, but the high spike in crime and homicides inspired him to create his short film “Shreveport Son” which went on to get national attention as Film Prize’s first Black filmmaker to receive the grand prize along with the best actor, top 5 and Founders Circle Award along with a guaranteed distribution deal on the ShortsHD cable network. Bonner now has a production and freelance screenwriting services company The Mind of M. He is working on one to two short films and a feature-length film for the coming year.
“I’m proof that you can be a young black male from the hood and still make your dreams come true if you work hard and be dedicated.”
Chef and owner, RNL Authentics LLC
Born in Sierra Leone in West Africa, Niematulai “Niema” Longstratt has always had to wear her strength and confidence on her sleeve, since escaping to the neighboring country of Guinea with her family. There her talents for fashion and food emerged through the talents of her late mother Fatmata Binta Bah.
Over two decades later, Longstratt has now made her home in the Shreveport-Bossier area. While here, she’s birthed her company, RNL Authentics LLC which is an African clothing line that embodies her true essence: bold, fierce and courageous. She was a 2019 / 2021 Food Prize Golden Fork Finalist and was in the 40 under 40 in 2021. In November of 2020, she launched RNL’s Cookery Corner which is a food trailer “where African and American cuisine fuse”.
Her happiness derives from the lessons in staying humble from her late mother. In 2022, she will be launching her new food trailer with a new menu of African / Caribbean street food, soup, salad and sandwiches.
“I believe in dreaming big, being consistent and staying true to yourself! With this attitude, I know that there’s so much more in store.”
Catalina Ramirez Varela
Born in Mexico, raised in Florida and now living in Louisiana, Catalina Ramirez Valera’s passion for fashion design began in the 7th grade when she took a Barbie doll to school wearing clothes she made out of toilet paper.
She was constantly cutting up her jeans and drawing on her clothes with Sharpies to add her own flair to them. She took a home economics class in high school where she learned to sew and then continued sewing lessons with her mother at Catholic Charities after high school.
Varela first heard of Prize Fest through her sister-in-law while modeling for a previous designer. A year later she saw the announcement for the next year’s competition and signed up. During that year she set up her sewing machine, bought books on patterns, watched videos and made designs based off where she came from.
She believes participating in things like Prize Fest inspires others out there to want to grow as a person, business and a community. She plans to expand her small home projects to create refreshing designs for all genders and ages and currently has a trademark in process.
“I started with making clothes that I would definitely be rockin’ and feelin’ gorgeous in and it’s been going from there. I get called to fix pants that are too long, birthday outfits and special occasion wear. Now as a designer, I’ve always felt like a creator, so that part comes natural.”
Prize Fest Associate Director
Melissa Brannan grew up in Shreveport and left after obtaining her degree in education. Moving around to places like New England, Hudson and New York, Dallas, Austin and the San Francisco Bay Area she ended up waiting tables after the economy bottomed out. From there, she ended up in the kitchen shift and fell in love enough to go to culinary school.
Brannan worked in restaurants, catering, served wine in Napa and worked for Williams-Sonoma Corporate HQ in their test kitchen where she did testing and development for recipes, products and equipment. Brannan moved back to Shreveport in 2015 where she started a private chef business and competed in the 2017 Food Prize. She loved what Prize Foundation was all about and when an opportunity to help coordinate Food Prize came up in 2018, she immediately dropped out of the competition to be a part of it. She officially accepted a full-time role right before the pandemic hit, but now works with Food Prize and Startup Prize and helps some with Rational Middle Media.
“Love the work, love what the organization does for our community, and love the people I get to work with – incredibly passionate and talented – and the people I get to meet along the way!”