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Elista Istre, Ph.D.

Dr. Elista Istre, an avid traveler with a passion for cultures across the globe, founded Belle Heritage™ to offer consulting expertise and create cultural experiences that inspire individuals and organizations to celebrate the beauty of heritage.

A descendant of Cajuns, French Creoles, and Spanish Isleños, Istre is a native and lifelong resident of Lafayette, Louisiana. She earned both her B.A. and M.A. in the field of History from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and studied abroad at the Universidad de Sevilla in Spain. Graduating with top honors, she worked for several years in the museum world before going on to teach English as a second language in the U.S. and Africa. An accomplished historian dedicated to advancing the field of cultural heritage at home and abroad, Istre earned her doctoral degree in Arkansas State University’s Heritage Studies Ph.D. program.

During her career thus far, Istre has established, directed, and supported several historic sites and museums, including Vermilionville, a Cajun & Creole Heritage and Folklife Park in Lafayette, Louisiana; Historic Dyess Colony: Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash, in Dyess, Arkansas; and the U.S. Army’s Center for Military History at various Army museums around the country. She has developed and implemented numerous cultural and historical interpretive programs and currently serves as a board member for the National Association for Interpretation (NAI). She is also the director of NAI’s Cultural and Historical Interpretation section. One of the first in the U.S. to obtain a Master Certification in living history, Istre continues to serve as the Arkansas Living History Association’s certification committee chair.

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Through engaging lectures, informative publications, and hands-on history programs, Istre has shared the beauty of heritage with academic and public audiences for over twenty years. She has published and presented both nationally and internationally on many different topics and has worked as an advisor for a variety of film productions including the nationally-televised live concert The Johnny Cash Music Festival: 2011, the documentary film Joanne Cash, I Do Believe, and a number of travel-related programs. Istre most recently served as historical consultant and assistant director for the documentary film First Cousins: Cajun and Creole Music in South Louisiana and authored the book Creoles of South Louisiana: Three Centuries Strong.

Inspired by the Scripture “Truly, I have a beautiful heritage” (Psalm 16:6 ISV), Istre named her company Belle Heritage™ as a fitting tribute to not only her French heritage and the first language of her grandparents (belle is French for “beautiful”), but also in honor of the universal beauty of heritage worldwide.