The Arts!Longview Cultural District is official, after civic and state leaders cut the ribbon on its downtown office Thursday.
At least 200 people toasted the state designation of the 342-acre district during a ceremony inside the former Guarantee Bank/Regions Bank building.
“Our mission is simple,” Arts!Longview Task Force Chairwoman Nancy Murray said. “We are here to spark a love of the arts, history and culture to enhance our community. That’s our goal.”
The celebration came 20 months after Murray and other leaders of the city’s arts, history and cultural groups began the task of seeking a cultural arts district designation from the state. After untold volunteer hours, letters of support and an application that scored 968 points — the highest of any of this year’s 11 applicants — Arts!Longview became one of only 43 cultural arts districts in the state on its first try.
“Many communities try this three, four times before they’re successful,” said Texas Commission on the Arts Executive Director Gary Gibbs, who read a proclamation of the designation at the ceremony and later Thursday at a Longview City Council meeting.
Art attracts tourism, which is a great economic tool for a community, but it’s about more than just the dollars, Gibbs said.
“It’s the pride that a community has in celebrating those arts,” he said, “and it’s an incentive for younger people to return to their homes, because there are things to do that are attractive to them.”
Arts!Longview’s attention now turns toward hiring an executive director, Murray said.
Just hours before the ceremony, Arts!Longview had posted online that it wants to hire an executive director.
The group is accepting applications through Oct. 31 and expects to hire someone by Jan. 1. The job will be part time early on but should become full time by 2022, according to the job posting.
Also during the City Council meeting, a $25,000 allocation from the city’s General Fund was approved to Arts!Longview.
Community Services Director Laura Hill said that allocation will fund the district’s start-up operations, including salaries.
The ceremony inside the former bank building included Gibbs; state Rep. Jay Dean, R-Longview; Mayor Andy Mack; and a two-term member of the Texas Commission on the Arts board of directors, Karen Partee.
Partee, who recently moved from Longview to Prosper but still commutes back three days a week, said it was an honor and a privilege to speak on behalf of Longview when state commissioners picked the city on Sept. 5.
“I really didn’t want to let go of East Texas even though my family home has moved,” said Partee, who called herself a “supercommuter,” and she said the reason is the arts and the culture here.
“There’s a lot of culture here that we all need to come together and appreciate, and maybe the district will help others recognize throughout the community just how strong we are in the area of arts and humanities,” she said.
The ceremony was a prelude to downtown Longview’s largest-ever ArtWalk, which came just more than a month after the state commission designated the Arts!Longview Cultural Arts District.
“I think the biggest thing that this does is bring recognition to what we have in our small city,” Arts!Longview Task Force member Suzanne Cook said.
Cook also serves on boards for the Longview Symphony and the Longview Arboretum and Nature Center, which opens Nov. 2 a few blocks west of the cultural arts district.
“People have no clue what’s here” when it comes to Longview’s arts communities, Cook said. “It’s a jewel, and so I think with all of the recognition that can become with being part of the cultural arts district, it’s just going to benefit all of us. That’s why we all pooled together to make it work.”
At one point, Murray asked the crowd of the ceremony to shout, “The time for Longview is now.”
Mack called the designation another thing that sets Longview apart in the region. Dean called Longview “the pacesetter for our region.” Both men credited the arts communities, volunteers and Murray’s determined leadership.
Cultural districts are special zones that harness the power of cultural resources to stimulate economic development and community revitalization, and they can become focal points for generating businesses, attracting tourists, stimulating cultural development and fostering civic pride, according to information at arts.texas.gov .
According to the state commission, the establishment of a cultural district requires a focus on the arts with carefully laid-out plans and collaboration among arts organizations, city and county government entities, businesses and residents.
A wide range of groups and residents pitched in on Longview’s application, including nine local arts groups, schools and colleges, real estate groups, churches and service organizations.
The district incorporates the core of Longview’s cultural arts facilities and performing venues, along with the Gregg County Courthouse, three historical churches, Longview Public Library, two parks, the historical train depot and the S.E. Belcher Jr. Chapel and Performance Center at LeTourneau University.
“If you look at a map of the cultural districts in Texas,” Murray said, “there are no cultural districts between Beaumont or Texarkana — not Lufkin, not Nacogdoches, not Jefferson, not Marshall (and) not Tyler.”
Jimmy Daniell Isaac covers the city of Longview and Gregg County. Follow him on Twitter: @jimmyisaaclives.