The inaugural Arts!Longview Honors celebration was one of the highlights of Arts!Longview’s year in 2023. The celebration started a year filled with many new endeavors for the Cultural District. In 2023, Arts!Longview also hosted its first MLK Jazz Concert, installed its first sculptural bench, and brought in grant funding for a new project.
The event serves as the primary fundraiser for Arts!Longview, a nonprofit organization that manages the 343-acre, state-designated Cultural District in Longview. The evening featured a red-carpet entry and complimentary valet parking; a pre-show reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and live music; a Broadway-style program with performances by all of Longview’s performing arts groups; and the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Arts!Longview named Pat George Mitchell as the recipient of the inaugural award. Mitchell founded Longview Ballet Theatre in 1972 and served as its artistic director through its final production in 2022.
“For more than 50 years, Ms. Mitchell has shared her passion for dance and her love of the arts with our community. She has inspired and served as a mentor to thousands of students, teaching them not only about ballet but also about life,” Cavazos said. “She spent her life developing the talents of young dancers, nourishing our arts community, and creating memorable ballets that our community will collectively treasure forever.”
In addition to celebrating Mitchell’s career, the evening also highlighted the Cultural District with performances by all of Longview’s performing arts groups. The Longview String Quartet, whose members are part of the Longview Symphony Orchestra, provided pre-show entertainment. Meanwhile, the program included performances by representatives and members of ArtsView Children’s Theatre, The Dance Studio Longview, East Texas Symphonic Band, the Kilgore College Rangerettes, former Longview Ballet Theatre dancers, soloist Miranda Dolive accompanied by pianist David Berryhill, and Theatre Longview.
“The Honors celebration may not be the first time that all of our performing arts partners appeared on a stage together, but if it wasn’t the first time, it was certainly the first in many years. We have incredible performers in East Texas who gave of their time and talents to spend the evening with us,” Cavazos said. “The ability to bring everyone together to share a stage made the Honors celebration one of the most special evenings in our Cultural District.”
In January 2024, Arts!Longview brought back its performing arts partner organizations for the second annual Honors celebration. The evening included the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Artistic Excellence to Dr. James Snowden. “The East Texas Symphonic Band and the Longview Symphony Orchestra are absolute gems and Dr. Snowden has been such a visionary leader in our arts community for more than fifty years,” Cavazos said.
Snowden founded the Longview Symphony Orchestra in 1968, and also started the orchestra program at Longview High School that same year. He served as the symphony’s conductor for 10 years. He served as the musical director for the former Longview Community Theatre and also served as a musical director for ArtsView Children’s Theatre. He served as Pine Tree ISD’s Director of Bands for many years, eventually retiring in 1998.
In 1988, Snowden founded the East Texas Symphonic Band and has been its only conductor in the organization’s 35-year history. The East Texas Symphonic Band is comprised of about 70 volunteer musicians. The group consists of adults, many of whom are band directors from area high schools, as well as high school and college students. Through the Symphonic Band and previously with the Longview Symphony, Snowden conducted joint performances with Longview Ballet Theatre and has sought to incorporate other facets of the arts into the groups’ performances.
“Dr. Snowden is an individual who seeks to bring together our arts community. It has been important to him to incorporate other aspects of the arts, such as song and dance, into his leadership of the Symphonic Band,” said Dan Sorey, 2023 President of the Arts!Longview Board of Directors. “He has touched nearly every facet of our performing arts community and we are proud to recognize him.”
The Honors celebration marked one of several new programs for Arts! Longview. The organization also teamed up with the City of Longview
to be part of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. In 2023, the City of Longview took over coordination of the MLK weekend of events for the first time since 2009. Arts!Longview took part in the weekend by holding a jazz concert in January 2023 featuring performances by Low D and Mack Guice. The two local musicians performed to a nearly sold-out crowd at the Longview Community Center and Cavazos said the organization was excited to continue being part of MLK festivities.
In the fall, Arts!Longview played a role in Dia de los Muertos festivities by commissioning local artists to create a festive wrap for the “Longview” letters at Heritage Plaza. Artists Charles Arnold, Leti Beau and Kelly Ramon used canvas to create a wrap for the letters that was colorful and inviting. “As a Cultural District, we want to be part of events that are culturally significant to our community.
The MLK weekend is among those events that we want to have a role in,” she said.
Arts!Longview also continued to host its quarterly ArtWalks in 2023, drawing hundreds of artists and thousands of attendees to downtown Longview. ArtWalk is a free festival that Arts!Longview organizes four times each year in the spring, summer, fall and winter. The event pairs artists with downtown businesses to showcase their work. Artists set up inside businesses and along the downtown sidewalks with the community coming out to view the art and patronize the businesses. All of Arts!Longview’s arts partner organizations participate in the ArtWalks, hosting artists and setting up booths downtown.
In 2023, Theatre Longview hired its first executive director, Denise Knutson, who has been involved in the organization for several years. Knutson holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre Arts.
“I grew up in this wonderful community theatre where dozens of volunteers put on stellar plays and musicals to sold out crowds in the Longview Community Center,” Knutson said. “I want to see our community theatre, Theatre Longview, reach that status again where community members from all walks of life can come together and create, participate in, and attend excellent theatrical productions.”
Theatre Longview performed to sold-out audiences at the Longview Community Center throughout the year and brought back a musical for the first time in several years.
ArtsView Children’s Theatre completed major renovation work to its stage in 2023. The former stage at ArtsView was built on multiple levels with various steps and platforms. With support from the Longview Greggton Rotary Club, ArtsView renovated the stage so that it is solid and flat, which improves the accessibility and safety of the stage. ArtsView also completed some exterior work to the building, including a new mural painted by Longview artist Dana Huber. The mural, which is titled “The Stage is Set to Soar,” features hot air balloons, each one depiciting a scene from a different ArtsView production, including “The Sound of Music,” “Newsies,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Jungle Book,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” The Little Mermaid,” and “The Pirates of Penzance.”
“We wanted to celebrate the hot air balloons in Longview and to incorporate the worlds that theatre offers, so we have different landscapes that are from our previous plays and musicals,” Huber said.
Longview World of Wonders hired Sara McKinley in 2023 as its new executive director. McKinley previously served as the organization’s assistant executive director.
“Leading the team at Longview World of Wonders has been a tremendous privilege. My first year as executive director has brought both exciting challenges and opportunities,” McKinley said. “One of my key objectives
since assuming this role is to foster and strengthen our community partnerships. I am passionate about our involvement in the cultural arts community, and my team is continuously working to enhance the experience for our patrons.”
LongviewWOW cultivated collaborative partnerships with several other arts organizations, including participating in a joint Family Day hosted by all three of the downtown museums. Longview Museum of Fine Arts and the Gregg County Historical Museum also participated in the Family Day event.
Gregg County Historical Museum delighted patrons from across East Texas with its 2023 exhibition lineup, particularly its “NASA: Beyond Earth” exhibition. The exhibit, which was made possible in collaboration with the Johnson Space Center, featured historical artifacts from the Apollo and Gemini missions. The historical museum also helped Gregg County celebrate its 150th anniversary, or sesquicentennial, in 2023. The county’s sesquicentennial was celebrated as part of Dalton Days festivities. Historical Museum Executive Director Lindsay Loy and her team helped make the county’s celebration special. Dalton Days featured special appearances, such as Bill O’Neal, a retired Texas state historian, who gave a presentation on the county and State Representative Jay Dean who issued a proclamation for the county’s anniversary. A cake in the shape of Gregg County also was created to help commemorate the milestone.
LMFA made progress at its new location and continued to offer exhibitions at its current space. The museum held its first “State of the Museum” in 2023 with LMFA Executive Director Tiffany Jehorek speaking directly with the museum’s members, volunteers and supporters. LMFA also returned its Magic and Mayhem event to the Cultural District, including partnering with Theatre Longview to have actors dressed in costume at the “Alice in Wonderland” themed evening.
Meanwhile, the Longview Symphony Orchestra played to a sold-out crowd at the 2,000-seat LeTourneau University Belcher Center during its “Star Wars: Through the Years” concert in April 2023. The concert invited attendees to hear music from the iconic film franchise and marked a milestone achievement for the orchestra to sell out the Belcher Center.
The Mandalorian Mission Maze, which served as a prelude to the concert, attracted thousands to the Longview Arboretum & Nature Center to interact with volunteers who were dressed as various characters from the “Star Wars” franchise. The symphony partnered with volunteers from several arts organizations for the Mandalorian Mission Maze and began making plans for its 2024 family concert, which will feature music from the Marvel and DC comics films.
Arts!Longview also completed projects in 2023 that were funded by a grant received from the Texas Commission on the Arts. As a state-designated Cultural District, Arts!Longview and its partner arts organizations are eligible for specific grant funds from the state’s arts commission that are not available to cities without the state designation.
The organization’s grant helped fund the first “art bench” in the community. The new sculptural bench adds another pop of color to downtown Longview and the Cultural District. The bench, which is titled “Circlets Magnum Opus,” is located at the corner of Tyler Street and Fredonia Street in front of the Sculpture Garden. It was designed by Holly Forbes of Longview and fabricated by Modisette Welding of Kilgore. The bench depicts an artist’s palette and brush. “The name ‘Circlets Magnum Opus’ is a very loose interpretation meaning ‘Great Work of Circles’ — it’s just more ‘artsy.’ The concept represents an artist’s brush and palette and varying sizes of abstract circles of color,” Forbes said. “As a graphic designer, I could create the concept but needed the expertise of a professional welder to actually make the bench. Modisette Welding did
a fantastic job taking my idea and engineering, building, and painting the bench. The bench is intended to be a happy and inviting spot that attracts people to come take a closer look.”
Regarding state funding, Arts!Longview learned in September that it would be awarded a $45,000 grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts to install wayfinding signage that will help direct visitors to the Cultural District and Downtown Longview.
“Through traffic data, we know that more than 150,000 people travel through Longview daily on some of the major roadways, including Interstate 20, U.S. Highway 80, U.S. Highway 259, and Texas 300,” Cavazos said. “Our goal is to help direct visitors to experience the beauty and uniqueness of our Cultural District, including our downtown business community and our nine partner arts and culture agencies.”
Meanwhile, the Cultural District as a whole brought in $159,000 in state grant funding cumulatively between Arts!Longview and its partner organizations.
ArtsView Children’s Theatre received a $23,298 Cultural District Project grant that will be used to remodel and expand the existing theatre lobby. Executive Director Nathaniel Olson said ArtsView will expand the lobby to triple the current size “to allow our patrons to have a comfortable and climate-controlled environment to wait in before the shows since they currently have to wait outside due to the small size of our lobby.”
Longview Museum of Fine Arts received a $35,000 Cultural District Project grant that will assist with the renovation of the 1940s section of LMFA’s future home on Fredonia Street. LMFA is in the process of renovating a former bank at the corner of Fredonia and Methvin Streets into a new art museum. Jehorek said the museum’s goal is to prepare the first floor of the building for immediate use for LMFA events and for the community to rent for events. Meanwhile, the museum will continue its plans and fundraising for future phases of renovations at the new building.
Longview Symphony Orchestra received a $28,000 Cultural District Project grant that will assist with funding for its upcoming DC vs. Marvel concert. Executive Director Niki Groce said the DC vs. Marvel concert will continue the orchestra’s tradition of engaging the community through a family-friendly concert that ties together music and cinema. The concert will feature music from the DC and Marvel comics films.
“Earning the Cultural District designation from the state really pushed us to the next level for our artistic community,” Cavazos said. “It has opened doors to grant funding and more local support that has helped us elevate the culture of downtown Longview, helped our arts partners make improvements to existing and future buildings, and allowed for world-class programming to be brought to our community.”
Cultural districts are special zones that harness the power of cultural resources to stimulate economic development and community vitality. These districts can become focal points for generating businesses, attracting tourists, stimulating cultural development and fostering civic pride. www.arts.texas.gov
Founding Cultural District Organizations
ArtsView Children’s Theatre
East Texas Symphonic Band
Gregg County Historical Museum
letourneau university Belcher Center
Longview Ballet Theatre
Longview Museum of Fine Arts
Longview World of Wonders