“This has been very exciting for me, getting to know more about the people involved in our arts community and getting to know more about the community itself. It’s been so satisfying, and I can’t wait to share this with others,” Hellen said.
Hellen serves as the executive director of the Arts!Longview Cultural District, which covers more than 320 acres of Longview including downtown and stretching south to LeTourneau University. The district is home to museums, theaters, historic buildings, live music venues and parks.
“Our mission is to spark a love of the arts, history and culture in order to celebrate and enhance our creative community,” said Nancy Murray, 2020 president of the board for Arts!Longview and a founding representative of the organization.
Arts!Longview is designated as a cultural district by the Texas Commission on the Arts. 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 the Texas Commission on the Arts.
The state designation has opened the doors for Longview to receive additional grant money for arts organizations. In 2020, Arts!Longview and three arts organizations received more than $200,000 in grant money as a direct result of the state designation. In the years to come, Hellen said Arts!Longview has big plans for the city’s cultural development as it strives to be the art and soul of Longview.
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Inspiration for the Arts!Longview Cultural District was born from a Longview Chamber of Commerce Inter-City visit to Waco in 2018. In Waco, Longview representatives learned about the city’s arts district, which had received a designation from the Texas Commission on the Arts three years prior.
Fiona Bond, executive director for Creative Waco, told Longview representatives that the state designation helped to grow Waco as a cultural hub while also establishing a pipeline for grant funding for arts investments.
Murray recalled sitting around a table in Waco with others involved in Longview’s artistic community and thinking, “We can do this in Longview.”
At the time, no other cultural arts district existed between Beaumont and Texarkana, and Murray saw an opportunity to help put Longview on the map. So, when Murray returned to Longview after the trip, she immediately went to work seeking support for Longview to obtain a cultural district designation from the Texas Commission on the Arts. Murray recalled being met with overwhelming support from those involved in Longview’s arts organizations and from the community as a whole.
“Every major stakeholder in the district believed we could do this,” Murray said. “This has been the single most rewarding volunteer endeavor I’ve ever participated in.”
Following the trip, the City of Longview created a local task force to pursue the possibility of obtaining a cultural district designation from the state. The task force was comprised of about 25 stakeholders within the community and representatives from each arts organization, including the Belcher Center, ArtsView Children’s Theatre, Longview Museum of Fine Arts, Gregg County Historical Museum, Longview World of Wonders (LongviewWOW), Longview Symphony, East Texas Symphonic Band, Longview Ballet and Theatre Longview.
“As a task force, we decided to focus on something that would enhance our visual arts, our performing arts and our cultural arts,” Murray said. The task force held input sessions to seek ideas on what the community wants to see in a cultural district prior to applying for the state designation. The lengthy application included a listing of attributes that already existed in Longview and what the city hoped to establish in the future.
“It wasn’t just focused on artistic attributes,” Hellen recalled. “We also focused on culture, including historical information, homes that are being preserved, and our culinary community. It included a narrative, lists and pictures of what was available in Longview right then. It was a snapshot of what the cultural attributes of Longview were at that moment.” Then, the task force did some “visioning,” Hellen said, in which they focused on what Longview could offer if the city were to receive the designation.
“We wanted to focus on tourism and let people outside of Longview know what we have available. That includes activities happening at our local arts organizations, but we want to let them know that if they come to Longview for a show, there are other things to do, there are places to eat, and there is a lot that we have to offer,” Hellen said.
For the application, the task force submitted a five-minute video and an application that was about an inch-and-a-half thick, Murray recalled. Six cities submitted applications for cultural district designations in 2019, and the City of Longview received the highest score of any city that applied. Longview scored 968 points out of a possible 1,000.
“We knocked the ball out of the park,” Murray said.
Texas Commission on the Arts in September 2019. 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. The designation opened the city up to state grant access, but Murray noted that cultural districts also provide many other benefits to communities. Beyond helping artists, they also help cities become tourism destinations, Murray said. When people come into town for an arts show, they are likely to eat in Longview, shop or buy gas, and stay in hotels – all of which helps the city’s economy.
“It was because of the citizens of Longview pulling together and working together to get this district,” Murray said. “I couldn’t be more excited. I’m thrilled for Longview. I’m thrilled for our arts.”
Growth and Development
First and foremost, Arts!Longview’s goal is to support and promote the work of its nine founding arts and cultural organizations. Founding organizations are ArtsView Children’s Theatre, East Texas Symphonic Band, Gregg County Historical Museum, LeTourneau University’s Belcher Center, Longview Ballet Theater, Longview Museum of Fine Arts, Longview Symphony, Longview World of Wonders and Theatre Longview.
“Our biggest goal is to support the founding organizations and help them promote their work,” said Hellen, who was selected as the first executive director for Arts!Longview. “We want to let people in Longview know what they’re doing and what opportunities are available to them if they want to join one of those organizations. But, we also intend to promote the organizations and their work outside of Longview as well. We want to promote the tourism aspect of what our organizations have to offer, and we want to let people know everything that is available so they can plan a weekend in Longview.”
Arts!Longview also has taken the charge at leading coordination efforts for the city’s quarterly ArtWalks, in which downtown and midtown business exhibit and sell artwork that is often created by local artists. The free, self-guided events also often feature musicians and other street performances. In 2020, many cultural organizations were forced to pivot, Hellen said, as the COVID-19 pandemic led to events being canceled or postponed as the state required social distancing and limited gatherings. The newly formed Arts!Longview provided information and resources to local organizations to inform them of support available during the pandemic. “It’s been disappointing in a sense to many in our cultural arts community because our artists want to be producing, creating and performing,” Hellen said. “What’s been so rewarding to see is the creativity that has come out of this time. We’ve seen people presenting in virtual formats, and we’ve found ways to keep the arts out there to provide that outlet for people and keep them engaged. This pandemic has really caused people to get creative – even more creative than they already were. It’s been encouraging to see the creativity that has come out of necessity.”
While organizations were forced to pivot and get creative in 2020, the year also saw the state issue grant money to Longview arts organizations to help support them in the coming year. The state awarded more than $200,000 in total to Arts!Longview, ArtsView Children’s Theatre, Longview Museum of Fine Arts, and the Longview Symphony.
“This is state-level money coming to Longview for the first time because we are now a designated cultural district,” Murray said. “It’s thrilling to see this happening.” Arts!Longview received a $70,000 matching grant that will be used to produce and install light-pole banners, utility-box wrappers, street-sign toppers, murals, and entryway monuments throughout the cultural district.
“Next year, people will see a lot of activity intended to help make our cultural district more visible,” Hellen said. “We’re in the process of designing, manufacturing, and installing colorful streetlight-pole banners throughout the district. We’re putting up art in a vinyl-wrapped fashion on the big silver utility boxes that you see throughout the district. We’re also working on creating street-sign toppers identifying the cultural district so that you’ll know when you’ve arrived.”
Other organizations to receive state grant funding were ArtsView Children’s Theatre which received $16,850 to support its mainstage productions, Longview Museum of Fine Arts which received $95,000 to upgrade its facility and underwrite upcoming exhibits, and Longview Symphony which received $24,000 to help underwrite an upcoming 2021 concert that will feature music from the “Harry Potter” film soundtracks.
Over the next five years, the Arts!Longview Cultural District hopes to complete many goals, all of which are aimed at promoting local culture and creating a place for artists to thrive.
Develop a hub of cultural activity in Longview to
attract residents, businesses, and tourists.
- Enhance the quality of life in Longview through the arts.
- Encourage collaboration between the arts, history, and cultural organizations within Longview.
- Create an awareness of the arts, history, and culture.
- Grow and support a thriving Cultural District with successful arts organizations.
“We have some really interesting long-term plans for Longview,” Hellen said. “There are things that we think would be beneficial to our arts community, like trying to set up live and workspaces for artists to encourage them to consider Longview.” In 2019 and 2020, Arts!Longview took steps to reach those goals. These steps included developing a website and brochure regarding the city’s cultural offerings, hiring staff for Arts!Longview, and publicizing events.
Hellen said in its inaugural year Arts!Longview also worked to connect arts organizations to grant funding opportunities, provided grant writing assistance to arts organizations, and assisted organizations with funding development questions.
“An exciting project coming up soon is a self-guided walking tour of outdoor art in Longview. We will be adding to that with the installation of three downtown murals in the next year, and hopefully more in the next few years. We are also working with the City of Longview on a cool web-based program that will make visiting the cultural organizations and events a fun game with prizes,” Hellen saiOver the next five years and looking into the future, Murray said she is hopeful the Arts!Longview Cultural District will encourage younger residents to consider Longview as a permanent home. Murray has a son graduating from dental school, and she wants him and others his age to consider Longview as a home instead of looking toward larger cities like Dallas, Austin, or San Antonio.
“The things we’re planning to accomplish are going to make Longview a better place,” Murray said. “I think the arts district will help bring that creativity, that younger vibe to Longview and help make this a place that young people want to come and want to stay.” Hellen echoed those same sentiments, adding that Arts!Longview will focus on helping promote the city’s artistic and cultural opportunities. “We’re going to help cross-promote what our organizations are doing, so that when people come here, they will see that we have a lot of activities,” she said. “We’re looking forward to seeing even more activity coming into Longview.”
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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