Why does Abilene need the arts?

Cultural Affairs

July 7, 2023
Staff Reports

The arts play a vital role in attracting businesses to Texas communities. They can improve education, fuel the economy, improve health and well-being, and provided opportunities for all ages, backgrounds and generations to engage in civic life, and they build bridges for people of different cultures to live, play and work together. As a division of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce, the Cultural Affairs Council is proud to contribute to Abilene’s quality of life.

The arts also prepare critical thinkers for the workforce and generate $6 billion for the Texas economy, according to the Texas Cultural Trust’s 2023 Annual State of the Arts report. Nearly 850,000 Texans are employed in creative careers. By 2030, the creative sector is expected to increase by more than 22 percent.

Why does Abilene need the arts?

Locally, about 1,200 people are employed in creative occupations, a 44 percent increase over the last 10 years. Cultural events and exhibitions in Abilene are attended by more than 755,000 people a year, creating a vibrant and thriving environment for Abilene visits and residents to spend their time. Of those attending, 205,024 are from out of town, bringing new dollars to our city.

The handprints of the arts in Abilene can be seen everywhere – from the vibrant Cultural District in downtown, to school programs, exhibits at the Abilene Airport, programs at the Abilene Public Libraries and even murals and sculptures at the Abilene Zoo. The arts touch all sectors of our city.

The mission of the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council, a division of the Chamber, is two-fold - to provide a rich cultural environment for Abilenians, and to create art opportunities that encourage cultural tourism. We do this through a variety of programs, including the Children’s Art + Literacy Festival (CALF), the Storybook Sculpture Project, Young Audiences of Abilene, Children’s Performing Arts Series, and a grant program that helps nearly two dozen nonprofit local art organizations. This year’s CALF drew 5,800 festival goers from 21 states and 190 cities, an increase of 7 percent.

ACAC is the administrator of the Abilene Cultural District, a designation from the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA). The significant impact of the TCA Cultural District Enhancement Grants (more than $500,000 since 2017), were amplified by generous donors that provided several million dollars in matching funds and a strong partnership with the City of Abilene.

These grants and donations have made possible the addition of the Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden, cultural district limestone pillars, lighting of the tree arbors downtown, wayfinding signage, 3D dragon mural, two world-class sculptures (“In Cloud Light IV” and “The Singing Ringing Tree”) and the latest undertaking - the lighting of all contemporary sculptures along the North and South 1st railroad tracks between Grape and Hickory streets. This project should be completed by the end of August. All of this combines to create a vibrant downtown that is the heart of the community and attractive to visitors and residents alike. This vibrant atmosphere is also vital for businesses attracting new employees and customers.

The art organizations offer something for people of all ages, but there is a particular focus on children and families. We continue to promote Abilene as the Storybook Capital of America® because, with more than 2,500 six-figure population cities in the United States, it is important for a city to create a unique identity. CALF, the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, the Storybook Benches as well as arts programming for families, all contribute to the Storybook Capital theme. Additional ACAC programs that contribute to a family friendly arts community include Young Audiences of Abilene’s professional live performances in schools and after-school arts residencies and the Children’s Performing Arts Series, which brings the best touring children’s performers to the historic Paramount  Theatre.

The Abilene Cultural District is home to seven outstanding cultural organizations and venues, 12 restaurants, coffee shops, and bars, and 10 retail shops – five of which opened their doors at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Over the last 3 years, the following businesses have joined the Abilene Cultural District: The Pour House, Peacock Patio, Roll Shack Ice Cream Shop, Lee & Co. (a small local market located on the first floor of the Windsor Hotel), and several locally owned boutiques - Magnolia & Oak, K. Ellis Boutique, Linen, Karson’s. This past year, we have also welcomed Seven & One Books, Brim Style Hat Co., Living Chic Antiques, and Bodegish (a bodega located on North 2nd and Cypress) to the Abilene Cultural District.

In 2022, the Center for Contemporary Arts exhibit and events attendance totaled 25,894, with 25%, (6,474), being out-of-town visitors. The Abilene Philharmonic presented 7 in-person concerts and events, each with virtual attendance options. The Grace Museum hosted multiple exhibits, recording an overall attendance of 54, 892, with out-of-town visitors being recorded at 11,099. The Grace reported an average of 600+ weekly visitors to the interactive family area, Spark, showing an increase of 35% from 2021. The National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) hosted art camps, weekend workshops for families, artist talks, and exhibits by award-winning illustrators throughout 2022. In November 2022, the NCCIL celebrated its 25th anniversary.

The Paramount Theatre, another jewel in the ACD, presented the bi-annual Cabaret Under the Stars, both the Paramount and Summer Family Film series, Abilene Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker” and theatrical performances serving 45,442 patrons. The Abilene Convention Center also hosted many events, drawing visitors from over 150 miles away, to enjoy “Peppa Pig Live,” a concert by Zach Williams, and the Abilene Comic Con.

The arts in Abilene will continue to shape our downtown, our entertainment offerings, how we view the world and the people in it and how the world views us. We have a reputation as a center for the arts, a place for people to work and play together and grow toward a brighter future.