When cities such as Cedar Park and Leander experience rapid growth, issues related to infrastructure, demographics, and residential and commercial developments become an everyday topic of conversation.
But another more subtle change is taking place in Leander and Cedar Park that could add immeasurably to the quality of life for residents: Each city’s art scene is growing.
Local potter Rita Walker started the Cedar Park Free Art Friday movement last summer. She said she discovered Austin’s program through a friend in which a local artist hides an original piece and gives Instagram followers clues as to where the piece is hidden using the hashtag #ATXFreeArtFriday. Followers then search for the free art.
“I was like, “Cedar Park needs one of those,” Walker said.
She created the #CedarParkFreeArtFriday hashtag and has since gained more than 200 Instagram
“It’s good for Cedar Park; it’s good for the community, and it’s fun,” she said. “It’s like a big treasure hunt.”
Artists who have participated so far have hidden pottery, jewelry, paintings, prints and decorative signs. Those who find the items often post photos with their new piece of art, she said.
Walker said connecting with other artists in Cedar Park also led her to create monthly Arts & Ale events, during which artists can sell their work at local businesses. The first Arts & Ale Fest was held Nov. 10 at The Dig Pub and raised $245 for ovarian cancer research. A second event was held at Whitestone Brewery on Dec. 1, and proceeds were donated to Texas Humane Heroes and the Linus Project, Walker said.
She said she hopes to continue holding the monthly gatherings to spread awareness of local artists and give Cedar Park more art-centered events for residents to attend.
“I think Cedar Park really needs that,” she said. “There’re not a lot of art events. That’s why I feel like, ‘Let’s get this going.’”
Art co-op aims to foster creativity
Joe Fiacco is a member of The Studio, an art cooperative in Cedar Park that aims to help children and adults connect with their desire to be creative.
“Through creative expression, people gain confidence, develop individual uniqueness, increase self-esteem, realize the importance of process and patience, and become more thoughtful, reflective human beings,” The Studio’s mission statement reads.
Fiacco teaches drawing and painting, but he said there are about 17 other teachers at the co-op who specialize in many art forms, including pottery, music, sewing, digital art and creative writing. He said he hopes to include more art forms, including dance, in the future.
“We’ve got a lot of plans for the future to expand,” he said.
Fiacco said he moved to Central Texas from California 21 years ago and started the co-op about 19 years ago.
“I just thought this would be a good place to be, not only to raise my family but from a business standpoint,” he said. “I feel a part of the city.”
The Studio has been housed in a number of different locations, including three in the Discovery Business Park, all of which it has outgrown, he said.
The Studio is now in a 4,000-square-foot facility on West Whitestone Boulevard, and the majority of its growth came from word-of-mouth recommendations from its students, he said.
“We don’t even have to advertise.” Fiacco said. “We’ve grown so much in the past three years.”
The influx of people moving to Texas from outside the United States has also helped The Studio grow its student base, he said.
“It’s a huge part of their culture, the arts,” he said. “It’s something that is very important to them.”
The arts are also important to many parents in the Cedar Park area, who feel that their children are not being offered enough art classes in local public schools, he said. Many students take multiple classes a day at The Studio, focusing on different mediums, he said.
Fiacco is a former resident of Cedar Park who now lives in Jonestown. He said he chose Cedar Park 20 years ago because he wanted to avoid the high price and bustle of Austin. Over the years, he said he has noticed Cedar Park put more emphasis on fostering the arts, including adding murals and sculptures in public places.
City sponsors public art
Cedar Park took initiatives to foster public art in the city in 2009 by creating its public art program. The program seeks to promote and encourage public art programs; further the development, awareness and interest in the visual arts; create an enhanced visual environment; and promote tourism and economic vitality.
The Cedar Park Sculpture Garden, 1435 Main St., Cedar Park, is part of that effort, offering a rotating exhibit of sculptures from local artists. The garden was created in 2012 and is maintained by the Cedar Park Parks, Arts and Community Enrichment, or PACE, board. Current works on display were crafted from bronze, marble, granite, steel and cement.
The garden is supported by hotel occupancy tax funds and donations made by residents and businesses through water billing statements. One percent of the budget for eligible capital improvement projects is also dedicated to the city’s Public Art Fund.
The PACE board also displays loaned two-dimensional art at the Cedar Park Public Library, 550 Discovery Blvd., Cedar Park, and Cedar Park City Hall, 450 Cypress Creek Road, Bldg. 4, Cedar Park.
Leander residents’ art on display
In December 2014, Leander City Council approved the city’s Public Arts Master Plan, a vision for 2014-19 of bringing performing and visual art to public places; bringing art projects, programs and features to Leander; and increasing communication and awareness of art in Leander.
Megan Pumphrey, Leander Parks and Recreation Department recreation supervisor, said the master plan is broad, and because groups such as the Way Off Broadway Community Players—a theater group in Leander—are fostering performing arts in the city, the Leander Public Arts Commission has focused on bringing visual arts to public places.
The city of Leander created a public art fund in 2009, but Pumphrey said funding has never been substantial. Still, the arts commission has made great strides in growing the amount of public art around the city, Pumphrey said.
Commission Chairwoman Nancy Knickerbocker-Penick said in February the commission put up a metal sculpture at Benbrook Ranch Park, 1100 Halsey Drive, Leander, of a baseball bat with signs attached that point to different notable baseball sites nationwide, including Dodger Stadium and the Astrodome. The commission also donated funds for a statue in Veterans Park.
The commission funded six sculpture pads throughout the city where local artists can loan a sculpture to Leander for its rotating exhibition. Artists live in Central Texas and range from high school students to seniors, Pumphrey said.
“There just so much talent in this area, and the things we get are just amazing,” she said.
The group has commissioned paintings on a dumpster at the downtown fire station and on transformer boxes at Robin Bledsoe Park, 601 S. Bagdad Road, Leander, she said.
The commission is holding an Earth Day competition in April for high school students in Leander ISD who use recycled materials to create sculptures and hanging art pieces, Knickerbocker-Penick said.
Art pieces are also donated or loaned to the city to go on display at Leander Public Library, 1011 S. Bagdad Road—another initiative of the commission. The exhibit rotates every few months. From February through May, the library will feature dream- and emotion-themed pieces. Artists can loan paintings, drawings, fabric art and photography, among other mediums, and have until Jan. 11 to contact the city and arrange to drop off their work for display.
Knickerbocker-Penick said the commission meets monthly and welcomes public input.