City applies for cultural designation

District aims to attract tourists, increases probability for grants

Georgetown submitted its application May 30 to be considered for a cultural district designation from the Texas Commission on the Arts with the intent of making the city a destination for tourists and eligible for art grants.

Since 2009, 19 cultural districts have been designated in cities throughout the state. By joining their ranks, Eric Lashley, Georgetown Public Library director and board liaison for Georgetown's arts and culture board, said he hopes to bring more than just pass-through travelers to the city.

"With the opening of the [new Georgetown Art Center] this year, we're really at a tipping point where we'll be an arts destination for people in Central Texas to visit," Lashley said. "When people come to Georgetown, they don't come to do one thing. They can spend a day or weekend [here], see a play, [or] go to the museum. We want them to stay."

Application process

Applications to the TCA for a cultural district designation must contain 24 items, including maps, signed resolutions of support for the district and statement of overall goals and objectives for developing and maintaining the district.

A TCA panel is expected to review applications through August and go before the commission in September with its decision on which cities should be awarded cultural district designations, said Jim Bob McMillan, deputy director with the commission's program staff.

"Primarily, it is a well-written application that has a logical plan for their activities," McMillan said of what makes a city's application to the commission stand out. "We're interested in art in many forms."

The top three elements of a strong application, McMillan said, are quality arts activities in place or in planning stages, the capability of arts organizations to fill out plans and audiences such activities are likely to attract.

"In the case of Georgetown, they have The Palace Theater on line already," McMillan said. "They're bringing the new art center on line soon. They have the public art program around the Square in the area they've designated as a district as well as other festivals and activities."

The city's Arts and Culture Board decided to use the downtown overlay district, which defines the downtown area, as the boundaries for the cultural district in its application, Lashley said. Locations and events highlighted in the application include The Palace Theater, The Williamson Museum, various galleries and festivals such as The Red Poppy Festival.

Public art, such as sculptures, murals and banners, were also noted in the application, as were utility box art projects.

"[The TCA's] goal is to attract artists and cultural enterprises to the community," Lashley said, "[as well as] establish tourism, enhance property values—things we're already doing in Georgetown."

Partners and support

The Arts and Culture Board worked with Georgetown Art Works, the Main Street Advisory Board and the Georgetown Visitor and Convention Center Board in compiling its application.

Letters of support for the designation from The Palace Theater, The Williamson Museum and Georgetown Art Works were also included in the application.

"We said we were pleased and excited about the opportunity to be included in that," said Jane Estes, president of Georgetown Art Works, the nonprofit that will manage the Georgetown Art Center when it opens this summer.

"It's not just to get people here. It's for residents as well," Estes said. "We have so many things to offer as a city already. This will be some validation of what we're doing and also a way to spread the word across the state so more people can come see and experience the wonderful cultural opportunities we offer here in Georgetown."

The Arts and Culture Board held a public meeting May 6 to hear community input regarding the application, and Lashley said no opposition was voiced at that time.

"Everyone was positive about what was presented," Lashley said.

Southwestern University was also included as a cultural asset in the application, even though it lies outside the decided boundaries.

Effects of designation

According to the TCA website, there can be some challenges or negative effects to designating cultural districts in cities, such as financing to plan and promote districts as well as the challenge of long-term planning for districts.

The website also lists benefits of designating cultural districts in a city, including attracting artists and cultural enterprises, preserving and reusing historic buildings and enhanced property values.

"Several districts have been able to use the designation to get funding from area foundations," McMillan said. "Four have received funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and other regional and statewide funds."

Grant possibilities aside, local leaders such as Estes are focusing on what the designation will say about Georgetown.

"I think it shows that as a community, the arts are important to us," she said. "It speaks well of the city and it speaks well of where we're going as a city."



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