Decades of growth in population and commercial activity in Buda over the last few years has been joined by an interest of both elected officials and residents in becoming a regional cultural hub.
When Susan Guerra and Sinéad Whiteside went to a Buda City Council meeting to present their idea for Inspired Minds Arts Center, they found a receptive audience.
“For an hour the citizens of this community got up and said ‘We want art, and this is why art is important; this is how it will benefit the community and the city financially and therapeutically,” Whiteside said.
The City Council, at the time, was considering various potential uses for the old City Hall, one of the three downtown buildings left empty after the new municipal complex was built.
City Council accepted the proposal for Inspired Minds, which opened Jan. 25, along with the Hill Country Theatre, which starts performances Feb. 14. A veterans center in the old annex building is giving opportunities to local cultural entrepreneurs, and just in January, the city approved a design budget to move the tourism and main street departments into the old library.
“Buda is really coming into its own and putting a focus on tourism and on arts, culture and things like that,” Buda Director of Tourism Lysa Gonzalez said. “They’re really getting their resurgence.”
Art takes up residence in Buda
According to both co-owners of Inspired Minds, the creation of the organization was something residents in Buda were looking for.
“A lot of [artists] have been tucked away in their kitchens and garages, and there wasn’t really a community that they belonged to,” Guerra said. “That’s a sentiment that we’ve seen over and over again with artists that have really been doing their artwork in the garage or doing it in the kitchen and not connected to the greater community around them. [They] didn’t even know that other artists existed within this small area.”
Inspired Minds provides a space for artists in Buda and surrounding communities to display, make and explore various types of arts, Whiteside said, while also creating a community around them. The center offers classes in drawing, ceramics, photography, painting, textiles and other subjects for people of all ages.
“This town has always been an artist's town,” Whiteside said, adding that many artists moved to Buda in the 1970s and turned the city into an artist hub, with galleries in some of the spots that are now home to shops.
“A lot of those people have never left,” Whiteside said. “They’re still here and are now seniors—retirees—and there’s this big undercurrent of art here.”
The art center also houses the nonprofit community theater group Hill Country Theatre. The nonprofit brings together people from the Kyle, San Marcos and Buda area through performing and visual arts. It also produces shows for all ages, according to its website.
Both co-owners of Inspired Minds Arts Center emphasized that opening the arts center would not have been possible without the support of city officials, the community and the need for art in the area.
“Without the city’s support this would have never happened, so really it’s been City Council, city officials and people who understand this vision and who want this to be a cultural mecca who have really been pushing for this,” Whiteside said. “Buda is going to be on the map as an art hub.”
Entrepreneurship in downtown Buda
The former annex building, which once housed some city officials and the police department, is now serving veterans in Buda and providing office space for local entrepreneurs in the downtown area.
The leasing contract for 100 Houston St. was awarded to Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12161 in January 2019 with the understanding that the organization would prioritize renting space to veterans looking to start businesses.
Adria Garcia, a veteran and owner of Sauté and Sip, was among the first—she said office space at the VFW building is affordable compared to the market price in downtown Buda.
Through Sauté and Sip, Garcia offers plant-based cooking classes to the community. She says there is nothing like what she offers in the surrounding area.
“I thought it would be great to bring those plant-based cooking classes to Buda because the closest place you can go to a cooking class anyway is Austin,” Garcia said.
Garcia also notes that the start of her business would not have been possible without the community’s desire for it.
“I started doing the [Buda] Market in the Park the first Saturday of the month just to feel it out and put it out there. The feedback was amazing, and that’s when I decided to just run with it,” Garcia said.
The VFW building is also known as the Central Texas Veterans Center, according to Garcia, and though it is a place for veterans, it also welcomes everyone in the community, particularly those who want to start a business.
A more central center for tourism
On Dec. 3, Buda City Council approved the design budget to remodel the former library to create a new visitors center, which will house the tourism and main street departments, while also providing additional space.
Relocating the visitors center to the former library is a big move for the city of Buda, according to Gonzalez, the director of tourism.
“I think the move is actually going to be very beneficial to Buda for several reasons. It’s going to give people a focal point in the part that is most uniquely Buda and specific to one of our visitors attractions,” Gonzalez said. “I think really the vision for the visitors center is to be an anchor for tourism in general.”
With its population growth, the city of Buda has seen a shift in its tourism strategies, Gonzalez said. In the past, the department focused on bringing people in who were coming to the area for Austin events, but now the city focuses on hosting events such as weddings and sports tournaments.
“That’s what’s been so exciting about the last year to two years; there are so many new things that have come to Buda as far as tourism goes, and it’s just been very exciting to get to this point,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez says the goal of the department is to support businesses and be a partner to the community.
Official push for the arts
In October, Buda City Council took the formal step of approving a resolution that establishes an official program to encourage cultural development in Buda.
The resolution reads: “The city hereby approves and ratifies the establishment of an arts program to work with profit and non-profit organizations to provide entertainment opportunities, creating economic development possibilities, attracting tourism, and maximizing residential opportunities in the city.”
The council also established an ad hoc committee in January that will decide what kind of events will be hosted in City Park once it reopens after renovation—complete with a new amphitheater.
"One of the main things that brought people to Buda was Austin events, and that’s great—it still brings people here, but over the past few years that I’ve been here, Buda has taken on a lot of amenities and venues and all of those things ourselves," Gonzalez said.