Grassroots arts effort taking shape

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When Christopher Green thinks about downtown Plano, one word comes to mind: expression.

That is the main reason why the musician and pastor chose to grow his urban ministry, The Point, out of Event1013 banquet hall off 15th Street.

“I thought there’s got to be more to the impact a church can have on a community than just being a church,” Green said. “We could be a nexus for all types of art.”

Downtown Plano’s transformation into a hub for arts appreciation and celebration is years in the making, spurred in part by a regional arts project that never came to fruition. Today, its definition is up to those who live and work there, said Mona Lisa Ringel, Historic Downtown Plano Association executive director.

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“Plano really has to define itself one event at a time,” she said. “[The arts] district will be defined by the artists we attract. It’s kind of a ‘know it when we see it’ kind of thing.”

Grassroots arts effort taking shape

Timeline: A push for the arts district (via Community Impact Newspaper)

Grassroots arts effort taking shape

Growing Organically

Downtown Plano’s revival is credited largely to its group of tightly-knit merchants who share a collective mission to foster and provide a variety of entertainment and attractions to the area and its visitors.

Chief among the visionaries is Deputy City Manager Frank Turner. Turner said he looks to the arts as an economic catalyst for revitalizing downtown and improving the city’s overall quality of life.

“We want the arts district to develop organically through the individual efforts of artists and organizations,” he said. “We want it to be a creative environment.”

The city’s next step will be to request an official State Cultural District designation from the Texas Commission on the Arts. The designation will equip the district with skills, networking opportunities and access to state funding, Turner said.

Driving the movement is a partnership of professionals dedicated to building a strong infrastructure of cultural venues and events. The Arts Leadership Council, which consists of a coalition of local arts organizations, will work toward the implementation of this goal, Turner said.

“If your heart and mind is in downtown Plano, then you’re in the arts district.”

—Plano City Manager Frank Turner

Many questions have been raised among the public as to what geographical areas will be incorporated into the district. Turner said it is not defined by physical boundaries but by one’s involvement in helping the arts—whether it be visual, culinary or performance—to flourish together throughout Plano.

“There is no precise boundary; generally it’s the core of the commercial area and the walking distance from that [such as]downtown and its surrounding areas,” Turner said. “If your heart and mind is in downtown Plano, then you’re in the arts district.”

Local allocations

One of the district’s cornerstones is the Saigling House, which is undergoing a transformation into an art and event center as the new home of ArtCentre of Plano. Built in 1906, the home is being renovated with funds returned from the defunct Arts Center of North Texas.

The Arts Center of North Texas was a $65 million joint venture by the cities of Plano, Allen and Frisco. In May 2011, Frisco voters revoked their city’s authority to spend the remaining $16.4 million in bond money approved for the project.

Plano and Allen both passed resolutions in October 2012 to dissolve the nonprofit, and in early 2014, other donors requested to have their donations returned as well. One of these was the AT&T Foundation, which gave $750,000, according to city documents.

Plano contributed its portion of the arts project money that was returned—$500,000—for the Saigling House renovations, according to city documents. The ArtCentre of Plano has also committed to raising another $300,000 to help transform the 4,000-square-foot home. The AT&T Foundation also provided the ArtCentre a grant of $250,000 for educational programs.

“There will be gallery space, meeting space and classroom space on both levels. The back will open up to the porch where there’ll be a large deck and event space,” ArtCentre of Plano Executive Director Suzy Jones said.

Other venues that will play a pivotal role include the Courtyard Theatre, the Cox Building Playhouse, Haggard Park and the newly refurbished McCall Plaza, which is set to reopen in October.

“There is an allowance for artists to have galleries and studios [nearby]. And we’re hoping to open [more]gallery space for consignment downtown,” Turner said.

Citywide movement

Arts organizations outside downtown will also benefit from the growth of the district and creation of new venues, said Sara Egelston Akers, executive director of Plano Children’s Theatre.

“There’s a need for additional performing venues in the city,” she said.

Future ideas also include adding a welcome center to the Interurban Railway Museum for visitors. It may be hard to see now, Ringel said, but areas beyond 15th Street will also benefit from young artists already being attracted to downtown. Such activity will be important for reviving inactive and aging pockets and growing the arts district, she said.

In the meantime, Ringel said the movement is using the strongest asset it has: people.

“HDPA used to … have that exclusive kind of feel. Now we get homeowners from Haggard Park … and we have a new website with a directory that has expanded geographical boundaries,” Ringel said. “We keep trying to grow it and let [people]know they are a part of the community. We’re going back to the grassroots of what downtown [Plano] was built upon.”

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