For many residents in the Greater Houston area, a visit to an art museum, a professional theatrical production or concert featuring a national artist means a trip downtown. But thanks to the work of leaders in the Spring/Klein area, residents have to go no farther than Cypresswood Drive.
"There's nothing like this cultural district in the county," said Glen Wilkerson, president of the Cypress Creek Cultural District. "The irony is that 90 percent of our residents aren't even aware of it. It's so important that people recognize it for the jewel that it is."
A collaboration between multiple venues and organizations near Cypresswood Drive and Stuebner Airline Road, Wilkerson said the cultural district not only provides an artistic outlet for nearby residents, but works to improve the community's quality of life.
He said the district has plans for branding the community and has begun discussions regarding future cultural venues in the area.
Wilkerson founded the Cypress Creek Cultural District about 10 years ago with Clara Lewis, executive director of the Cypress Creek Christian Community Center, as well as Jerry James and Terry Capps, who all still serve on the district's board.
"We just thought we needed to do something official to pull us together as an area and as a community," Lewis said. "We're a really fragmented area, and this seems to be a unifying thing for us."
Lewis said the district's goal is to be an advocate for improving the area. She and Wilkerson said the district contributes to quality of life through improved property values and through the attraction of new residents and businesses.
Barbara Thomason, president of the Northwest Houston Chamber of Commerce, said the cultural district is also a significant economic driver for the community because of what the venues bring to the area in tourism dollars.
Although local leaders praised the effects of the district on the Spring/Klein region, they emphasized the importance of brandingthe district as a central location of an unincorporated region with nearly one million residents.
Wilkerson said the district hopes to raise $150,000 for monument signs marking the district's location along Cypresswood Drive at Hwy. 249 and possibly at TC Jester Boulevard. The fundraising could begin soon for the signage.
"The goal is to utilize the cultural district as West University has used the museum district to promote pride in our community," Wilkerson said. "This would be the first major step as a means [to] branding the community as a place to live, work and play."
Preliminary discussions have also begun about the future of the Harris County Courthouse at Cypresswood Drive and Stuebner Airline Road, which Wilkerson said could move elsewhere in Harris County Precinct 4. He said the district has reached out to the Museum of Natural History in Houston about the possibility of constructing a satellite facility.
"We're very interested in something going in there from an institutional nature, [such as] a museum to artists studios to a nature facility or health science center," Lewis said.
Harris County Precinct 4 Communications Director Mark Seegers said Harris County has not yet had any discussions about moving the courthouse.
"We're aware that there is some interest in what happens to that building, but it is so early in the process of planning facilities" Seegers said.Community spirit
Although a new museum at the county-owned courthouse may seem a long way from happening, there is precedent for the project.
Lewis, Wilkerson and Peter Marzio, who was the director of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, reached out to former Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole in 1995 when it was announced the Cypress Creek Library may move to a larger building next door.
The group hoped to turn the old library into a fine arts museum.
The new Barbara Bush Library opened in 2002, and Eversole agreed in 2004 to provide the building if they funded the renovations, Lewis said. The Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts opened in the former library's space in 2008, Museum Director Tim Novak said.
Although the largest donation for the project came from the children of Pearl Fincher—including State Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Houston—Novak said all funds were privately donated from hundreds of community members. The museum still requires about $500,000 in private donations every year to operate, Novak said.
"This would not have existed without a full-on community effort," Novak said.
Lewis said the community also helped raise funds for the creation of the Centrum, a 900-seat auditorium that was built at the Cypress Creek Christian Community Center in 1997.
"The community really needed a concert hall," she said. "The church was looking to build a larger sanctuary, so we put the two together. The church built the basic facility and lighting, and things that would help augment it, the community helped pay for."
Lewis praised the community for the grassroots efforts made within the cultural district.
"I think this is a very unique community," she said. "These residents here are interested in planting trees that they never see grow to full height."
Passion for arts
As the community has helped build the cultural and artistic foundation of the cultural district, the venues within the district continue to give back to a community that is passionate about the arts through the activities and amenities provided within the district.
"The arts naturally rise up out of an enlightened community," Thomason said. "And we have more arts venues than any other community in the Greater Houston area [outside of Houston]."
The Cypress Creek Foundation for the Arts and Community Enrichment has helped attract a wide range of entertainers to the Centrum since Cypress Creek FACE was founded in 1997.
The concert hall has hosted nationally recognized entertainers, such as Bill Cosby, the Four Seasons and Aaron Neville, Lewis said. The concert hall is also used by local groups, such as the Texas Master Chorale, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra and even the Houston Symphony.
"The very top performing arts groups from the area love this facility," she said. "It is a cavalcade of local artists as well as international artists."
Since its inception in 2008, Novak said the Pearl Fincher Museum has hosted 31 art exhibitions. Although he said the museum's focus is not to showcase the works of local artists, the museum does house a community gallery for local artists while also providing instructional art courses.
"Our place is to be the resource," Novak said.
The cultural district also fosters relationships with the local school districts. In addition to other programming offered to Spring and Klein ISDs, as many as 3,700 third-graders with KISD attend the annual Klein Arts Day, Novak said. He said students spend time at the Centrum, Fincher Museum and Barbara Bush Library, learning something with each activity.