When Marsha Young decided to open Butterfly Gallery on Mercer Street in downtown Dripping Springs, she said she thought it was time the city had an art gallery downtown.
The city's arts scene has been growing in recent years, said Mara Cardwell and Susan Manzello, who launched the Artists Alliance of the Hill Country in 2013.
When they started their Dripping Springs-based organization, which aims to foster artistic growth throughout the Hill Country, their membership included about 10 people, Cardwell said. Their membership now includes about 80 artists from all over the Hill Country. Dripping Springs’ proximity to Austin affords tourists and residents the cultural and recreational benefits of the larger city with fewer congested streets and crowds, Manzello said.
“You don’t have to go to Austin to get all that culture,” Cardwell said. “We’re right here.”
Hays County commissioners have voiced a desire to create an "art trail" linking arts communities in San Marcos, Wimberley and Dripping Springs.
“Eventually what we want is an arts venue that goes from San Marcos, Wimberley all the way up RR 12 into Travis County, so people can buy art, view art and do whatever they need to do in art from San Marcos all the way through the county,” Hays County Judge Bert Cobb said.
When the Wimberley Valley Arts and Cultural Alliance hosted the Wimberley Arts Fest in April, WVACA President Cathy Moreman said many of the attendees expressed “dismay” at having taken so long to discover the town 25 miles south of Austin.
“I heard people say that they didn’t realize how beautiful it was here, and the amount and quality of the artists was a surprise as well,” she said.
The festival, in its seventh year, brought together 87 artists from nine states, said Stan Allen, who started the festival in 2009. It has gone from surviving off of donations to being a moneymaker for the Wimberley Valley Art League, another organization dedicated to fostering growth in the Hill Country’s arts scene. Allen estimated 5,000 people attended this year’s festival.
Now, for the second time in two years, Wimberley is going before the Texas Commission on the Arts to be considered for a cultural district designation. According to the TCA website, cultural districts are areas of the state “that harness the power of cultural resources to stimulate economic development and community revitalization.”
The designation would allow Wimberley to be promoted as a tourist destination by the state of Texas nationally and internationally.
According to the TCA there are 26 cultural districts in the state, including areas of Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, as well as smaller communities such as Bastrop and Clifton.
Wimberley—with its downtown galleries and artisan shops—would be an ideal candidate for a cultural district designation, Moreman said.
“We would be the smallest [district] in terms of population, which we’re kind of looking forward to because we feel like we pack a mighty punch for our size,” Moreman said.
The TCA cited several reasons for rejecting Wimberley’s 2014 application. The city does not have a hotel occupancy tax—often used to fund tourism programs such as cultural districts—and the district that Wimberley wanted to create, stretching from Wimberley Glassworks near San Marcos to the VFW Hall in Wimberley, was deemed too large.
The city is talking about if and how it should institute a hotel occupancy tax, or HOT tax, and the district’s boundaries have been scaled back to include only part of downtown Wimberley.
The application, which has received support from the Hays County Commissioners Court, was submitted to the commission in the spring, and the city will find out whether it was approved in the fall.
“I’m 99 percent sure we’re going to get it the second time,” Moreman said. “We’ve got all this support.”