A vibrant art scene can translate to a higher quality of life, says Greg Schuller, the cultural arts director for McAllen’s Chamber of Commerce. By that standard, life in McAllen is pretty good.
McA2 Creative Incubator
One of the reasons McAllen’s art scene is so vibrant: the McA2 Creative Incubator, formed in 2005. That year, the chamber rented an old elementary school and created a dozen studio spaces, making them available to artists of all genres.
“We don’t have a closed view of what art is,” Schuller says. “It’s anything from a stick figure on a piece of paper to a Picasso to Web design.” Current occupants include two photographers, a seamstress and a radio/television producer.
The rent is affordable – $100 to $200 a month – and the resident artists can also put on shows in the auditorium and hold seminars in a former classroom. To help the artists “take the next step,” they write a business plan with the help of the chamber’s vice president of business.
“We want to give them every opportunity to achieve what they might not think they could achieve,” Schuller says.
The artists’ contract is for a year, but the program is flexible; some of the artists have been there since the program’s beginning. “We do ask them to put on a show once a year, so they don’t get stagnant,” Schuller says. “We help them with that financially.”
McAllen Arts Council
McAllen artists also benefit from McAllen Arts Council grants, a program now in its third year. The grants give $1,000 each year to the top 10 applicants, with help from the Texas Commission on the Arts. As with the incubator program, the grants are kept open to all types of art; recipients have included a band with a new single and the Memorial High School, which needed some financial help with a mosaic on the school grounds.
This past April saw McAllen’s first Fine Arts Show, now to be an annual – or possibly biannual – event. For four days, local artists displayed their work in the conference room at the McAllen Civic Center. The show ended on a Friday to coincide with an Art Walk, an event started by local art galleries that is popular in the Valley.
A new addition to the Art Walk is the recently built Art Village, a series of buildings at Main and Hackberry streets.
“It anchors the Art Walk, creating a little village,” says owner Alonzo Cantu. It will house all types of sellers and performers – “anything to do with creativity” – from jewelry to music to a stained-glass shop, already open in the village and owned by Cantu’s wife, Yoli.
With a new entertainment district starting downtown – a live music strip to rival Austin’s 6th Street and a restaurant row next to it – McAllen is truly a haven for the arts, thanks to the efforts of the artists and the community that supports them.
“My hat’s off to the city commission for deciding to commit a percentage of their budget to the arts,” Schuller says. “It’s helped foster creativity in McAllen.”