Volunteer Group Pushes for Washington Avenue to Become Officially Artsy

Washington Ave. Sundial.jpg
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It started with a street sign. Last spring, the First Ward Civic Council, a group of residents and supporters of the Washington Avenue corridor arts district, insisted that the city display street sign toppers that proclaimed the area a haven of the arts. The city obliged and since then you can stumble upon signs declaring this sentiment aplenty. But why stop there?

In the last week or so, surveys were sent out by Spacetaker to interested parties about their desire for the lower area of Washington Avenue to become a bona fide "cultural arts district." Said survey questioned participants' interest, use of and potential need for a more unified cultural area.

Washington Avenue is certainly an area of thriving arts and culture. From the Winter Street Studios that are home to more than 87 local artists and influential local arts organizations including Spacetaker to its sister building, Spring Street Studios, which houses 90 working artists and local magnates such as Mouth Watering Media, 002 Magazine and The Black Sheep Agency, there is a lot of art going on. And don't forget about MECA, which laid ground in the Old Sixth Ward in 1993, when it first called the Dow School building home. This is in addition to the numerous homegrown coffee shops, restaurants and other local business that have sprung up in the past few years. There is no denying somethin's been a brewin' and that the Washington Avenue cultural empire is a force to be reckoned with.

That force now has a unified goal and an agenda. A Cultural Arts Designation Letter of Intent was submitted by an all-volunteer group to the Texas Commission on the Arts requesting that the area between I-10 to the north, Buffalo Bayou to the south, I-45 to the east and Heights Boulevard to the west be deemed an official cultural arts district.

"The deadline to turn in our completed application is early June," says K.C. Scharnberg, who is the Program and Marketing director at Spacetaker, in addition to being a member of the steering committee on the project. "Between now and when we hear back from the TCA, we are primarily trying to spread the word and get feedback from the community."

The group reasons that this area is "ethnically, economically, and culturally diverse" and that "a significant number of arts-related entities, and a large number of vacant lots and industrial sites are ripe for redevelopment." So, this is not just good for the arts, but, there is also the potential for money? Much of the Houston Arts Alliance's grants (which are largely funded by the City of Houston Hotel Occupancy Tax) are doled out on the basis of "encouragement, promotion, improvement and application of the arts to promote tourism and the convention and hotel industry," according to its website. The Washington Corridor arts initiative hopes to help with these endeavors.

According to itsFacebook page, the steering committee for the project has laid out various other art and non-art reasons for their proposal. It states it can "promote economic development by creating an identifiable area for producing, displaying, and marketing art; to stabilize and enhance area property values by encouraging revitalization of vacant properties into affordable housing and studios for artists; and to create a cultural identity in which area residents, businesses owners, and developers will take pride."

And there appears to be a growing interest. A petition in favor of the letter has been posted to online activism platform Change.org and already has over 300 signatures. In addition, the group's Facebook page boasts 156 members.

Scharnberg says it's the right time for it to happen. "We have several community leaders who live and work in the area who are just merely trying to harness the creative energy that already exists in the area," Scharnberg says. "So it's about the right people with the energy and interest that is creating the right time."

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 Credit does not belong to the geography but to the persons who make up the arts district. The artists and the creative levels of those who are the core of the fabric of a cultural collective. Making reference to a geographical local only informs someone where they need to go to experience the arts. We as artists should be THANKED for putting a positive spin on a part of town that had been shrinking into a negative void and waning for years. The reality is there are over 300 artists in the First Ward area and we are major contributors to the commerce and the creation of interest to the area. If it wasn’t for us as artists even coming up with the concept of doing an official arts district some people would still be living in Rice Military. 

C. Patrick McIlvain
C. Patrick McIlvain

I do wish that stronger credit would be given to First Ward and not so much to Washington Avenue on this. All of the locations mentioned by name except MECA live in the First Ward.The Lower Washington Cultural Arts District will be comprise all of First Ward and a very large section of Sixth Ward. For photos of the first Arts District sign toppers be publicly unvailed by Mayor Parker see First Ward - group on fb... The other purpose for the creation of the Lower Washington Cultural Arts District was and is to preserve the unique and important history of First Ward - "Creating Commerce and Community Since 1840". We have not been as blessed as Sixth Ward. But we are getting there with the creation of this.


It's a shame that the time period has expired on the petition (linked). I'm sure this article would provide additional signatures!

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