Recently, the Texas Commission on the Arts approved the inclusion of the Abilene Cultural District in the state’s Cultural District Designation program.
The Abilene Cultural District was one of the first to be established in Texas, and the impact in the city of Abilene has been significant. The downtown area had died away leaving many vacant buildings and empty streets. The businesses that remained struggled to attract customers into the unsightly area. Fortunately, the leaders in Abilene saw the potential and realized the arts could breathe new life into their downtown.
Planning for the cultural district began in the early 1990s when the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council engaged consultants to draw up a cultural plan from recommendations for new programs and activities as defined by the community itself.
Today the Abilene Cultural District is home to the Grace Museum, housed in an historic building that was once the Hotel Grace. The train depot across the street from the Grace Museum is now home to the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council and Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Abilene Cultural District also includes the Center for Contemporary Arts, an organization that showcases regional art and artists in its four galleries and ten studios. Nearby in the beautifully renovated Rhodes Building, the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) presents exhibitions honoring the artwork of children’s illustrators. The connection between the literary and visual arts is reinforced in the NCCIL’s programming, and their exhibitions travel to museums, public libraries and galleries nationwide.
The District also features the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum and the Elks Art Center. The performing arts also play an important role in the District which includes Abilene Ballet Theater and the historic Paramount Theatre.
Every second Thursday, the Abilene Cultural District hosts Artwalk, a program of the Center for Contemporary Arts. This family-friendly event brings the community together to enjoy museums, galleries, restaurants, shops and entertainment.
Today, it is easy to see the important role the arts played in the revitalization of Abilene’s historic downtown area. The Abilene Cultural District truly exemplifies the value of cultural districts to Texas communities.