A Strong Sense of Place
● By Laura Shaver
By: Laura Shaver Photos by: Aaron Garcia
Hurricane Harvey blew through the Coastal Bend nearly two years ago, picking and choosing which structures to destroy and which ones to spare. When the storm was long gone, Luis Purón, Executive Director, and staff from of the Rockport Center for the Arts walked the grounds to assess the damage. Half of the center’s roof was ripped off and the building as a whole showed the results of a catastrophic storm. After three days of rummaging through the destruction, the center’s staff was able to save 60 percent of the artwork. However, those behind the center weren’t going to allow Harvey to decide the fate of its existence.
An art show was scheduled for installation the week after Harvey hit. Not having the event was simply not an option. Instead, the Coastal Bend art community rallied together. The Art Museum of South Texas graciously agreed to host the exhibit. Because after all, the show must always go on. Not a single sculpture from the collection was lost, although some needed a little more love than others. This is just one prime example of the resilient spirit the center has always portrayed.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the Rockport Center for the Arts, firmly set in a temporary location, continues to serve as a core asset to the coastal community. Though the first location on the water’s edge in Rockport was torn apart by the storm, the center’s staff rallied quickly – and served a major role in recovery efforts and continued scheduled programming without a hitch.
“We promised our community that we would be here, and we delivered on that promise. Faced with so much adversity, we are very proud we made that promise a reality,” says Purón.
Five days after the storm, the center opened a temporary office in downtown Corpus Christi to work on exhibits, programs, and events. By December 2017, only 99 days after the storm, a temporary space was opened on land previously purchased for a planned expansion, half a mile away on Austin Street. With the temporary building in place, the center was able to continue offering art education programs to the Rockport community.
“For 50 years, our organization has been more than an art gallery or a place to take an art class. The depth of what we have built over the past five decades here is quite significant. We are very fortunate that we were able to recover so quickly. I attribute our recovery to support from across the Coastal Bend and the State of Texas,” says Purón.
The team at the center knew how important it was to continue running their programs and providing a space to the community where people could go and remember how special Rockport is.
“We didn’t want to cancel any of our events, and we had our youth programs back and running immediately,” says Elena Rodriguez, Curator of Exhibitions. “We began to offer the Free Family Saturday program on Saturday mornings at Wind Way Gallery before the temporary space was ready. We wanted to offer something fun and lighthearted for all our families working tirelessly on their homes.”
The City of Rockport is known for its arts culture, and the Rockport Center for the Arts is fully interwoven with the community. The center’s major events each year include the Rockport Film Festival, the Rockport Tour of Homes, and the Rockport Art Festival, as well as numerous gallery exhibitions and community offerings. And, it is safe to say the Center is conducting business as usual.
This spring, the Rockport Tour of Homes and Studios once again showcased the living and working spaces of Rockport artists and residents.
Scheduled for the Fourth of July weekend each year, the Rockport Art Festival will officially celebrate the Center’s 50th year. This beloved and well-attended festival is a gathering of local and national artists. After a call for entries, a jury of three select those who are invited to display their work. The jury changes each year, so the exceptional talent is always fresh and new.
“Everything is up and running as best as we are able right now,” says Rodriguez. The gallery space offers rotating exhibitions of work by both local and nationally acclaimed artists.
The Rockport Center for the Arts remains actively involved in the whole of Rockport’s comeback from Hurricane Harvey, offering support for its downtown gallery neighbors. One example is the formation of The Rockport Art Loop, a collaboration among ten downtown art galleries, all of which have their opening receptions on the same night.
“We organized this to create an outdoor art experience, where art lovers can see a wide variety of media and subjects and enjoy the walkable and charming downtown Rockport. Our hope is that by combining efforts with all Rockport galleries, we may be able to attract more cultural tourists than if we were working alone,” says Rodriguez.
A capital campaign is in place for the permanent facility for the Rockport Center for the Arts, and for an endowment that will sustain the organization for years to come. The total cost of the capital project is estimated at $8.7 million and includes 22,000 square feet of new space in downtown Rockport – all dedicated to the arts.
The campaign was aided tremendously by a $5 million grant, which was awarded to the Center and the City of Rockport by the United States Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration.
“These federal grant dollars, as well as private funds raised in the capital campaign, are earmarked to construct a new home for the Rockport Center for the Arts. The new facility will also feature a conference center and space for performing and cinematic arts,” says Purón.
“The future for the arts in Rockport has never been brighter.”
The new facility will provide enough space that all the youth summer camp sessions will be held at the center proper for the first time in recent history. “This will allow more interaction for our campers with the Sculpture Garden and our summer exhibitions, further enriching the camp experience for our area youth,” says Karen Ernst, Director of Education.
“We will also be able to expand our weekly series offerings for adults, to create open studio time for both 2-D and ceramics, and to offer an expansive list of advanced workshops in various media throughout the year,” says Ernst. “I hope to make use of the newly designed outdoor spaces to offer free programming for area families, children, and children at heart, such as Movies on the Green, or Jazz Under the Stars.”
What Rockport has accomplished since the hurricane is truly astonishing, considering the extent of the damage and the short amount of time that has passed.
“Our message early on was ‘We are open for business,’ and we definitely are. Our attractions, stores, restaurants, and hotels all started opening as soon as possible after the storm. We immediately recognized the importance of being back to business quickly,” says Purón.
The Rockport Center for the Arts and the staff’s dedication to be present for the community of Rockport was instrumental in helping people heal – providing an outlet for all the hardships presented by the recovery efforts.
“Rockport’s comeback campaign, ‘Find Yourself in Rockport Fulton,’ has been a tremendous success,” said Purón. “Our community has a strong sense of place, and Rockport Center for the Arts is, and always will be, intertwined with the quality of life in our community.”