Rockport Center for the Arts Starts a New Era

A Look Inside the New Rockport Center for the Arts

A new era for the arts, here's a look inside the new multi-million dollar Rockport Center for the Arts campus.

A man stands admiring an installation of work in the new Rockport Center for the Arts facility.

Photography by Lillian Reitz.

When the former Rockport Center for the Arts (RCA) location was gutted in the midst of Hurricane Harvey’s destructive path, everything changed, and the center’s upcoming plans were threatened. However, the destruction was no match for passion-driven Executive Director Luis Purón, who was prepared to launch a plan and make sure the show went on.

“What is happening with the arts in Rockport is so significant, and we’re a big part of it,” said Purón. “We’re at the center of everything that has to do with the community, and I knew things couldn’t stop running just because the building was gone.”

While searching for a way to keep the center’s presence and programming running, Purón was provided with office space so he and his staff could operate out of Corpus Christi. The Art Museum of South Texas also canceled a show in one of its spaces to allow the RCA to bring in its important “Birds of Art” exhibit from the Lee Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wasau, Wisconsin. This helped the RCA stay in business while still holding its workshops, classes, exhibits and children’s programs.

Image 1: An image of the landscaping in front of the Rockport Center for the Arts. Image 2: A glass-blown art fixture hangs from the ceiling of the new Rockport Center for the Arts campus.
Follow Rockport Center for the Arts on social media at @rockportartcenter.

Then, taking inspiration from the group of artists who formed the Art Association in 1969, Purón set out to fulfill their vision of having a center for the arts that encompassed multiple art disciplines — beyond just the visual arts. He decided there was no time like the present to create a community-driven gathering place where people can enjoy a variety of art activities and art education.

The new 1.2-acre RCA campus includes a two-story, 14,000-square-foot visual arts and education building, including five classrooms to facilitate the expanded schedule that will now provide hands-on classes and workshops designed for all levels of ability including painting, drawing, jewelry, photography, mixed-media, sculpture and new media.

This $12.5 million campus is not only a testament to this vision, but also the first original facility to be built for the non-profit arts organization in its 53-year history. It is located a few yards from Aransas Bay in the heart of downtown Rockport, and is ready to welcome the arts community back.

Process and Planning

When he first pursued the job of executive director, Purón had a major goal in mind: to be the one who executed the expansion plan that was already in place, prior to Hurricane Harvey. The center had outgrown its facility and there was a $3-4 million capital project in mind. But after the storm, the center would require a complete rebuild.

Considering the undertaking ahead of them, Purón said, “We didn’t know how successful we’d be with fundraising, and we didn’t know at the time that the federal government was going to bring in disaster recovery funding through the Economic Development Administration (EDA).”

Reports of the hurricane and its destruction filled news and media outlets, making this a national news story and putting Rockport on the map. Since the RCA already had land in the downtown Rockport area, it qualified for the EDA grant.

Mary Hime, Imagine Capital Campaign Chair, ran the campaign in 2017 that was responsible for raising funds to match the EDA grant to build the new RCA. She worked closely with Purón to raise the funds from local supporters and generous organizations outside the Coastal Bend. With funding in place, RCA was one step closer to its dream of a new home.

“What is happening with the arts in Rockport is so significant, and we’re a big part of it,” said Purón. “We’re at the center of everything that has to do with the community, and I knew things couldn’t stop running just because the building was gone.”

Artful Design

In 2021, award-winning local firm Richter Architects of Corpus Christi broke ground on the RCA’s new permanent home. “We had a lot of creative liberty,” said principal architect David Richter, “but there were an established set of needs such as the galleries, studios, the Rockport Conference Center (ROCC) and the sculpture garden.”

David and his wife, Elizabeth Chu Richter, worked to find a way to respect factors including the climate, urban downtown setting, culture and history of Rockport when designing the building. In the end, they created impressive structures that combined coastal elements with a contemporary style.

Photo provided by Rockport Center for the Arts.

The use of light and the relationship of the building to Austin Street are among the intangibles that make this structure breathtaking. “Art facilities, by their nature, often capture the north light because it is the purest color light and the most used for making art,” said David. Elizabeth added, “Also, being in a coastal environment makes you want to enjoy the outdoors, and the windows allow guests to engage with the outdoor environment while being indoors.”

While the light creates an inviting indoor/outdoor sense for the center, the building is situated against the sidewalk, making it an extension of Austin Street. This element highlights the vibrancy and life of the shops, restaurants and pedestrian life on Austin Street, revitalizing the entire area.

No art building is complete without materials used in an creative fashion. The clapboard siding used on the building nods to the traditional coastal environment, but the planks create a shadow line that’s bolder and more monumental than a typical clapboard building. Adding to the artistic element of the building is the Kelly and Scott Biar Terrace, a 450-square-foot rooftop terrace with views of the bay and Sculpture Garden below, and the Meadows Foundation Loggia, a wraparound porch connecting the entire building.

“The openness and flow of the design, including the porch and terrace, show the community that art is among them, that art is accessible and they can be a part of it,” Elizabeth said.

The openness and flow from this design is also evident in the Patricia Bennett Moore Sculpture Garden, an exterior green space featuring sculptures from the Art Center’s permanent collection. It also provides connectivity between the two buildings. “The Sculpture Garden is even accessible outside the center’s regular hours of operation,” said David.

Both Images: The interior galleries of Rockport Center for the Arts' new campus lined with vibrantly colored pieces of art.

As if the building weren’t already impressive enough, the Richters included an environmental aspect: The north light is low energy, and the building is designed for shaded openings and low heat gain. Because of Rockport’s flat typography, the area tends to flood, so it includes flood control components for safety that are invisible to the casual viewer. More than half of the Sculpture Garden is designed as a stormwater retention outlet. The RCA is one of the first buildings in downtown Rockport designed with these built-in outlets. All of these components achieve a utilitarian purpose without dominating the design.

The Richters are proud of the results, and they credit Aaron Geiser, their project manager, as extremely dedicated to the success of the project, and working diligently to make it happen.

What It Has to Offer

The former location was limited on space for showcasing art, but the larger campus allows for more visual art displays with four galleries, in addition to five classrooms and a gift shop.

Guests will enjoy artwork in the four impressive galleries: H-E-B Gallery and McKelvey Charitable Fund Gallery, which hold a variety of exhibitions, the Jeanie and Bill Wyatt Gallery, holding small-scale sculptures, and the Mendez Family Gallery, which is a permanent member artist exhibition area.

“Having four galleries allows us to showcase multiple exhibitions at a time while giving us the opportunity to focus more on the individual artists and their work,” said Elena Rodriguez, RCA’s curator of exhibitions.

The center also includes studios for art education including The Fernandes Family Studio, the Bill Hildebrand and Sam Williams Ceramic Studio, the Margaret Sue Rust Foundation Studio, the June Ainsworth Studio and the Bridgie and John Barrett Studio. Once they’ve browsed all the galleries and taken some classes, guests can then visit the John and Mary Willrodt Gift Shop filled with artists’ handmade jewelry, pottery, paper craft and fabric art works, perfect for gift giving.

The educational facility located inside the new Rockport Center for the Arts, where workshops and lectures will take place.

Also located on the RCA campus is ROCC, an 8,000-square-foot meeting and event space with an artistic flair. The ROCC offers a variety of meeting space and amenities, including a ballroom, foyer and flexible catering and culinary arts education kitchen.

“Our new, modern facilities will allow us to take our art programs to amazing new levels while expanding our offerings to include the culinary and performing arts, meetings, conferences and special events,” said Purón.

Visit RCA’S new campus during its hours of operation: Tuesday-Thursday, 10 AM-4 PM, Friday-Saturday, 10 AM-5 PM, and Sunday, 12 PM-4 PM.

Great things are on the horizon — not only for the RCA, but also for the Rockport art community. Anita Diebel, artist and owner of Anita Diebel Studio, has been involved with the RCA since the late ’70s, both as an artist and art director. She looks at how far the RCA has advanced and is excited to see the new artists, art patrons and art lovers that will flock to the area.

“It’s going to bring state-of-the-art exhibit space so we can have more exhibitions and bring in artists from out of town that inspire,” said Diebel. She is also looking forward to the many opportunities for youth, including the summer camps and internships.

“Explore. Discover. Express.” has long been Rockport Center for the Arts’ tagline, and with a new, history-making campus officially open to the public, art lovers near and far have an opportunity to embark on an exploration of discovery and expressionism in the heart of Rockport like never before.

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