By: Kylie Kinnett Photos by: Rachel Benavides
What makes a community? Maybe it is the neighbors you wave hello to in the mornings. Perhaps it is the sidewalks your children grew up riding their bikes on or the local barista who knows your coffee order by heart. A community can take many forms, because where there is fellowship there is community. That is why within a community there are gathering spaces—places where people come to feel known and safe. So, what do an art center, a farmer’s market, a football stadium, and a local park all have in common? They allow common interests to be shared among others. They turn strangers into family. And most importantly, they bring people together.
– For Picnic Lovers
A park might seem like an obvious gathering space. After all, that is quite literally its purpose. However, this park in particular, Billish Park on Padre Island, has a slightly different story. Billish Park has been hosting soccer practices, events, and family picnics for the past two decades. Through the years, it became evident the park needed a revamp. Cheri Sperling, President of the Padre Isles Property Owner Association Board, along with a team of others, decided it was finally time to give Billish Park the much-needed restoration it deserved. They wanted to restore this community gathering space for generations to come.
One of the main goals of the new Billish Park is to get the community outside and active and to have a place that is all-inclusive. “We really want this to be a place for everyone,” Becky says. “We really wanted to create a diverse plan that would cater to the community’s needs as a whole.”
Rockport Center for the Arts
– For the Art Lovers
For almost five decades,brRockport Center for the Arts has served as the community’s gathering space.brFriends and strangers have gathered here for years and found common groundbrin a place they felt safe.
brResidents and tourists alike come here and find, no matter theirbrdifferences, they have a common thread that brings them together. Thatbrthread is art. “Art has the power to express the agony and the ecstasy ofbrthe human condition when words fail us,” Luis Purón, Executive Director ofbrthe Rockport Center for the Arts, says as to why he thinks art bringsbrpeople together in such a profound way.
One of the things Luis is most proud of when it comes to the center is howbrthey have always been able to offer a safe space for people to gather andbrexchange ideas about art completely free of charge. With Hurricane Harveybrtearing through Rockport last August, so many of the town’s communitybrgathering spaces were destroyed. But, with the Center for the Arts beingbrthe heart of this art community, they knew bringing people together wasbrneeded more than ever. In late September, they had their firstbrreception following the hurricane at the Art Museum of South Texas.
br“For many of our patrons, it was the first time they were seeing onebranother after the storm,” Luis says. “You could feel the energy in thebrroom.” The people needed that; they needed their gathering space. ThebrCenter re-opened their doors on December 2, 2017, at the Austin St.brlocation, and each of their following major receptions were attended bybrwell over 200 people. That offered Luis hope, as well as proof that whatbrthey offer continues to be valid.
From their early years atbrthe Estelle Stair Gallery, to the 35 years they spent growing the centerbrat the Bruhl – O’Connor home, and now their resurgence in downtown Rockport,brthere has always been one constant—their supporters. What this says is, nobrmatter how the structure they congregate inside looks, a community willbrgather.
Downtown Farmer’s Market
– For the Fresh and Handmade Goods Lovers
Art Center of Corpus Christi. 100 N. Shoreline Blvd., Corpus Christi, Texas
Wednesdays from 5pm – 8pm.
Inclusive, supportive, and regenerative are words that comebrto Aislynn Campbell’s mind when thinking about what a community gathering space means.brAislynn, the GROW Local South Texas Executive Director, knows a thing or two aboutbra gathering space.
The Downtown Farmer’s Market, an initiative led by GROW,brstrives to create a space where people can authentically trade energies, ideas,brand life with one another. However, Aislynn knows successful community spacesbrusually work on various levels. “The local, healthy food available doesn’tbrcreate the community—that’s just a reason for people with common interests tobrgather in the same place,” she says. “With added layers of art, food, music, andbrthe goal of making Corpus Christi a healthier, better place to live, ThebrFarmer’s Market becomes a one-of-a-kind gathering point which attracts a verybrdiverse segment of the population.”
On any given Wednesday at the Art Center of Corpus Christi,bryou will find rows of vendors with their handmade goods, farmers with their freshlybrgrown produce, families strolling the booths looking for the weeks’ groceries,brkids laughing, and strangers asking to pet other strangers dogs. This scenebrcreates a sense of community that allows people to gather in one place and feelbraccepted. Not only does the Farmer’s Market bring people of the immediatebrcommunity together, but it also traverses broader communities.
“Successful Farmer’s Markets become the hub for manybrintersecting communities,” Aislynn says. “The collusion of those communities isbrwhat makes it so special.” And, she’s right. The residents and the tourists,brthe live music fans and the farmers, the yoga students and the chefs, the artbrenthusiasts and the families—they all come together in a celebration of lifebrand community.
Aislynn’s final thoughts ring true to the overarching themebrof the importance of a community gathering space. “They are essential. They arebrlife affirming. Their presence throughout history suggests that having gatheringbrspaces is as important to the human race as food, air, and water. They are thebrmarketplace of everything from actual goods and products to the exchange of ideas,brenergy, and life.”
– For the Friday Night Lights Lovers
4001 Wildcat Dr, Corpus Christi, Texas
When meeting with Dawn Youngblood, the proud mother of LukebrYoungblood, a star Calallen athlete, she paints us a picture similar to thebrlikes of a movie. The stands are filled to capacity, the streets are lined withbrcars, and the entire town is shut down, except for the Sonic across the way. It’s your classic Friday night lights scenario.brYou can feel the school spirit exuding from the stadium the moment you step onbrits grounds.
However, the reason this football complex is so important isbrnot because of the games that have been won there or the young students it hasbrhelped shaped, but the way it has brought people together. Regardless of yourbrpolitical views, religious affiliation, race, language, or culture, for onebrnight, under those bright lights, everyone in attendance becomes a family.
“This stadium is a magical place where you can ignore thebrhustle and bustle of life for a few hours,” Dawn says. “We high five strangersbrand then float out of the stadium back to our normal lives, ready to conquerbranything.”
This feeling of camaraderie is what makes this gatheringbrspace such an important part of the community. It connects people with othersbrwho they otherwise might not have ever met. “This place, this gathering space,brit opens up your mind and heart to ideas that you might not have ever entertained,”brDawn says.
Your community helps shape you into the person you become,brand this couldn’t be more true for the stadium. People gather here to be a partbrof something great. As Dawn describes it, it is the epicenter of the town. “Sitbrin the stands,” she says with a sense of pride in her eyes. “You will hear carsbrdriving by honking in support.
You can’t avoid this gathering space. It’s front and centerbrof this town, and people can’t help but want to be a part of it.”