Certain small towns just seem to have it: a palpable artistic energy that sets them apart from other towns of their size. I’ve written before about the remarkable art scene in Clifton (population about 3,500) just up State Highway 6 from Waco, and the art one encounters there always surprises those who aren’t expecting it.
Another small town with a similar arts scene is Granbury (population 8,200), about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth on State Highway 377. Just what it is that makes places like this so vibrant is hard to figure out. But whatever it is, you feel it in Granbury when you walk around the square.
There are several art galleries in town, and a group called “Galleries of Granbury” coordinates events and works to keep the town informed about exhibits. It describes itself simply as “a community organization made up of local art galleries and artists who share our love of art.”
To further this cause, the group produces a periodic show aired on the local television station (which it also posts on YouTube) that highlights all the exhibits and workshops going on each month.
Its other main publicity effort is a monthly event called “Last Saturday Night” in which galleries in and around the square stay open late, feature live music, artist demonstrations, and wine and hors d’oeuvres.
Another organization called the Lake Granbury Art Association is the area’s premier group for working artists. Each month it awards an “Artist of the Month” whose work, along with that of the runner-up, is put on display at local banks.
The association offers workshops for artists in oil, acrylic, watercolor, pastels, drawing, even stained glass. Once a week it hosts live drawing sessions with models. It organizes three major shows each year: a members-only show, a photography show and an open juried show in the fall.
Just off the square, the Langdon Art Center, in partnership with Tarleton State University, hosts an impressive art, fiction and poetry conference each year the weekend after Labor Day.
One of the more exciting developments is the renovation of the historic opera house on the square. First opened in 1886, it’s now being completely rebuilt inside and will reopen in the fall.
The Granbury Theater Co. stages plays and musicals with a schedule that would impress a big-city company. In the next year it has thirteen shows scheduled for production, ranging from standards like “Noises Off,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Annie” to newer fare like the musical “Legally Blonde.”
Perhaps in Granbury’s case, having a town square helps. It provides an automatic focal point to civic life and a symbolic heart to the community.
Because it’s the county seat of Hood County, the square also boasts a classic Texas courthouse — and architecture is a form of art, too. A developed square with restaurants and shops naturally draws foot traffic and nothing benefits art galleries more.
Meanwhile in Clifton, the Bosque Art Center is gearing up to host its 28th annual Bosque Art Classic, a juried show that brings together work from some of the best artists from all around the country.
As is customary, western themes dominate the entries this year and, also as usual, many of the drawings are arrestingly good. The awards will be handed out on Sept. 14, after which the show will be open to the public until Oct. 6.
Whether the mix of elements that gives certain towns like Granbury and Clifton such a healthy art scene is replicable is a tough question. But it’s worth looking into because they’re often the envy of cities many times larger.
David A. Smith, a Baylor University senior lecturer in history and a Cultural Arts of Waco board member, can be reached at davidasmith.net.