READING THE story on page one of last Saturday’s Mirror, reporting that the Upshur County Arts Council had dissolved and had given its remaining funds ($3,250) to the Historic Upshur Museum, I was reminded of many high points of the council’s run.
In the early 1980s I served on the Texas Commission on the Arts, which met regularly to, among other things, review grant applications from non-profit organizations that needed help in “bringing the arts home.”
I was glad to be able to approve monies that went not only to the big cities, but to enterprising smaller towns all around Texas.
To my lasting discredit, I didn’t think Gilmer had the leadership to stage a season of music and drama that the grants would make possible.
I was proved wrong by Annette Breazeale and others who took the ball and ran with it starting in 1989.
SHE AND other dedicated volunteers were responsible in large part for the fact that today Gilmer has a Civic Center.
The old Trinity Street Gym was the only arts venue Gilmer had in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Those who are old enough can remember how inadequate that building was for the musicians who came there to play.
Apologies were no longer needed after the Civic Center was opened in 1996.
But how times have changed.
Because of a shortfall of at least $15 billion, Gov. Rick Perry proposed defunding the Texas Commission on the Arts and the Texas Historical Commission as part of a plan to balance the state’s budget.
A STORY IN the Austin American-Statesman commented that “elimination of the Texas Commission on the Arts may not be payback, but it could prove equally short-sighted. . . . The New York Times reported on the commission’s role in the revitalization of small Texas towns around artistic activity. According to the commission’s report, the arts have generated $4.5 billion in economic impact in Texas per year. The commission plays a direct role in this activity by providing numerous grants to nonprofits throughout the state. In addition, the commission provides services to arts organizations in the form of community development, fundraising, marketing, facility management, grant writing, and leadership training.”
A SPECIAL treat for me was the program put on here by the Light Crust Doughboys.
I grew up in the pre-TV era, a time when Gilmer school kids who lived in town could go home for lunch, and my father always had the radio tuned to news sponsored by “The Light Crust Doughboys from Burrus Mills.”
Famous for playing Western Swing, the Doughboys faded away for a time.
Then in 1983 musician and producer Art Greenhaw booked the Doughboys to play at the Mesquite Folk Festival. He became excited about the prospects for reviving the band, In 1993, Greenhaw joined the group as bassist; and as co-producer, he added horns to its sound, bringing about a new type of “country jazz” influenced by the old swing sound.
In 1995, the Texas Legislature declared the Doughboys the “official music ambassadors of the Lone Star State.”
I CONTINUE to be inspired by the story of Barbara Smith Conrad, whose career as an internaionally-recognized opera singer was described in our Saturday story. Having been raised near Pittsburg, where she attended racially segregated schools, she had a Gilmer connection through her uncle, Curtis Smith, who was principal of the then-segregated Bruce School.
The courage it took to attend UT-Austin in 1957 when she found herself “at the epicenter of racial controversy” is something she can look back on with pride at the age of 72. She now lives in New York CIty.