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El Paso Downtown Arts District Awarded by State of Texas, Texas Commission on the Arts to Formally Designate on October 14

After an 18-month State of Texas application process spearheaded by the City of El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department (MCAD), El Paso finally has an official Downtown Arts District.  Encompassing 18 existing cultural assets, historic renovations and tourist amenities, the Downtown Arts District will be officially designated at 2 p.m. on Friday, October 14, 2011 by the Director and Deputy Director of the Texas Commission on the Arts.

Press Conference & Formal Designation

With: Texas Commission on Arts and El Paso Arts District Partners

Date: Friday, October 14, 20011, 2:00 p.m.

Location: Outside Mills Building Across from San Jacinto (due to Chalk the Block setup, streets around San Jacinto will be closed.  The Mills Plaza garage will be open)

Background on El Paso Downtown Arts District Designation

Prior to the designation, El Paso was the largest city in Texas without an official arts or cultural district. “The growth of the cultural sector and tourist amenities downtown within the last decade were a natural fit with which to pursue official designation” states MCAD Director Sean McGlynn who authorized MCAD staff to begin the process in spring of 2010.  Community surveys early in the process showed that El Pasoans were also ready for MCAD to pursue designation: 85% of respondents felt that a recognized cultural district would improve quality of life; and 90% felt it would improve El Paso’s image regionally and nationally.  McGlynn also notes that “Designation was important—it places a ‘Seal of Approval’ on all of the public and private sector investment in El Paso’s cultural core.”

A Steering Committee of community members with backgrounds in the arts, downtown development and tourism was convened and was tasked with developing a footprint for the proposed district, inventorying existing assets, analyzing incentives and gaining support from boards and commissions within the footprint.  Steering Committee member Rida Asfahani, Principal of Root Architects, says that “Receiving a cultural arts district designation is an important step in the continuing growth and evolution of El Paso, putting our city in league with other major metropolitan areas. Containing the district within a designated area helps facilitate the creation of density in the area. A defined arts district increases the appeal of El Paso not only to our residents, but to visitors to the city as well.”

Even though 14 cultural organizations and venues had either moved or expanded within a specific area of downtown, collaborative partnerships were also a major component to demonstrating the vitality of the district, which draws 1.5 million visitors each year.  MCAD Cultural Program Supervisor Ben Fyffe found that, “Museum programming and symphony concerts are huge draws, but it’s exciting to see that relatively young events like Kidspalooza, the Plaza Classic Film Festival and Chalk The Block are all driven by partnerships and collectively responsible for 88,000 El Pasoans and visitors coming downtown annually.”

Partnership with Downtown Management District

The Downtown Management District (DMD) was the first to be approached for support by MCAD, but discussions quickly moved to partnership to achieve designation.  Partnership plans centered on a shared commitment to downtown with a vision of arts being as an essential component to a robust downtown.

“As downtown edges closer to one of the greatest transformations our community has seen in 30 years, the importance of an officially designated Downtown Arts District cannot be understated as one of the single most important elements for downtown revitalization and growth,” said DMD Executive Director Veronica Soto.

The DMD’s recent surveys have demonstrated that one of the biggest amenities drawing people downtown are cultural and arts events.  Recognizing this, the DMD’s new marketing efforts are underway to creating a comprehensive marketing plan that will increase downtown’s profile and help generate economic activity.  “Downtown’s new cultural arts designation will bring more business and visitors to the city’s center of cultural and civic life. This will also open the doors to future district designations that will help unify our downtown’s image and foster new commercial and housing opportunities.”

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