By Desiree Johnson

Killeen Daily Herald

When Raye Virginia Allen and Nora Lee Wendland wanted to create a place where performing and visual arts are encouraged and taught, they never expected a church they rented for only $1 per month would grow into what is now the Azalee Marshall Cultural Activities Center in Temple.

The center, which has played host to a variety of performances and classes, celebrates its 50th birthday this year – a birthday that shows how far the center has come.

"We never knew it was going to work like it has," Allen said. "The arts are important when it comes to quality of life."

The center officially celebrated its birthday this week, when the gallery unveiled ArtWorks 2008, an annual tradition for the gallery. The show features a stunning collection of children's works – about 3,500 total – displayed floor-to-ceiling on the center's magnificently high walls.

Visual Arts Director Marilyn Ritchie says the exhibit is perfect for the 50th birthday celebration because it highlights what the center has always been about.

"We're here to inspire the kids and the art teachers," Ritchie said. "This is what we're all about."

During the celebration, original founder Allen was in attendance, as well as families of the other two ladies credited as founders: Wendland and Azalee Marshall, for whom the current building is named. Marshall's great-great grandson even blew out a candle on a CAC birthday cake as everyone celebrated the birth of a center that nurtured the arts in a time when arts were not a priority.

"The world was concentrating on emphasizing math and science," Allen said. "(Nora and I) thought that if you're going to emphasize science and math, you should also emphasize the arts and humanities."

The center began as Wendland's vision.

She approached Allen to help her form an arts council while she was in the hospital with a 3-day-old baby boy, who was also at the CAC birthday party.

Marshall came on board as the first executive director after the two co-chairwomen got plans rolling – and the rest is history.

The CAC now can call itself one of the oldest continuingly operational multi-disciplinary art schools in the United States.

The center has many more years to come, and local residents can be a part of it. ArtWorks 2008 is on display in the lobby for guided tours and self-browsing during gallery hours.

Classes are always in session and residents can sign up online or in person at the CAC, 3011 N. Third St., Temple.

For more information, call (254) 773-9926 or visit

Contact Desiree Johnson at or call (254) 501-7559

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