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Public artwork benefits Central Texas

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Posted: Saturday, January 7, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 9:52 am, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

By Kim Steele

Killeen Daily Herald

The chilly wind and rain didn't bother Susan Terry and Melissa Paxton as they recently strolled through the Salado Sculpture Garden and admired the artwork.

To Terry, chairwoman of Keep Salado Beautiful, and Paxton, president of the Public Art League of Salado, bad weather was no reason to ignore the treasures growing in their own backyard. In fact, the nine sculptures planted there were weathering nicely as they braved the elements at their 1½-acre outdoor home.

A life-size red Marvin the Moose, made of fabricated steel by artist Johnny Shipman of Salado and priced at $7,750, kept watch over the silent animals, children and other items decorating the garden. Nearby stood a boy and his dog, a cast bronze statue by Troy Kelley of Salado. It sells for $25,000.

Other sculptures were created from cast stone, clear glass, carved limestone, chrome-plated cast bronze, rusty steel, clay, marble and a mix of Styrofoam and limestone. Situated on a meandering tree-lined path, they invited visitors to not only view the exhibits, but to reach out and touch them.

"Everyone likes this garden," said Paxton. "Especially the children, who enjoy coming here and touching the exhibits. A visit to the sculpture garden is not like going to the museum, where you aren't allowed to interact. We're giving an opportunity for people to see the art and for the artists to sell it."

It's the intimate access to costly and complex creations that has led to a growth of public artwork in Central Texas. The garden opened in October 2011 and eventually will contain 30 sculptures, as well as become a certified Texas wildscape. Terry said it also serves as an economic draw for Salado.

"From an economic development perspective, there's no question the garden will be a benefit," said Terry. "Communities that are sterile and look like every other community have no uniqueness or sense of place to draw tourists. Salado is historic and has public art, and that makes it a wonderful place to visit."

Lampasas murals

Dianna Hodges, president of Vision Downtown Lampasas!, found the same to be true for her city. In 2007, the nonprofit economic development organization tasked its art committee with giving Lampasas a unique image that would foster pride among residents and draw tourists to the Lampasas County seat.

Since then, four large murals have been painted on the walls of downtown buildings. The first, called Boot Roundup, was completed in November 2008 and featured Lampasas cowboy boots. The second, called Generations, was done in August 2009 and displayed the many businesses housed in one old building.

The third mural was called Postcards and featured paintings of historic buildings and homes in the old-time letters of the city's name. It was finished in June 2010. And four months later, the Water is Life mural flowed onto the walls of a breezeway at the Lampasas County Courthouse.

Hodges said the art committee took a break in 2011, but plans to come back with ideas for four new murals and present them to the Lampasas City Council. Hodges said the murals have given the city a facelift and encouraged tourism and sideline sales of mural posters, calendars and note cards.

"The murals have gotten us a lot of recognition and the residents are proud of them," said Hodges. "Having them here is like looking at a beautiful flower. They make you feel better about the city. They're a gift, and they're free to anyone who wants to see them."

Exhibits at CTC

Public art also enhances public buildings. Central Texas College in Killeen offers several viewing areas for local, faculty and student artwork, and regularly brings in exhibits. Barbara Merlo, marketing director for the college, said new artwork will be displayed when the semester begins in mid-January.

"I think it's amazing the amount of talent our community has to offer," said Merlo. "We display all kinds of artwork, from pottery, glass, metal, paintings and ceramics. It's nice to be able to appreciate it, if even you can't do it."

Artwork at Killeen civic center

The Killeen Civic and Conference Center also offers regular art exhibits, and stumbled upon the idea almost by accident. Connie Kuehl, director of the facility, said she was looking for something to fill the building's hallways about four years ago and brought in a dinosaur exhibit.

From there, the exhibits grew to include photographs highlighting the city's legacy, a Killeen Independent School District children's art show, a Western art exhibit, Wounded Warriors artwork and several contests. Upcoming events include a black history art exhibit in February and Hispanic art in September.

Hodges also is director of the new Killeen Arts and Activity Center, which will open March 1 at 802 N. Second St. in Killeen. The facility will house a variety of public art exhibits and groups, including the Killeen Civic Art Guild, as well as a possible art incubator and recording studio.

"Art is healthy for people," said Hodges. "It tests their imaginations and makes them look at life in a different way. It's stimulating. I firmly believe that the more public art we have in this area, the better it will be for everyone."

Contact Kim Steele at ksteele@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7567.

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