A $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts will enable the University of Arkansas Community Design Center and Marlon Blackwell Architects to assist the city of Texarkana, Texas, to develop a downtown art park.

The NEA awarded the city of Texarkana an Our Town grant to support Market Grounds, a cultural public space project focused on food, the arts and the historic district. The grant is funding the design development and construction documents phases of this project.

“We are very pleased to be a part of the city’s effort to revitalize what is an incredible downtown,” said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center. “Though surrounded by prosperous suburban growth, Texarkana’s sleepy historic core contains outsized architectural treasures for a city of its size – a 1,400-seat, 1920s performance hall, a long-standing regional arts center, stately federal and municipal buildings, and highly livable downtown neighborhoods. The design team’s proposal draws on the city’s legacy in the visual and performing arts as well as a burgeoning local food scene to organize scattered investment in the downtown.”

In their preliminary designs for the project, designers with the Community Design Center and Blackwell’s firm propose to revitalize a downtown block in Texarkana by activating a space that connects city hall, the historic Regional Arts Center and the restored Perot Theatre. Currently a surface parking lot, this space will bring people together and prompt further investment in this downtown, which has lost much of its residential population over the last generation. The three civic buildings are elegant, pre-1920s neoclassical structures that do not face the site.

The design proposal consists of four key components: a farmers market, bandshell, amphitheater and art walk. The farmers market will serve a thriving local food economy and double as covered parking for theater employees and patrons in the evenings. The bandshell and amphitheater will reintroduce outdoor events to downtown and also house an art gallery and public restrooms underneath. The art walk will transform an existing alley into an illuminated and shaded walkway with freestanding display cases for artwork while also accommodating a splash pad. These four components extend the social life of the adjoining cultural venues of the city, which has a population of 37,400.

City officials are working in partnership with the Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council and the Housing Authority. These groups will conduct a community engagement process over the next five months based on the preliminary designs provided by the project team.

Steve Luoni is a Distinguished Professor of architecture and the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas. The Community Design Center, which he leads, is an outreach program of the Fay Jones School.

Marlon Blackwell, whose firm is based in Fayetteville, is a Distinguished Professor and the E. Fay Jones Chair in Architecture for the school. This is the second Our Town grant awarded to a collaborative project between the Community Design Center and Blackwell’s firm, and it is the fourth Our Town grant the center has received in the program’s five-year history.

Through the Our Town grants program, the NEA provides funding for arts-based community development projects that contribute toward the livability of communities and help transform them into lively, beautiful and sustainable places with the arts at their core. There were 69 Our Town grants awarded this year totaling almost $5 million and supporting projects in 35 states plus Puerto Rico.

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AuthorLinda Komlos