Courtesy Wichita Falls CVB
In the heart of north Texas oil country, Wichita Falls is an oasis of art and culture.
Black gold and the railroad have gone a long way to shape the identity of Wichita Falls. But this city of more than 100,000 people enjoys an aesthetic that goes far beyond oil derricks and cowboy hats. Locals are proud of their area’s beautiful scenery, military heritage, artistic inspiration and performance prowess, and they love to showcase those facets of their community to visitors.
Take a group to tour Wichita Falls, and you’ll certainly learn about the oil industry. But you’ll also discover distinctive elements of the town’s history and immerse yourself in its culture of art and appreciation at numerous attractions around town.
A Home for the Arts
The artistic heart of Wichita Falls beats at the Kemp Center for the Arts, a facility that is home to the Wichita Falls Arts Council, the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra and numerous other arts organizations.
The building that now serves as the Kemp Center was built in 1917 as a Carnegie library and was nearly lost at the end of the last century.
“In the late 1900s, there facility had outgrown itself, so the library was moved, and this building was up for demolition,” said director Carol Sales. “A group of nonprofits called the Arts Council of Wichita Falls got together and petitioned to save the building and develop it into a regional art center. We opened as the Kemp Center for the Arts in 2000.”
Today, there are three principle gallery spaces at the Kemp Center. Each gallery changes its exhibits every six to eight weeks. The artists highlighted in these galleries all have ties to the Wichita Falls area, giving visitors a unique look at the region’s artistic perspective.
The center also has several key permanent pieces of art. A series of stained-glass works depicts the natural environment around Wichita Falls, with images of a sunrise, a sunset and wildlife. The Texas Room has a large mural from 1949 that uses images painted on glass tile to show the history of the region and its industry.
The pride of the Kemp Center, though, is its outdoor sculpture garden.
“We have one of the few sculpture gardens in Texas that revolves and changes every year,” Sales said. “We have 16 to 20 pieces that change each year. There are also permanent sculptures in the garden. We just installed one called ‘Vision of the Future’ that uses a lot of found items from our area to show our agricultural heritage, oil industry and family life.”
Groups can get guided tours of the sculpture garden during a visit to the Kemp Center and can arrange for detailed architectural tours of the building or hands-on workshops.
The Show Goes On
Nearby, another historic building is finding new life in the arts. At the Wichita Theatre, groups can experience classic Broadway musicals inside a restored performance venue.
“The Wichita Theatre was originally built in 1908, and then a new auditorium was built in the mid ’20s,” said theater director Dwayne Jackson. “In the ’30s, it was gutted and redone into an Art Deco movie theater until 1979, when it was closed. In 1995, my family purchased the facility, reopened it and began the process of creating live entertainment.”
During the transformation back into a live performance venue, the family kept the Art Deco exterior of the theater and renovated the inside, adding a new lobby, studio and rehearsal space. The interior performance space now has a large stage, along with all of the artistic and architectural details that locals remembered from the theater’s heyday.
Today, the company produces a series of six or seven major Broadway shows each year, with a season that runs from January through a holiday show in December. All of the cast members are volunteers who come from around the area, and many of the show’s directors are young local talents as well.
“We have an arsenal of young directors,” Jackson said. “Most every one of them were actors that have been in so many productions here that they knew what they were doing, so we trained them up to be able to direct the shows.”
The theater focuses on popular Broadway musicals. Next year’s lineup includes “Grease,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “West Side Story” and “A Christmas Carol.”