As we officially start the summer, Lufkin is alive with possibilities. Community leaders and volunteers are hard at work planning ways to improve everything about downtown Lufkin, from wayfinding to encouraging tourism and cultural enrichment. We are blessed in our corner of the Pineywoods with so many natural assets and points of interest that keep not only our residents but also our visitors interested and engaged.
Many voices from all walks of life have come together around one goal — showing off all these assets through a Cultural District. Currently, the Angelina Arts Alliance and city of Lufkin have been leading an effort — along with an amazing 40-plus member advisory council — to determine the feasibility of Lufkin applying to the state to become one of more than cultural districts in Texas. This cultural district feasibility project is funded by a grant from the T.L.L. Temple Foundation and supported by the consulting firm, Social Impact Architects.
Cultural districts are formed to meet four goals: 1) highlight local culture; 2) attract tourism, including from locals; 3) revitalize neighborhoods; and 4) drive economic and cultural growth.
Rural communities that are home to performing arts organizations and cultural experiences, including cultural districts, experienced population growth three times higher than rural counties that lack these assets.
We learned through one of our SPARK sessions (which are all available at lufkinculturaldistrict.com) — Paducah, Kentucky’s (population: 25,000) Arts Relocation Program achieved a 10-to-1 return on investment within 10 years. In addition, the city was able to make use of abandoned downtown spaces and was designated as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) site.
As co-chairs, we are amazed by all the interest in the “quick wins” that Lufkin is taking on this summer to spark tourism, locally and regionally. With the help of community members, there are many ways to make short-term improvements that can make a tremendous impact with little to no monetary investment. Just look at some of the opportunities that are being pursued:
■ Developing “101 Things to Do in Lufkin” for residents and travelers who visit.
■ Creating a joint brochure for all of the incredible arts & culture experiences in Lufkin.
■ Designing full- and half-day “experiences” in our area for those visiting Lufkin.
■ Studying how Lufkin can become a part of “Film Friendly Texas” and attract production crews looking for Texas locations to film.
■ Studying the feasibility of bringing a hotel downtown.
■ Applying to achieve “Texas Music Friendly” certification and celebrate the incredible musicians we have through concerts and events.
There is one thread throughout all this work — collaboration.
Collaboration of efforts, ideas, planning and marketing, all with the same goal in mind: to enhance and celebrate the assets that Lufkin already has and market those assets to encourage economic development, small business growth and enhanced tourism. Consider the multiplier effect if our community could cross-promote activities between organizations and points of interest. We can all benefit exponentially by looking outside of the box and glimpsing the bigger picture.
If any of these topics above strike a note with you or might for someone you know, we hope you will join us. More information is at lufkinculturaldistrict.com. This is going to be a summer to remember.