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Paint the Town and Sculpture on Main boost quality of life and economy

Martha League of Spicewood

Martha League of Spicewood set up her canvas on the ground at Candlelight Ranch during the 2018 Paint The Town. This year, plein air artists will spend a day painting at That Joint in Spicewood, a 1897 post office that now serves as an event venue. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Paint the Town and Sculpture on Main return to Marble Falls this year for the second time as a combined art festival, building on the success of last year’s first dual event.

“People loved having even more art to look at and enjoy,” said Janey Rives, one of the people who helped start Paint the Town in 1996. She and husband Bill Rives were on the team that founded Highland Lakes Creative Arts, a nonprofit that promotes artists, art education, and art events in the area. Sculpture on Main started in 2005 as the brainchild of Russell Buster, owner of the Uptown Theatre. 

Sculpture on Main is both an annual weekend event with sculptors bringing in tabletop pieces to display and holding demonstrations and art talks as well as a year-round exhibit of outdoor art along Main Street. The around 20 outdoor pieces used to be changed out every year, but now they stay for a longer period of time, becoming an integral part of the community.

Paint the Town is a weeklong plein air competition that includes a Student Art Day, a nationally known artist as a judge, awards, an auction, and an art show. The event draws artists and visitors from across the nation. Thirty artists qualified to participate in this year’s competition.

Combine these two events with the increasing number of galleries on Main Street and across the Highland Lakes, including the Highland Arts Gallery in the old post office on Main Street, and art has become both a tangible and intangible asset to the area. 

Christian Fletcher, executive director of the Marble Falls Economic Development Corp., put some numbers to the tangibles for The Picayune Magazine. 

According to EDC figures, gross sales in the arts/entertainment/recreation industry sector grew to $1.7 million in 2020 from $596,488 recorded in 2012. Also, currently 1,083 people are employed in arts/entertainment/recreation in the Marble Falls trade area. 

He also had something to say about the intangibles.

“Communities that feature the arts tend to be more interesting than those that don’t,” he said. “Having a vibrant arts scene is one frequently mentioned component of quality of life. Public art, in particular, broadens a community’s appeal to wider audiences.”

Bonus points go to the fact that art, in particular public art, is free for everyone to enjoy and another attraction in a community that draws tourists. 

“Artists contribute a lot to a community’s fabric, often bringing unique and creative perspectives to the table,” Fletcher said.

Community art events also open opportunities for young people, such as sculptor John Russo III. He grew up in Marble Falls and is the son of Diane and John Russo, who owned Russo’s restaurant, which served Marble Falls for 29 years before closing in 2020. 

“Ever since Sculpture on Main came to Marble Falls, it’s something I wanted to participate in,” he said. “It always seemed so much larger than Marble Falls as far as the arts in a small town.”

Russo, who lives and sculpts in South Austin, will participate in Sculpture on Main for the first time this year. 

“I started as an artist in my teens, painting and drawing,” he said. “I have a fine arts background. In the last couple of years, I had an opportunity to branch into metal work and mixed media.”

Russo works in mild steel formed into geometric shapes. He has been in multiple shows in Austin. His art can be found on Instagram @russo_three.

“Coming to Marble Falls, where my family is so well known, and participating in this event is special,” Russo said. “It’s nice to get to show my own voice as a Russo.”

Rives, who has been involved in both events since their inceptions, agreed that they are special to the artists involved.

“It’s a fun time for the artists,” she said. “They love to come to Marble Falls. Over and over, they tell us it’s one of their favorite events. They all look forward to coming.”

Art fans enjoy it, too. Fletcher certainly anticipates the event each year. 

“I know I look forward to buying a new piece each April,” he said. Fletcher adds a plein air piece to his office wall after every event. “I think that the Highland Lakes Creative Arts team has established a great foundation with Sculpture on Main and Paint the Town. I think these events are poised to grow with the community and become bigger and better every year.”

Don’t miss the 2022 events. For details, visit hlcarts.com

suzanne@thepicayune.com