It’s easy to find a big, splashy arts scene in the larger cities in Texas – the Tadao Ando-designed Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, the Menil in Houston, performing arts in El Paso – but keep your eyes open in the smaller cities and towns in the state, too.
Here are a few tips for culture vultures who are heading out to West Texas….some places you know and some places you perhaps don’t know….
Sitting atop the elevated windswept geography of the Llano Estacado (essentially a giant Western High Plains mesa) in the Texas Panhandle, Lubbock gets a lot of its arts energy from the local Texas Tech University. Almost two square miles of the city is a state-designated Cultural District.
What you probably know about Lubbock: exploring early rock music history, plus classes and performances, at the Buddy Holly Center.
What you might not know about Lubbock: monthly art trails and public art.
Thousands of people – locals and visitors alike – throng to the monthly First Friday Art Trail. You can hop a free trolley to get around to all of the galleries, museums, studios, live music, and food trucks. Spend some time wandering the Texas Tech Public Art Collection on campus – finding over 100 pieces of art will get you your steps for the day, too.
Almost directly north of Lubbock and also in the Texas Panhandle, Amarillo is surrounded by extraordinary but lesser-known natural attractions like the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument and Palo Duro Canyon (site of a long-running outdoor summer musical about Texas) but there’s a growing arts vibe in this Route 66 landmark city as well.
What you probably know about Amarillo: playing among the old half-buried Caddys and adding your own spray-painting touch to the Cadillac Ranch (link includes a hard-to-find photo of the cars circa 1976, in close to their original condition, before the graffiti fun started.)
Pssst … if you like seeing face-planted cars, drive a little south of town to see face-planted combines. You have to stay on the road and leave your spray cans behind, though; they’re fenced off.
What you might not know about Amarillo: jewelry with a twist and a cool performing arts venue.
Do a little gallery hopping and shopping along Amarillo’s section of old Route 66, including the Lile Art Gallery, where they feature pieces with “Cadilite stones” made by polishing paint chips that fall off the Cadillac Ranch cars.
Make sure you see what’s on at the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts, which was built in homage to the region by referencing and recycling local items. The metal grate ceiling started life as parts from cattle trucks, and the stunning stage shell is a tribute to Panhandle sunsets. It’s home to the city’s symphony, opera company, the Lone Star Ballet, plus traveling performances and productions.
Marfa and Alpine
Although I have very mixed feelings about Marfa, I love this part of far West Texas and the small Davis Mountains towns that sit in a sort of triangle with Marfa – Alpine and Fort Davis. Triangle geometry doesn’t really allow me to include nearby Marathon, but the historic Gage Hotel there is a favorite, too.
What you probably know about this region: The aluminum boxes that are part of artist Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation supporting modern art, the Prada Marfa (not an actual Prada store and not actually in Marfa, it’s about 30 minutes to the west in Valentine,) an excellent public radio station with eclectic programming, and lots of galleries including the Marfa Contemporary making creative use of a former gas station.
What you might not know about this part of far West Texas: murals and public art in Alpine.
25-30 minutes to the east of Marfa, also on Highway 90, is the lively college town of Alpine, home to Sul Ross State University. Every time I visit Alpine, there are interesting shops popping up thanks to people who love beauty and art, but do not take themselves too seriously.
Look for colorful murals like this one as you drive around town….
Combine a little hiking, quirky public art, and spectacular views of the Davis and Chisos Mountains with a visit to The Desk on Hancock Hill, and the Bicycle Tree.
Other arts surprises in western Texas include Shakespeare and other performances in Odessa’s Globe Theatre, an extensive museum of children’s literature illustrations in Abilene, and oddball art just about everywhere you look in Terlingua.
Do you have a favorite place in West Texas to savor creativity and the arts? Please share it with us in the comments.
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This post is supported by our Travel Texas advertising partners on Perceptive Travel; the opinions expressed are the author’s own.