What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Arlington, TX? Those who haven’t driven south of Division Street may believe it’s the city of ball games, Cowboys, roller coasters, and car dealerships. However, behind the blue and silver curtain, a thriving cultural arts district shines through.
Downtown Arlington was designated a Cultural District by the State of Texas in 2016, and since then, has blossomed into a beating heart of artistic expression. Arlingtonites ride hard for their city, for it’s their precious treasure trove of entertainment and fun. If it’s your first time visiting Downtown Arlington, think of this article as a sort of map, leading you to one of the most cherishable days of your life.
Downtown Arlington is home to all three prongs of creative activity: art, theatre, and music. Okay, maybe I was being modest when I said one day in the city is enough; in reality, with as much as Downtown has to offer, you’ll have to plan an entire weekend to experience everything.
For all the art-lovers out there, you must visit the Arlington Museum of Art, where the work of many local, regional, national, and international artists is put on display. The museum may be smaller in size than some, but its exhibitions are packed with heavy-hitters. Recent exhibitions have included Keith Haring, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and Ansel Adams. When they unveil a new exhibit, it’s always an instant hit.
Currently, the AMA is hosting the acclaimed 30 Americans exhibit that features the work of thirty African American artists -- including Jean-Michael Basquiat, Kehinde Wiley, and Kara Walker -- as they detail what it means to be black in America. I think of this exhibit as a kind of exposé on the black experience through the eyes of the African American community itself. With a lot of powerful imagery presented through a variety of mediums, from painting to sculptures to photographs, 30 Americans is a great, thought-provoking display of talent. This exhibit is just one of many reasons a trip to the AMA is essential for any visitor looking to learn something new or gain a fresh perspective on life.
Downtown Arlington showcases art and artists in many other ways, from the College Town Renaissance Center to pop-up shows to street festivals. In early October, there’s the annual South Street Art Festival, and every spring, Create Arlington hosts the West Main Arts Festival. At both of these festivals, art buffs and buyers alike have the opportunity to appreciate or purchase one-of-a-kind originals straight from the artists themselves. Behind every piece of work is a story, and these festivals give artists a chance to tell theirs. Another way to support the rising artists of today is by attending University of Texas at Arlington’s Fine Arts exhibitions, where graduates can show off the skills they learned throughout their college career.
If you’re more of a hands-on learner, or you’re one of those people who sees a piece of artwork and thinks, “I could do that,” there’s a place in Downtown for you, too! Catalyst Creative Arts is the perfect place for anyone looking to explore their creativity. There you can indulge in many kinds of artful classes, including pottery, resin pouring, acrylic and watercolor painting, leathercraft, glass fusing, string art, and more. There’s even a “Paint Your Pet” class, where you can paint a portrait of a most cherished member of your family. If you’re looking to add some self-made conversation starters to your household, I suggest you add Catalyst Creative to your Downtown agenda.
Now it’s time to wash off all that paint and clay and make your way to Theatre Arlington to see one of their acclaimed shows. Theatre is timeless: the shows, the music, and the stories live on forever to inspire countless generations. Theatre Arlington has been a mainstay in the community for 48 years, providing top-notch entertainment for residents and visitors alike. The building is currently undergoing the biggest renovation in all of its history, but once the doors reopen in 2022, expect nothing but greatness.
Downtown has plenty of live music options that’ll have you singing your favorite tunes. See your favorite artist perform live at the Arlington Music Hall or witness the rise of new artists from the smaller stages at one of Downtown's 30+ restaurants and pubs.
Grab a burger at Grease Monkey, a drink at Legal Draft Beer Co., or roll out your picnic blanket for a night under the stars at the Levitt Pavilion, all while rocking out to some great music. Downtown Arlington is very generous; not only is there ample parking, but there’s also a large amount of free entertainment, such as the aforementioned Levitt Pavilion. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Between open mics, live music, and special menu promotions, these venues always have some really cool stuff brewing.
Finally, to commemorate your time here you have to snap a pic with Downtown’s various sculptures and murals around the district. “Aim for the Stars” at the Star of Texas by Breanne Schwarz, reach new heights at the “Climb!” mural by Dylan Kennedy, or ignite your ambitions at the DREAM sculpture on Abram Street. Downtown invited a number of artists to decorate the district with over 30 unique works of public art. Fortunately for you, many of these murals are located within walking distance of each other, making a tour of Downtown’s artistic gems a necessity for all visitors.
Downtown Arlington is an ensemble of creative expression and musical prowess. I could spend all day listing everything this district has to offer. Now that you’ve discovered the treasure behind the blue and silver curtain, I know you’ll return for many encore visits to Arlington’s Cultural District!
Written by Jalen Robinzine, Downtown Arlington-UTA Summer Intern 2021. Click on the "Walkin' on Abram" image to view more ways to explore Downtown Outdoors.