Propelling the Arts Forward

Words by McKenna Neville

Photos by Miguel Angel & Tyler Schmitt

It was 20 years ago when it all began. An event honoring extraordinary artistic talent in the state of Texas. A time to promote the importance of the arts. An occasion empowering young people to lean into their talents. A celebration raising money for arts education in Texas. All of this is possible through the Texas Medal of Arts Awards.

Texas story 1.png

Every other year, the Texas Cultural Trust celebrates artistic excellence from the state of Texas and shows the power of the arts in improving children’s education, stimulating the economy, and enriching our lives.

On February 26 and 27  in Austin, TX, people gathered for the 10th Texas Medal of Arts Awards. These awards honored 11 Texas luminaries and organizations for their contributions to the arts. We need people dedicated to the arts - and that is exactly why the Texas Medal of Arts Awards exist.

This year, the awards were attended by more than 1,000 people and raised nearly $1.8 million for increased access to the arts and arts education in Texas. The impact this has on all areas of the Texas economy is unbelievable.

If there is anyone who can speak to the importance of these awards, it would be the Executive Director at the Texas Cultural Trust Heidi Marquez Smith.

“This event uniquely brings artists, arts patrons, elected officials, businesses, and private citizens from all over Texas together to celebrate incredible talent developed in Texas,” Heidi said.

Although some might imagine this as a one-night awards show event, that could not be less of the case. This is an entire weekend full of incredible art, food, and music.

The event began with a cocktail reception featuring esteemed Texas chefs and was followed by a brunch with Governor Greg Abbott at the Governor’s Mansion. The next day, the festivities continued with a red carpet reception, an awards show, and a gala dinner. To say it was a memorable event would be an understatement.

“When else do you get to see Boz Scaggs jamming with Jimmie Vaughan, and Ray Benson, while Jennifer Holliday, Matthew McConaughey, Stephen Harrigan, Craig Dykers, Elaine Molinar, Brandon Maxwell and others are on stage dancing along,” Heidi said.

These honorees are renowned within their industry, at the top of their field, and many are also household names.

Fresh off a crazy weekend at the Oscars where he dressed Lady Gaga for the red carpet, Brandon Maxwell accepted the Texas Medal of Arts Design Award.

Texas story 2.png

"I believe that my life would never have taken me to the places it has if it were not for art programs," Brandon said. "I never dreamed of being able to make anything of my life. Really, I just wanted to work everyday to do something that I thought mattered and that could also make people feel good, so I'm very honored to be recognized with this award."

Along with Brandon, Mark Seliger and Matthew McConaughey were recognized for the Texas Medal of Arts Photography and Film Awards after a weekend spent at the Oscars.

Though it may seem like a big part of this event, the goal of these awards is not only to honor incredible talent developed in Texas, but also to raise money and promote arts education.

During the event guests learned about the specific impacts the arts have on Texas, which have generated $5.59 billion dollars in one year for the economy, increased graduation rates, and prepared students for the 21st century workforce.

“Guests leave the event inspired having learned about our artistic heritage and why we need to invest in the arts in every discipline–music, dance, film, theatre, etc.” Heidi said.

The Texas Cultural Trust also produces a State of the Arts Report every year that acknowledge what kind of impact arts have on the community.

“It's remarkable how it clearly demonstrates that the arts shape the cultural, educational and economic future of our state,” Heidi said.

The results don’t lie. Movies help us move forward. Paintings evoke our imagination. Actors and actresses serve to transport us into stories. Writers inspire. We may not always recognize it, but we get to appreciate these stories because of access to the arts.