A telling sign of a fine city is when public areas and physical layout matures beyond the purely functional and promotes a visual celebration of artistic form. When a city embarks on a policy of promoting and supporting artwork, it moves from fine to great. When we think of Rome and Paris we conjure images of their noble histories and great personalities, but we might not call them truly great if they were devoid of the ornate fountains, unforgettable sculpture, and architectural magnificence for which they’re famed.

'Infinity' by artist Kang Pham-New can be seen at the intersection of Lake Forest and Highway 121 at the Valliance Bank Building.

Photos by Christopher Foster

"Infinity" by artist Kang Pham-New can be seen at the intersection of Lake Forest and Highway 121 at the Valliance Bank Building.

While America doesn’t possess the millennial sweep of cities of older societies, cities like San Francisco and New Orleans are famed for their Support of artistic celebration. Closer to home, our state capital, Austin, is gaining global recognition for its civic sponsorship of the arts.

McKinney is considered by a number of media sources to be one of the best places in America to live and do business. It’s a logical step that the City now moves toward greater support of public art.

The late writer John Updike said, “What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit.” McKinney is committed to helping create that breathing room for its residents. City Councilman David Brooks spoke for many last month when he said, “The great cities in the world share something in common, and it’s a passion around art and the arts. It’s a quality of life issue, so I am strongly in favor of public art, of us spending prudently on public art.”

The City is committed to take steps to formalize and support a public arts program. Earlier this year a report was prepared that specifies how it will sponsor art, the types of funding it will provide and who can apply for grants. It was drawn up by the McKinney Arts Commission (MAC), which advises the city council on distributing art-related public funding. MAC worked to formulate details with consulting group Via Partnership, which helped develop a similar public art plan for Frisco.

The plan outlines recommendations and cost estimates for 17 projects in McKinney. Near-term endeavors include downtown alleyways and an enhanced Towne Lake sculpture trail. The “alleyscapes” would feature murals between parking areas and retail areas in Historic Downtown McKinney. The sculpture trail calls for new artwork to be installed at Towne Lake.

 
The new Collin County Courthouse on Bloomdale houses a statue of Alamo commander Col. William Barrett Travis, by James Nathan Muir

The new Collin County Courthouse on Bloomdale houses a statue of Alamo commander Col. William Barrett Travis, by James Nathan Muir

Some of the longer-term projects include visual enhancements at the Highway 5 gateway and Bonnie Wenk and Gabe Nesbitt Parks. Another of the outlined 17 potential projects include Enhancement at the Virginia Parkway/ Louisiana Street gateway.

The report’s Mission Statement reads, “The City of McKinney is committed to promoting the cultural, aesthetic, and economic vitality in the city by integrating art into public places, civic infrastructure, and present and future development which may be achieved by the creation of a public art program.”

Support of the fine arts has long been a tenet of the citizens of McKinney. The Heard family, for example, owned a popular downtown opera house in the late 19th century that featured some of America’s most notable acts (including, for example, John Philip Sousa giving one of the very first public performances of “The Stars and Stripes Forever”). The city has been home to art clubs for nearly as long. Today art can be found gracing McKinney’s parks, offices, city buildings and in housing and shopping developments. Art and architecture blend harmoniously in places like Adriatica and Craig Ranch, and it’s not unusual to find original paintings and local photography on walls in restaurants and coffeehouses.

The Collin County Courthouse on Bloomdale Road is home to several interesting pieces relating to local and Texas history. Its main hallway features a sculpture of Alamo commander Col. William Barrett Travis, created by James Nathan Muir and commissioned by the Barbara & William M. Boyd Collection. Entitled “Colonel Travis – The Line,” it depicts the likeness of the Texas hero drawing the apocryphal ‘line in the sand’ and symbolizes the importance of defending just causes. Another is a portrait by local artist Dede Barr of Audie Murphy, The most decorated military hero in American history. Nearby is a painting of the old downtown courthouse (now MPAC) by McKinney artist Frank Earl Klepper, whose work is featured in prominent collections including Austin’s Elizabeth Ney Museum and the Dallas Museum of Art.

The new Collin County Courthouse on Bloomdale houses a painting of the old courthouse by Frank Earl Klepper.

The new Collin County Courthouse on Bloomdale houses a painting of the old courthouse by Frank Earl Klepper.

Fine art can be found outdoors, too. Those passing the intersection of 121 and Lake Forest are familiar with the innovative Valliance Bank building, winner of several design awards. Along with the building itself, Valliance takes pride in maintaining visually appealing art. In September, 2009, it installed a nine-foot-tall sculpture by renowned artist Kang Pham-New called “Infinity” on its lawn. The sculpture’s organic forms are an excellent complement to the building’s modern lines.

Wherever art is found – and, especially, wherever it is financially championed and publicly supported – it demonstrates that society is thriving, maturing and actively taking roads that bring people beyond the mere day-to-day. There is something uniquely human about the desire to experience the fine arts, and when we look around McKinney, we see it increasingly expressed. We are fortunate that the City is taking concrete steps to support local art and everyone that can benefit from the beauty it brings.

 

Christopher Foster is a writer and photographer who lives in McKinney.