The usual formula to fuel economic development focuses on manufacturing, transportation and distribution.
At South Padre Island, the path to boosting the economy has branched out to also include art and how creative endeavors can lead to growth.
The Art Business Incubator South Padre Island seeks to give both new and existing art businesses support to establish a presence in the local economy. Its program director Alexa Ocean Ray is a Laguna Vista native and Port Isabel High School graduate. The University of Texas at Austin graduate came back home to support efforts using art as an economic engine.
“It’s really cool to come back home and see this kind of support for art,” said Ray. “We’re nurturing and growing new art business and encouraging our community through workshops, studio tours, events and festivals.”
The art business incubator is funded by South Padre Island Economic Development Corporation and a private donor. It selects five artists a year and provides them ongoing support with a monthly stipend, free studio space, mentoring and business courses provided by the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. The incubator also helps the artists with online sales in featuring their work on the organization’s Facebook page.
Developing Product That Can Sell
The artists can come from anywhere although a goal of the art business incubator is to develop and uncover local and area artists. They are free to cultivate their style of art, be it ceramics, photography, painting or sculpturing. In turn, they need to be open to recommendations from the art business incubator on what style of art can sell locally and beyond in the online world.
“We encourage having product that people will want,” Ray said. “Use your style to make something sellable in our market.”
Ray herself knows the importance of marketing and selling your product and services. She worked as a fashion, music and portrait photographer in Austin before returning home in 2019 to help start the incubator. Ray found a viable arts community at the Island. The art business incubator, she said, will raise its profile and presence.
“There are a lot more art galleries here than people realize,” Ray said. “What we’re trying to do is make people aware of the value of art and the opportunity to grow art business on the Island.”
Creating a Presence
Building that SPI art community is a key component of the incubator. The artists in the program are expected to stay in the SPI/Port Isabel area and establish an arts-related business.
“We want it all to lead to making South Padre Island more of an arts destination,” Ray said.
Building a year-round arts presence on the Island is reflected in the festivals, events and workshops the art business incubator sponsors and organizes. The organization’s Facebook page features promotion of a recent workshop on sculpturing. There were also events to meet the artists in residence at the incubator.
“We’re proud to support the local economy through this creative mode,” Ray said. “We want to help to make it more of a (arts) community rather than sporadic galleries.”