Interest in the arts in Rockport began in the 19th century when informal groups of Rockport artists gathered to share their artistic ideas. Later in the mid-20th century, artists like Simon Michael, John P. Cowan and Dalhart Windberg were painting and teaching in the area, pioneering the Texas Coast aesthetic.
By 1967, a larger group of artists had been attracted to the charming and quiet fishing and birding paradise of Rockport, and the need for a strong cooperative unit became apparent. An art guild was first formed, soon to be followed in 1969 by the establishment of a non-profit corporation and the first Rockport Art Festival. The dream of the founding members of the Rockport Art Association, Inc. was to have a place to exhibit their work, to offer art education, and to expand the cultural horizons of the community.
For fifteen years the association operated from various small, leased spaces across the community, including the gallery of Estelle Stair, considered one of Rockport's founding artists. Yet, numbers continued to grow along with their ambitious cause. In 1983 the Association, through a generous donation, acquired the historic (1890) Bruhl/O'Connor home and moved it to the budding museum district between Rockport Harbor and Aransas Bay. The building and the mindset behind it began to operate as the Rockport Center for the Arts, fulfilling an early mission to provide a center around which many art activities revolve. Exhibits were first housed in twin parlors and in an adjoining room of the home. Another room served as a classroom. The kitchen became a favorite gathering spot for artists. The setting was right to foster more growth, and it did.
Rockport Center for the Arts boasts a state-of-the-art main gallery as the result of building renovations and expansions in 1998 and 2000. The two parlor galleries are now dedicated entirely to the works of its member artists, while the main gallery allows the Center to host local, regional, national, and internationally acclaimed artists in both solo and group exhibitions. In 2000 the Garden Gallery was added, allowing the Center for the first time to simultaneously feature three distinct exhibitions, at times displaying over 100 original works of art.
Today the building also houses two visual arts classrooms which are home to numerous workshops, classes, seminars, and open studio sessions. A well-furnished pottery studio is always active, and includes a kiln room which hosts daily firings. Visitors enjoy the art center gift shop where member artists display a wide range of art and craft.
Our "backyard," a 10,000 square foot Sculpture Garden, is home to works by internationally acclaimed granite sculptor and Rockport resident Jesus Moroles, as well as acclaimed sculptors Kent Ullberg, Sandy Scott, Charles Umlauf, and Leo Osborne.
Contemporary local artists like Herb Booth, Al Barnes and Kay Barnebey continue to stay active, gathering inspiration from our Coastal Bend environment.
The Art Center continues to host community-driven events around the arts. Events such as Art Educator Days, ArtLink for Kids, the Rockport Film Festival, a Music Performance Series, and the Rockport Clay Expo are just a few examples. Rockport itself has over 200 working artists, a variety of downtown art galleries, and was recently named a "Top 10 Coastal Art Colony" by Coastal Living Magazine.