Sherman will soon move closer to establishing an official cultural district in its downtown area.

The Sherman City Council recently approved a resolution supporting the certification and establishment of a downtown cultural district through an application to the Texas Commission on the Arts’ Cultural District Program. Austin College has been working with the city to produce the application materials, which are due Friday.

“I appreciate the steps you and the staff have been taking toward creating the Sherman Cultural District,” former Mayor Cary Wacker, who has been overseeing the application process through her position as associate vice president for institutional advancement and director of the Center for Community & Regional Development at Austin College, said. “To date, this has been about an 18-month process, but it really goes all the way back to the 2009 Comprehensive Plan, which really called out the importance of the arts in Sherman and for Sherman’s future.”

Wacker told the council her team was putting the finishing touches on the city’s application materials, which include a map of the proposed cultural district, five-year strategic and marketing plans, a five-minute video of arts and cultural district activities, and the resolution of support from the council. She said the Sherman Cultural District Program has gained the support of “a lot of community partners” and has gathered input from community members on what they’d like to see in the cultural district.

Wacker also explained the cultural district project will use Sherman’s current advertising budget for the Tourism/Main Street program and will work closely with Tourism/Main Street Manager Sarah McRae.

“We plan to leverage the existing tourism budget by packaging all the arts activities that we have going on using social media and meeting with Sarah to talk about how we can look at her budget strategically and add, as needed, some items regarding arts and cultural activity that we may not otherwise be promoting but may be tourist draws,” Wacker said.

Another source of funding for local art, Wacker explained, will come from a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Austin College was one of the recommended organizations for a $50,000 grant from the NEA’s Our Town program to support Focalpoint(!), a series of public photography workshops and public art programs that celebrate the different cultural traditions of Sherman residents.

“Austin College is deeply invested in the arts, and this grant highlights the value of a community-based arts partnership,” Austin College President Steven P. O’Day said in a news release announcing the grant. “The Focalpoint(!) project provides an outward opportunity to work collaboratively to strengthen both the Sherman community and Austin College.”

The Focalpoint(!) project will ask Sherman residents to contribute to a databank of curated images that will be used in temporary displays in downtown Sherman. Activities connected to the two-year project will be launched during this year’s Sherman Arts Fest in September.

“We’re excited about being able to share that,” Wacker said of the NEA grant before adding there’s also the possibility of additional funding opportunities. “If the city were to receive the official cultural district status from the state of Texas, of course, the city would be eligible for additional grant funds through the state, so that would be a little bonus for us.”

Wacker said Austin College has also put together a team of student interns, staff and faculty who are already engaged in the arts to help promote and communicate information about cultural district activities.

“As you know, Austin College hosts the Sherman Symphony, the Sherman Community Series and we interface with a lot of arts groups, so it’s really a natural partnership there,” Wacker said.

In addition to the resolution of support, the council also approved a memorandum of understanding with Austin College that would designate “the roles and responsibilities” for each entity during the first 10 years of the proposed Sherman Cultural District.

“We will be hosting a cultural district advisory committee that will serve as the arts advocacy group,” Wacker said. “It will be a broad-based community representation to help us network, communicate and plan arts activities so that everyone is really strengthened in this process.”

She said that committee will report to the council on a quarterly basis, and she anticipates there will be “a lot of activity to report.”

“As you know, there’s a lot going on,” Wacker said. “In this process, as we’ve done an inventory of cultural activity and businesses, we discovered there are 27 arts- and design-based businesses in downtown Sherman already. There are 27 or 28, depending on how you count it, separate arts-based events that happen throughout the year. We have an amazing community, lots going on, great story to tell. I’m really looking forward to all that will come about because of this process.”

Both the resolution of support and the memorandum of understanding were approved unanimously; Deputy Mayor Pam Howeth was absent from the meeting.