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Light and Shadow

Life Renewed for Arts in the Sunset

By Cathleen Tyson-Day | Published The Upbeat Reporter Summer 2023

As I walked in the Arts in the Sunset for the first time since the renovation, all the memories of past First Friday Art Walks ran through my head. It was so good to see life back in this historical venue.

I sat down to interview the Amarillo Art Institute Executive Director, Rachel Flores, while she worked hands on with board members and construction workers. She graciously let me record the interview in a video.

I spoke with Rachel about the interesting history of Sunset Center. A local businessman and developer, MT Johnson opened the mall to a crowd of 100,000 residents, more than the population of Amarillo in 1960. Sunset Center Market Town mall stood as the most popular shopping venue for residents all over the Texas Panhandle for two decades.

In 1982, Westgate Mall opened on the west side of town off Interstate 40, pulling away many of the stores from Sunset Center. Local developer, C.W. Crouch purchased the property out of foreclosure. He and his wife, Ann, filled the location with paying tenants. Ann learned how to run a business while working with her husband. Upon his death in 2001, she wanted to create a place to nurture art. Ann took over management of the mall inspired to create something special.

Rachel explained that Ann was an artist and knew the value in an art community. In 2004, Ann opened the Panhandle Art Center or PAC and decided to add galleries to the interior part of the mall. The Amarillo Art Institute was created. AAI and Arts in the Sunset have a mission; Inspire, educate, and enrich lives through art.

First Friday events began bringing art and music lovers to Arts in the Sunset to experience the variety of talent, with the galleries of treasures for purchase. Music would ring through the halls as guests would walk from gallery to gallery.

Ann Crouch passed away in 2017. Arts in the Sunset is now a non-profit run by the Crouch Foundation to revive the well-known art center.

Many residents watched as parts of the center were destroyed in the renovation, only to see the iconic stained-glass window remain. It was important to keep the colorful element in the new addition. The footprint remains with exciting plans for the future.

On the outer side of Arts of the Sunset, a large beautiful mural draws you to the venue. A covered outdoor paved section of the facility will be the summer location for Golden Spread Farmers Market.

Amarillo ISD is renting space for students with outer doors for easy access to classes. AmTech Career Academy is conveniently located across the parking lot.

The AJ Swope Performance Plaza is one of the last things to develop in the Arts in the Sunset. The new public performance venue is expected to be complete in 2023, exactly 10 years after AJ Swope - musician, newscaster, and wind energy advocate was tragically lost in a wreck north of Amarillo. The plaza will feature a large stage with an attached green room, three dressing rooms, restrooms, a large area for tables, chairs and a dance floor, a ticket booth for paid events, and a built-in bar for third-party vendors to utilize. An exciting piece of the arts center!

Rachel made it clear that the involvement in the community is key in growing the love of the arts. AAI continues to write grants and create fundraisers to keep the cost down for students and members, including outreach to schools and kids camps throughout the year.

An inaugural exhibition was featured in June and July 2023 at Arts in the Sunset. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: a collection of the artist’s renowned ceiling frescoes from the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel in 34 artfully deployed reproductions. Viewing like this allows people to view the masterpieces “without being rushed or fighting crowds,” Rachel said.

Be sure and check in on their website for continued events.

Photos by C.Tyson-Day

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