The Galveston Arts Center, a non-profit 501(c) 3 organization, was incorporated in 1986 as the primary center of contemporary art serving a culturally diverse, eight county area between Houston, Corpus Christi and Beaumont. Housed in the historic First National Bank building (1878) at the corner of 22nd and Strand, the GAC was first founded as the Centre on the Strand in 1968. At that time, the Junior League of Galveston County donated the building for use as an art education center.
From 1971 to 1986 the Galveston Arts Center, under the Galveston County Cultural Arts Council, Inc., grew to offer quality programs in the form of exhibitions, art education and public festivals for all the Galveston County area. In 1986, The Galveston Arts Center became a separate non-profit organization. The GAC developed into the only visual arts organization in Galveston with a permanent location, rotating exhibition schedule, a full-time staff and free admission at all times. Focusing on emerging and established regional artists in a variety of disciplines, GAC grew to produce 12- 24 innovative exhibitions each season and to reach over 50,000 visitors annually. In addition, GAC sometimes travels exhibitions to other arts spaces in the state and produces award-winning publications. With each installation, the exhibiting artists are invited to speak to the public about their work on opening nights.
Since its early days, GAC has provided art education and outreach to various underserved populations in our community from pre-K children to the elderly. GAC also offers art classes in-house and collaborates with various community partners such as schools, churches and libraries. These programs allow children and adults to experience contemporary art in a gallery setting and the opportunity to create their own work based on their experiences. One such collaboration produced a mural conceived and executed by teens from the St. Vincent’s House Quality of Life Anti-Gang project. Another was an installation at the GAC by La Marque High School students working with College of the Mainland Gallery and artists who have exhibited at GAC.
For over 20 years the Galveston Arts Center has organized and produced ArtWalk approximately every six to eight weeks on Saturday nights in the heart of the historic district. Through ArtWalk, GAC encourages a working relationship with both the non-profit and commercial art spaces in the city by coordinating exhibition opening nights. ArtWalk takes place in existing commercial galleries, non-profit arts spaces and "other walls;" restaurants, cafes and retail stores and the like. Each exhibits original art and welcomes viewers with open doors, later hours and often refreshments and live entertainment. One of the Galveston Arts Center's largest programs, ArtWalk attracts 1000–3000 visitors per evening. ArtWalk promotes visual art and artists, offers alternative places to see and learn about art and aims to bring newcomers, as well as welcome return visitors to the art community on the island.
The GAC also houses a museum store, ArtWorks, that provides a showcase for fine crafts artists. The shop committee continually seeks out new regional artists working in a wide variety of media to make original designs. Purchases from the store support both the artists and GAC.
Due to damage incurred by Hurricane Ike in 2008, the GAC was forced to move temporarily to a nearby location on the corner 25th and Market Streets in Galveston. For the initial renovation of the building on the Strand and in support of continued programming, the Junior League committed funds along with other organizations including the Moody Foundation, the Harris and Eliza Kempner Foundation, Houston Endowment Inc. and individual donors. Through this support and the dedication of our board members, staff, and independent artists and teachers, GAC was able to continue nearly all of the pre-Ike programing and events from the temporary location while simultaniously running a years-long capatal campaign to restore the damaged historic building. Restoration was completed in 2015, and today GAC is back and the building is more beautiful than ever.
Funding for Galveston Arts Center comes from Hotel/Motel occupation taxes, individual donations, memberships, private foundations and corporations. Government agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts, Institute of Museum Services, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Texas Historical Commission, the Texas Commission on the Arts and the Texas Committee for the Humanities also contribute to GAC programs. The GAC would not exist today if it were not for the generous gifts of time and enthusiasm from our many volunteers.