The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, May 2, 2003, Columns

The New Braunfels Museum of Art & Music promises to be one of the most exciting additions to the arts and entertainment scene in Central Texas when it reopens May 10. Within walking distance of Gruene Hall, the oldest dance hall in Texas, the new exhibition space builds on the historic district's heritage and other attractions.

"We intend to document how Texas music evolved," says Charles Gallagher, the museum's executive director. "The diversity of the contributors is why Texas is such a crossroads for American music." The new museum will document and preserve Texans' part in creating the American quilt of music and art.

The inaugural exhibition in the new 10,000-square-foot gallery and multiuse center will be "Dance Halls and Last Calls." Based on a book of the same name by Geronimo Trevino III, the show will mix historic photos, memorabilia, and audio with paintings by New Mexican artist Gail Wendorf and recent dance hall photographs by Bruce Jordan. All of the pieces come together as a comprehensive study of the importance of the dance hall in Texas communities.

The New Braunfels museum originated in 1992, as the Hummel Museum, in an empty bank building off the traffic circle in Downtown. As a showcase for the art and figurines of Sister Maria I. Hummel, the museum was popular with tourists but never really connected with the community.

When the owners of the artwork asked for its return in 1999, the directors went looking for a new direction. "The board felt like the community needed an art-education center," Gallagher says. Rather than let the momentum die, the residents approached the Texas Commission on the Arts for help in establishing a new set of goals.

"We're still finding our niche," Gallagher says. Much like the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock, which has provided assistance during the formative steps, the museum plans on expanding its coverage over time.

In the first two years of its new mission, the museum assembled shows on Texas-music icons, the fiddle, the accordion, Gruene Hall, and other exhibits with regional relevance. The staff and volunteers produced its first Texas Music and Arts Festival in May 2001.

It wasn't long before the museum officials realized that in order to continue with a world-class arts program, they would need to move out of the bank building. The county bought the building and the directors reinvested the money in a restaurant on the banks of the Guadalupe River with room for a state-of-the-art museum facility. Rent from the River's Edge Restaurant helps support the museum's programs.

"The new building has been a real leap of faith for the directors and the staff," Gallagher says. A lawsuit over zoning issues and construction problems have delayed the grand opening several times. "When we finally got the building permit, it started raining for two months," he says.

From the outside the museum looks like a corrugated-steel barn or old dance hall. On the inside the main gallery offers plenty of exhibition space, and moveable walls allow for changing configurations. A second gallery circles the building on an upstairs balcony. In the back of the building are offices and classrooms.

The future looks bright for the organization as it honors the past, present, and future through art. As an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, the New Braunfels museum has access to America's attic to draw from for future exhibits. The staff has already implemented an "Arts in Education Program" with local schools. "We spend more on educational programs per year than we do on exhibits," Gallagher says.

The New Braunfels Museum of Art & Music has a creative staff with an exciting vision. Now it has to be seen if the community will support the facility. The museum is at 1259 Gruene Rd. and opens daily 10am-9pm during the summer and 10am-5pm in the winter. For more information, call 830/625-5636 or visit

621st in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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