I never quite understood the desire to abandon your home and community; to look at something and not feel a desire to leave it better than what you found it.
All my life, I’ve heard the same things about Tyler, Texas. All the negativity about how, compared to other cities, we lacked things to do and places to see; that the town lacked character and culture. Most frequently of all, I heard, “I cannot wait to leave Tyler.” I never quite understood that.
I was born in a small town in the heart of northeastern Texas called Mount Vernon, where the biggest attraction was the Burger King off the interstate. When I moved to Tyler in the spring of 2002, I saw the beautiful homes nestled amongst a sea of towering green pines. And I smelled the flowers that lined the sides of Golden Road on the way to our new home. Along with all the other beautiful things Tyler had to offer, I thought to myself, “How could you ever want to leave?”
Over time, I have watched Tyler grow, not just physically, but as a community, seriously GROW. With this growth has come an explosion of local culture representing the unique blend of character and demographics that make up our community members. Nowhere else is this blooming of expression and culture expressed more than the local art scene, full of vibrant and passionate artists.
Yet, it seems the same negativity that has always haunted our community has begun to rear its head. Whispers and social media posts decry recent art pieces and initiatives like the recent “Vertically Inclined” festival as “thuggish” and a waste of taxpayer money.
That, too, is something I struggle to understand.
For so many years I heard complaints about Tyler and its lack of activities and culture. For so many years, so many people have fought, invested, and struggled to make Tyler — our community, our home — a better place to develop a culture and a community that feels inclusive and offers everyone a little bit of something.
And now? Now that we are here, this is the response given? It’s dismaying to read comments describing a street art mural in the burned-down Swann’s Plaza dedicated to the loss of beloved community member Dreak Scott as examples of “gangster-ish and thuggish graffiti.” Dreak Scott was a human. His life has a story, he was valued, he was loved, and he was our community member.
For me, that’s the thing about Tyler and its art: The best thing about them is not the town or even the art itself. The best thing about them is the people behind it all. That’s what I love the most: from the mural on the loop to the wrapped utility boxes, to our brand new art alley, to even a street art mural in a burned-out shopping plaza — it all tells a story.
It tells a story of artists, local business owners and community members like Tyler Shelton, Gemini Garza, Robbie Wallace, Nora Schreiber, The Tyler Street Team serving our homeless and so many other unnamed and unheralded people, who have chosen to pour blood and sweat into creating beauty in a place many have chosen to forsake and move on. That’s what I love about my town.
I love my city, and I love its art.