“Dream come true”: Coppell Arts Center hoping to become local cultural landmark


Camila Flores

Theatre Coppell founder Wheelice “Pete” Wilson was a major influence in building the Coppell Arts Center. The Coppell Arts Center’s 30-year history culminates in a facility that connects local arts groups to the broader community.

Neha Desaraju, Entertainment Editor

The dream began in 1988. It was a notion that Coppell should have a place where the arts could connect directly with each other and engage with the community in ways they never had before. 

Then, in 2013, to-be Coppell Arts Center managing director Alex Hargis breathed life into Theatre Coppell founder Pete Wilson’s original dream—and the Coppell Arts Center was born.

Today, construction has not yet finished, but Wilson already describes the arts center as a “dream come true.” 

The five resident arts groups—Theatre Coppell, Coppell Chorale, Coppell Ballet, Coppell Creatives and Coppell Orchestra—have turned the space into their own. Even during current COVID-19 restrictions, community arts leaders have big ambitions for the project.

“[The history of the arts center] ties into Coppell’s evolution as it has developed from a small bedroom community to one that is now fully built out and has a very diverse, talented population of citizens—that includes artists,” Hargis said. “If you’re a local artist, you’re looking for ways to display your work. There’s not a lot of venues around that gear towards them. And citizens who are not artists—like myself—who are people who want to engage and have a good time, right now, you have to drive a lot [to find those opportunities].”

While there was a “hopening” event for the arts center on Oct. 13, construction had been delayed since January, with construction issues and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, but Hargis and the arts center management team have hosted drive-ins and other outdoor shows and are planning for some of the first events the resident companies will hold.

“The new arts center is going to provide so much to the community, mostly for the arts,” Wilson said. “It’s a public gathering place, a performing place, and [it has] meeting rooms, receptions, art exhibits, things like that. It’s going to be all-inclusive.”

Among the many facilities and shows the groups are hoping to put on, there will be a combination art gallery and classroom, space for masterclasses and various exhibitions. Resident companies are also creating virtual art education opportunities for Coppell community members. Leaders of the program hope the center can become a melting pot of culture, education and volunteer involvement, especially for young students.

“The thing I’m the most excited about for the new arts center is that it will include visual arts,” Coppell Creatives (a group of Coppell residents who engage with local art) co-lead Janna Tidwell said. “The current [theater] facility houses the theater and the orchestra and the chorale, but there’s not a place for visual artists. But the new center will have a gallery space and a classroom pace that will allow the visual arts to do exhibitions and teach classes and do artists meetups.”

The arts center would not have been possible without a task force formed in January that consisted of a number of Coppell business leaders and professional artists. Later, it would become the Coppell Arts Council—an entity that takes care of funding, long-term business consulting and setting larger priorities for the arts center. 

“There are different opportunities we’re going to be able to give Coppell,” Coppell Arts Council president Penelope Furry said. “For our resident companies, I’m most excited about giving them a great venue. For the community, I’m excited they have a venue for top tier entertainment locally.” 

While the arts council has a say in the overall management of the center, the five resident companies hold the most direction in the kinds of events community members will get to engage in. 

“All of those companies—it’s up to them what they want to present in their season and what their season looks like,” Furry said. “Historically they’ve all been independent, but now they will need to be more integrated. Programming decisions are a little more coordinated. The artscenter brings a lot of opportunities: better performance opportunities, a nicer place to perform, a more professional situation and a cutting edge experience as a performer.”

Leaders of the arts center are quick to point out the number of ways the center will engage young Coppell residents—particularly high school students. According to Hargis, Coppell residents 18 years or older can volunteer as an usher. The center is also tuned into the content that young Coppell artists post on social media, and will offer opportunities for those creatives to present their talent at the center.

In fact, the center has plans in the works for student-only spaces, ways for students to engage with a professional level of entertainment and opportunities for young artists to showcase their work. Many program leaders are in collaboration with Coppell ISD fine arts programs to host masterclasses or offer a better performance experience.

“We’ve actually been working with CISD teachers to ensure that when they do exhibits, the facility will be available for them to show their artwork,” Tidwell said. “We have some very talented students and we want their work to be up there with some of the professional artists who live and work in Coppell.”

Thirty-plus years in the making, the Coppell Arts Center—once nothing more than a dream for a renovated theater—has received overwhelming support from city officials, CISD leaders and local artists. Coppell fine arts leaders hope the building will soon be the heart of community entertainment.

Follow Neha (@nehadesaraju) and @CHSCampusNews on Twitter.