When Scotty McKinley moved to Galveston from Austin, he noticed several similarities between the cities.
“Everyone was artsy and weird and there’s a big, vibrant community,” McKinley said. “You have the early gentrification. You have a young, burgeoning music scene. You have artists and actors.”
The two cities have many differences, but both attract a certain creative class of people, McKinley said. And that creative class of people is highly sought after by most cities everywhere.
Island leaders aim to create an environment more hospitable to artists and small-business entrepreneurs to attract young people and boost Galveston’s economic activity, they said.
Galveston’s unique character is one of its biggest draws, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.
“We’re already kind of a college town with two major universities,” Maxwell said. “Having a good healthy art scene or music scene is also a good way to entice those people to stay.”
It’s a conversation the city’s been having even more this year as it looks to redistribute money for more public art installations and performances, District 3 Councilman David Collins said.
Collins represents the downtown, home to many galleries and performance venues.
“We’re placing more focus on physical art, performance art,” Collins said.
But there’s still lot more the city could do to support the creative class, he said.
‘WEIRD THINGS YOU SEE’
McKinley lived in Austin in the mid-1990s and again in the early 2000s, and has lived off and on in Galveston for 10 years, he said.
McKinley is a sales and brand ambassador for Devil and the Deep Brewery, 2425 Postoffice St., which opened last year.
Exponential growth and an influx of technology jobs has changed Austin in the past 20 years, but Galveston bears similarities to what the state capital used to be, McKinley said.
“The weird things you see in Austin would not be out of place in Galveston,” McKinley said.
Attracting and retaining creative people are essential to a city’s economic growth, said Steven Pedigo, director at Creative Class Group, an organization that studies urban economic, demographic or cultural trends.
The thriving cities Pedigo studies have very specific components, he said.
The economy is driven by science and technology, such as the health and science focus at University of Texas Medical Branch and Texas A&M University at Galveston, Pedigo said. Cities also need to attract open-minded people and create a quality aesthetic, Pedigo said.
Galveston has done well by investing in its entertainment district, Pedigo said.
GETTING A FRESH START
The eclectic Galveston scene encouraged Devlyn Mahanay to open his own custom art business, Von Patrick Arts, he said.
Mahanay moved to the island in 2016 from Austin to help his father with his businesses, he said.
His father moved from Houston to open Visker & Scrivener, 403 23rd St., which sells fine writing quills, inks, scrolls, leather-bound journals and other oddities.
“He was drawn here because of the tourism, the old history,” Mahanay said. “He wanted to get away and get a fresh start and live an artistic, more easy life.”
Mahanay thought it was easier to be an artist in Austin because there are more resources, he said.
But local musician Lauren Eddy thinks the opposite, Eddy said.
Eddy moved to Galveston from Texas City about five years ago and is the lead singer and guitarist for local band El Lago.
“Galveston has a lot more space and it’s less competitive,” Eddy said. “In Austin, my friend’s band, they have to play a whole lot and not all the shows are paid.”
Galveston’s music scene feels more like a family and artists rub shoulders with people from many genres, she said.
It’s a culture that city leaders are starting to support, said Becky Major, creative director of the National Hotel Artist Lofts, 2221 Market St.
The space is home to local artists and is run by a nonprofit that supports artists.
“We’re seeing a change and more modern, contemporary, younger crowds but there’s still that laid-back atmosphere,” Major said.
‘WE’VE GOT TO MAKE IT SPECIAL’
About 31.3 percent of Galveston’s population in 2017 was between the ages 20 and 39 years old, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
That’s higher than the 28.6 percent of 20- to 39-year-olds statewide, but less than the 38.7 percent of Austin’s population in that age bracket, according to census data.
The city is always looking to attract younger residents, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.
“For us to do that, we’ve got to make it special,” Yarbrough said.
The city doesn’t want huge, rapid growth, but artists selling their work boosts the city’s economy, he said.
The city has had conversations about more support for creative people, but there’s more to do, Yarbrough said.
“We really need to get into and buy into the concept,” Yarbrough said.
‘WE’RE NOT A PODUNK TOWN’
For cities developing such creative scenes affordability can sometimes be the sticking point, Pedigo said.
“If you want to protect the creative class and make sure that they’re invested in a community and can stay put in a community, home ownership is the way to do that,” Pedigo said.
Austin has experienced skyrocketing housing prices along with its explosive growth.
While things aren’t that bad in Galveston, costs can still be high, said Wendy Morgan, owner of island stores, including The Admiralty, 2221 The Strand.
Morgan moved to Galveston from Austin four years ago, in part to help with the family business, she said.
When people move to Galveston, they don’t expect the cost of windstorm and flood insurance, and prices aren’t as low as they once were, Morgan said.
“We’re not a Podunk town anymore,” Morgan said. “The property values here have increased tremendously.”
Eddy sees that pressure of higher prices, she said. She lives in the Artist Lofts, where rent isn’t as high as what some of her friends pay, but she still couldn’t afford a house, she said.
But the island will never reach the high costs and sprawling development that Austin has, McKinley said.
“Every decade, there’s a hurricane,” McKinley said. “People run away.”