June 10, 2024

Battle of the Art Nights: McAllen vs Harlingen

Words by Melissa Cortes Santiago

Edited by Abigail Vela

Se Tenia Que Decir” is an article series that focuses on chisme, hot takes, and the things we’re all thinking about but no one wants to say out loud. Uncover something we all need to know in the RGV.

A few questions across the Rio Grande Valley are guaranteed to spark a debate. “Which barbeque place is better, Teddy’s Barbeque in Weslaco or Smokin’ Moon in Pharr?” “A quién le vas a Tigres o a Monterrey?” Maybe the most controversial, “What’s better, McAllen Art Walk or Harlingen Art Night?”

Okay, that last one may do more than start a friendly debate—it might inspire an entire article. 

Whether you prefer heading to Harlingen on the last Friday of the month, to McAllen on the first Friday, or maybe even both, there’s no denying that both events are meant to be bustling art scenes. However, there have been shifts in recent years. For example, the City of McAllen implemented restrictions on markets and limited the number of times they could be held in the exact location to 12 per year, which some artists believed to be too restrictive. One of these events, according to attendees, may be declining. 

Now, we’re not here to pronounce a winner or state which is better. The McAllen Art Walk and the Harlingen Art Night are essential events in our communities. They offer a platform for local artists and small businesses to showcase their work and connect with audiences. Many artists get their start here, and thanks to the community support and relationships built, they’re encouraged to continue pursuing their passion. Because art markets are vital, we, as community members, must take a step back and consider how they can be improved to ensure our local artists receive the support they need. 

How Did They Start?

These events began as collective efforts by passionate community members and artists. According to Virginia Haynie Gause, retired UTRGV librarian and avid local art historian, the concept for the McAllen Art Walk was created in 2004 by local merchants located just south of the Casa de Palmas Hotel. 

[The] McAllen Art Walk was and still is a community event and has taught us to recognize the art around us as well as spotlight local visual and performing artists,” said Gause in an email response.  

Harlingen Art Night has similar roots. According to co-organizer and small business owner Mia Garza, the event began in 2014 to promote emerging artists.

We’re in it to provide a space for artists and creatives and obviously help the small businesses that are downtown,” said Garza. “It’s been nice to look at the people that I’ve met here and form genuine friendships with them or see them progress as artists.”

Over the years, both of these events have evolved. For one, the Art Walk moved to and is now hosted at the McAllen Creative Incubator, a space that has had controversies with local artists. After the COVID-19 pandemic, Harlingen Art Night resumed operations and, according to Garza, has expanded from 20 vendors to over 100. 

Artists’ Perspective and Potential Improvements

To understand the impact of these events and explore ways they may be improved, we spoke with artists who showcased their work at both events.

Both of these artists expressed their gratitude
for art markets in general. They provide the opportunity to connect with the community and potential clientele and help artists improve their strategies and approaches to vending. 

A woman standing behind a table displaying their artwork.
Cori started doing markets over 2 years ago and enjoys the atmosphere they provide and the opportunity to connect with local artists. Photo courtesy of Cori.

“It was exciting to put myself out there and show my art off to people, but also, I was very anxious about sharing that side of myself with people I didn’t know,” said Cori, a local artist who sells art prints and handmade wire-wrapped jewelry. 

A l
ocal art vendor, Alejandra Martinez, had a similar experience at her first market and expressed how other artists have helped her improve her table setup. 

“I think talking to other artists and other vendors has helped a lot because they can kind of give you pointers,” she said. “I’ve been able to reduce the amount of objects I take to put up. I used to carry two boxes, and now it’s just a little cart where everything’s very compressed.”

A woman throwing peace signs standing behind a table displaying their artwork.
Alejandra, also known as 44 waterlilies, selling her artwork at a market. Photo courtesy of Alejandra.
A woman posing behind a table filled with her artwork.
Alejandra’s market setup. She has begun to incorporate a specific color scheme to be more recognizable by customers. Photo courtesy of Alejandra.

Despite the positive experiences, both artists expressed room for growth and improvement. For one, the barrier to access can sometimes be steep. Harlingen Art Night and the McAllen Art Walk are affordable, but this isn’t true for most markets. 

Some artists are barely starting out, and some markets have $20 to $60 fees, which is sometimes too much for some small businesses. Most of us do it during our free time from our regular jobs, but for others, this is their livelihood. Smaller fees mean more opportunities to share our art to the public eye,” said Cori. 

Martinez, who used to attend both events but now only goes to Harlingen Art Night, expressed that what can make or break an event is its consistency and communication with the artists and the community. She began to see fewer people at the McAllen Art Walk, and her income decreased. She attributes that to scheduling inconsistencies and lack of marketing. 

Community members created the McAllen Art Walk and Harlingen Art Night to highlight the work of local artists. In the years that followed, they have become a staple of RGV culture. However, that doesn’t mean that they should become stagnant. By listening to the concerns of local artists and addressing issues of accessibility and consistency, these events can continue to thrive. 

Setting aside rivalries and claims of being the best, what matters most here is that we work together to continue supporting the local artists who enrich our communities. 

Mira Más

Art & Culture

Battle of the Art Nights: McAllen vs Harlingen

In this installment of “Se Tenía Que Decir,” we dive into a spirited debate, McAllen Art Walk vs Harlingen Art Night. Featuring insights from local artists and organizers, we explore the potential improvements in these events to continue supporting local artists and fostering community.