Crafting Community: How a Studio in Mission is Promoting Art Accessibility in the RGV

Words by Melissa Cortes Santiago

The studio’s logo hangs on the wall, illuminating the painting area directly below. The smell of paint and wet clay fills the room, and string lights adorn the ceiling, creating a quiet and serene atmosphere. The scene below, however, is anything but quiet. The hustle and bustle of an art studio is on full display as potters eagerly exchange ideas while examining each other’s work, and a painting class of over 30 students chats away just a couple feet adjacently. 


“I get in awe because I come in, and there’s members talking and showing each other their work, there’s people painting over here, and I get real emotional because this was my goal,” said Margie Ramirez, owner of Hands in Art Studio. “When I first thought about it, I thought, if I ever see my place the way I see it right now, it would be my accomplishment.”

A person sitting down at Hands in Art Studio in front of several ceramic pieces.
Owner of Hands in Art Studio, Margie Ramirez. Photo Credit: Andrew Perez

Ramirez always envisioned her studio would become a place for collaboration and community. A safe space where artists with different specialties and backgrounds could come together and teach community members various ways to create art. 

 

“It’s not just painting, it’s not just one medium, it’s just art in general, and we’re able to provide a space where people can actually come in and get their hands into art,” said Ramirez 

 

After operating for almost nine years, Hands in Art Studio is one of the only places in the Upper Valley area offering comprehensive art classes and workshops to people of all ages. By making different art mediums available to the community, the studio is filling a void left by the lack of arts funding in Texas.

Hands in Art Studio logo hangs on the wall alongside canvases of various paintings.
Photo credit: Andrew Perez

According to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, Texas ranked among the lowest states in the country for art funding. Texas ranked 43rd in funding for the arts in its 2024 fiscal year budget. This is a striking rank, considering that art and cultural production in Texas accounts for almost $57 million and 2.8% of the state’s economy, as per the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

What sets Hands in Art Apart?

Shelves along the wall hold various ceramic pieces, yarn, and paintings.
Ceramic pieces that are available for painting workshops that HIAS hosts. Photo credit: Andrew Perez

Outside of fine arts programs in local universities like South Texas College, UTRGV and high school art programs, there are not many places where people can get exposure or training in the arts, a reality that Ramirez understands and tries to combat. The studio offers ceramics courses, ceramic studio memberships, weekly painting classes, wood workshops and even art camps for children during the summer and spring holidays. 

 

The variety of services offered stems from Ramirez’s passion and love for the arts—something she discovered after completely changing her career track in college from biology to studio art.

A person at the pottery wheel trying to make a piece.
Ramirez showcasing her pottery skills at the wheel. Photo Credit: Andrew Perez.

“I was exposed to everything: printmaking, drawing, painting, ceramics, all the different mediums. And I fell in love. I wanted more of it. I couldn’t have enough of it,” she said. 

 

Ramirez’s passion and dedication to her business trickle down to her employees. They attribute the uniqueness of the studio to her vision of creating a space for community members and local artists to teach and learn from one another. 

 

“She’s very about making sure that nobody’s creativity is trumped on or stomped on, and she wants them to be exactly who they wanna be with their art,” said Lucille Lockard, manager at Hands in Art Studio. “I think with the fact that she’s here and people see that the owner of a place actually puts a lot of work and initiative into the place that they own— that’s inspiring to people.”

A Necessity for the Arts

Although the general public supports art education and funding, Texas lawmakers still do not prioritize it. The state’s low rank for art funding in consecutive years highlights the need for serious change both statewide and locally. 

Aside from providing a creative outlet for individuals to express themselves, the arts also supply communities with insurmountable benefits. According to a report by the American Academy of Art & Sciences, arts education helps individuals build empathy, supports social and emotional development, and strengthens civic engagement. 

Similarly, a research study conducted by the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania found that access to art and cultural resources is associated with an 18% decrease in serious crime rates and a 14% decrease in cases of child abuse and neglect. This study further links the concept that access to art and creative spaces helps improve our safety and overall well-being. 

 

“It’s a fundamental part of life that you need to be able to get creative and get a little silly sometimes, said Lockard. “ You may find it in painting, you may find it in ceramics, but it definitely gives you a better sense of self.” 

Although more work needs to be done to provide publicly funded art programs and spaces in the RGV, Ramirez’s studio remains one of the few spaces available in the Upper Valley focused on helping people get their hands on art. What started as a small business dream has quickly turned into a space that fosters community, collaboration and creativity.

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