Gene Deason

Hopefully, the large crowd that showed up for lunch last Friday to hear Gary Gibbs, executive director of the Texas Commission on the Arts, speak is an indication of the ongoing support this community has among local residents. Gibbs was invited to speak to the monthly membership meeting of the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce.

Gibbs made some interesting points concerning the place of the arts not only in our educational system, but also in our everyday lives, and he drew cause-and-effect conclusions about involvement in the arts and success in other areas.

Perhaps most importantly for places like Brown County, the arts are not reserved for metropolitan areas. Consider the active arts communities that have developed in places like Slaton, Albany and Marfa.

Gibbs bemoaned this state’s woeful per capita funding for the arts. It was reported in a story last weekend, but it merits repeating: Texas ranks 49th. The average funding is $1.40 per person. Texas spends 17 cents.

One way every Texan can help support the state arts commission is by signing up for a specialty license plate. It costs $30 more than what you’d pay to license your vehicle anyway, and $22 of that goes directly to the arts commission. If you want a personalized name or message on the plate, limited to five spaces, it’s $70 extra.

Even if you’re thinking an arts license plate is not your first preference, you have other choices. Texas offers dozens upon dozens of specialty plates, with themes ranging from a host of universities and military groups to organizations like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Keep Texas Beautiful. Check out the list online through a link at www.texasonline.state.tx.us. You can even place your order while you’re at the Web site.

But of all these options, the State of the Arts plate is the most popular, Gibbs said. Perhaps that’s because the arts are so popular in Texas. Or perhaps it’s because — to my way of thinking — the most attractive. Its design is taken from the Texas Flag, and is quite distinctive.

I’m familiar with the arts plate because it so happens that my vehicle was the first in Brown County to display this plate. At least, that’s what the staff told me when I picked them up years ago at the county tax assessor-collector’s office.

License plates in general have been in many Texans’ minds recently, as the Texas Department of Transportation completed earlier this month an online referendum — an e-Vote, they called it — to see what type of design the public would like to see on a revised general-issue vehicle license plate. Five choices were available, and there was a runaway winner.

Its design features a landscape of West Texas mountains along the bottom of the plate with a beautiful sky and the Lone Star of Texas in the upper left corner. For those who voted but haven’t checked the results yet, it’s the one that was titled “Lone Star Texas” and it won with 455,878 votes. Second place went to “Natural Texas,” with an outdoors scene in the background, with 294,106 votes. The “New Texas” plate, boasting a metropolitan skyline, came in next to last. Finishing last was “My Texas,” the one with the space shuttle landing from the upper left corner.

This online voting process came up at our table during the chamber of commerce luncheon where Gibbs spoke, and a handful of us agreed that we weren’t all that enthused about any of the options offered for the standard plate. But that’s OK, because we don’t want them to be so appealing that people stop adding the extra dollars for the specialty plates that support important causes.

Brownwood has had a strong interest in the license plate market for decades because 3M is the major supplier of materials for plates throughout the nation. So, local residents might be more interested than other Texans to see what the Transportation Commission will decide on its next generation of Texas plate designs when it meets next Thursday.

The department’s plan is to begin producing the new general-issue plate in January 2009. They could be showing up on Texas bumpers by this time year. So keep driving friendly.

Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at gene.deason@brownwoodbulletin.com.