Dallas based artist Jenny Heissenhuber works on her chalk art at the Chalk-It Up! event in downtown Plano Saturday August 15, 2015. She entered in the professional category.

Dallas based artist Jenny Heissenhuber works on her chalk art at the Chalk-It Up! event in downtown Plano Saturday August 15, 2015. She entered in the professional category.

Ron Baselice/The Dallas Morning News

When North Texans think about local arts districts, the ones in Dallas and Fort Worth likely come to mind. But what about Plano?

A new, free festival in the suburb hopes to spotlight the downtown area as a bona-fide arts hub. It's called Plano Artfest and includes a week's worth of community events such as gallery exhibitions, film screenings and theatrical performances leading up the main attraction: a one-day festival at McCall Plaza on Saturday, Sept. 17.

Downtown Plano isn't "just a sleepy downtown anymore," says Alex Hargis, executive director of the Historic Downtown Plano Association. "We're injecting a lot more money, time and resources into supporting the arts and trying to be that creative incubator, encouraging artists to display their talents in downtown."

How Plano got cool

The week's lineup of events will soon be available, but Plano Artfest attendees can expect an artist village featuring wares from local craftsmen, performances from local groups, kids crafts and more at the party on Sept. 17, which runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Food trucks will also be onsite, and beer and wine will be available for purchase.

Hargis says Artfest is just the latest in a series of initiatives that began in 2015 to raise awareness about Plano's art culture. Among them are the monthly art and wine walks and the Portal Project, which will put sculptures and installations lining the street or "portal" from North Central Expressway to downtown. About 200 artists applied to contribute.

More galleries are on the docket to open in the area, Hargis says, and earlier this year, downtown Plano applied for an official cultural district designation with the Texas Commission on the Arts.

[UPDATE on Sept. 14 at 5:13 p.m.: This month, the Texas Commission on the Arts granted the designation. The area is now called the Downtown Plano Cultural District.]

Many artists, musicians and performers feel like they need to be in a bigger city to gain recognition, Hargis says, but he'd rather be able to provide them with "that home and networking hub."

"The need is there, but no one has stepped up and said, 'This is going to be your home, this is going to be your neighborhood,'" he says. "That's where we're trying to fill the gap."

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