Theses and Dissertations - UTB/UTPA

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Dr. Elena Bastida

Second Advisor

Dr. Kelly Himmel

Third Advisor

Dr. Guang-Zhen Wang


This study explores the emergence of an art community in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) region of South Texas. In researching this objective, I relied on observations at many gallery public functions where I had the opportunity to observe the interactions between prospective buyers, gallery owners and artists. I also visited with gallery owners and artists many times in small group settings where I raised open ended questions about the region's artists and other historical developments that would allow me to put together a cohesive story about the emergence of the art community

This study began as an unstructured exploration into the formation of the RGV art community. In the process of pursuing this objective, I was exposed to grounded theory and realized that as a qualitative methodology it provided the best fit between my overall research perspective and the open approach of artists to their work.

Relying on the methodology of grounded theory, this thesis tells a story. The story of regional artists, from both sides of the border; who were by chance or purpose drawn into the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas and who together began to gradually build the Valley art community.

I first became interested in this topic when as an undergraduate at Texas A&M University, I found the critical interaction which occurs at the inception of art communities to be a fascinating area of study. I started to explore this topic before I became a formal graduate student in Sociology, and, therefore, at the time I was unfamiliar with many of the qualitative research methods to which I was later exposed throughout my graduate studies at UTPA. Therefore, when I first began to research the topic I did not have a fully developed research agenda, methodology or even a great deal of familiarity with the Valley art community. But I was drawn to the topic and began to investigate it by informally contacting professionals who were connected to the art community. These individuals introduced me to other individuals, and gradually a snowball sample was formed. During the course of the study the research questions were not sharply defined and the artists discussed their goals, their motivations and their convictions with me at their leisure. While conducting this study, I would access literature in sociology of art, as well as sociology in general, as it became relevant. What began as an informal project eventually evolved into a grounded theory study of the RGV art community and this thesis.

Eventually, members of the community I had developed a rapport with allowed me to film and transcribe our always public conversations about the beginnings of the Valley art community. None of my questions or the data reported here are private or confidential. All the questions that were raised, and the responses that were given which have been detailed here, revolved around the emergence of the community -not about the artists’ own personal development. This thesis is about the development of the art community and not about the individual artists. As they recalled their experiences obviously elements of their own artistic development came to the fore, but these experiences are supportive of the collective whole and not necessarily used here as the individual artists’ experiences.

I then employed the grounded theory analysis method of utilizing a tiered system which begins with line-by-line categorical coding, then evolves to memoing, and finally the generation of theoretical codes. This data analysis was done in order to extract an objective understanding of what occurred in the community, as the story of the emerging of the Valley art community unfolded through the collaborative participation of artists, gallery owners and the public at large.

The observations which were extracted from grounded theory included: the artists’ motivations for engaging in the arts, unique characteristics and lifestyles of the artists’, including hedonism and consumerism which I have labeled here as a counter consumer culture, and observations of how the artists’ unique attributes equip them with a high amount of social capital and strong assets for collective action.

Finally, after achieving topic saturation, I examined the present body of literature for theories which best matched my understanding of what I saw occurring in the RGV art community. The two theories relevant to this study are Critical Theory (most relevant because of its observations regarding art and enlightenment), and Resource Mobilization Approach (relevant because of its ability to outline the social processes which enable social movements to occur). Through this study I hope to indicate how my grounded theory study provides a unique perspective which may add to each respective theory, and which may also validate some of the observations of each respective theory.


Copyright 2006 Heaven Lashley. All Rights Reserved.

Granting Institution

University of Texas-Pan American