Guest Blogger Tina Aguilar teaches Humanities at El Centro College.
Last weekend, I drove down Ross Avenue from Downtown Dallas and noticed an urban happening: someone doing graffiti art under the highway. Graffiti and urban art has been on my mind, since a handful of art peers and I used some examples for a writing and art camp this summer. So, of course, I had to stop and find out what was going on.
The Gateway to the Arts District program is one of the 2009 award winners of the Loving My Community Neighborhood Improvement Grant Initiatives (LMC). This is a creative collective that includes the City of Dallas, Downtown Dallas Inc., Bryan Place (BP) Neighborhood Association, Friends of Exall Park and one local graffiti artist – Sparks. These efforts highlight the creative thinking we need more of and offer an example of how public and private sensibilities can launch action. In 2007, after hearing Seattle’s Jim Diers address the Dallas Homeowners League Leadership Boot Camp about how neighbors can make a difference working together and utilizing their knowledge, creativity, and moxie to improve their quality of life, the LMC Improvement Grant Initiative was developed as a program for the City of Dallas.
Residents Wayne Smith, David Allen (President/LMC Grant Writer), David Morice and graffiti artist Sparks explained their efforts as we stood under the freeway. I followed up later with Allen, who gave me more information over the phone.
Tina Aguilar: Something great is happening under here. What is this project?
Wayne Smith: The second phase of our grant proposal was to put the murals in, and that’s where we are now – and we’re going to do that in phases. This project includes different funding levels. The first $10,000 came from the City of Dallas, and that was the grant through Loving My Community. The second $10,000 came from Downtown Dallas Inc., and the last $7,000 came from fundraising.
T.A.: Right now with the economy the way it is, arts initiatives in the community make sense. There are a lot of creative minds in our city.
W.A.: Right, there are – I think there is a lot of opportunity. And being such a close neighbor to the Arts District, we just thought this is something that we could get on board with and try. I’m on the Park Board too, and I know this is tough economic times for the city. Our next effort is going to be to go out and get more private money. … I think we are at a tipping point right now and we should be tipping positively, not backwards negatively.
T.A.: David, tell me about the idea behind the grant.
David Allen: I learned about the grant and tried to explain the opportunity we had and what a good opportunity it would be for us to do it. I spoke to the board, and I am on the Bryan Place Board, and I included it in our newsletter, and we got quite a few responses in favor of it. Then we invited people to come to the monthly meetings. When I visit other cities, I am amazed I can walk and walk forever without stretches of vacant lots. There are new developments even on the other side of Ross at Hall. Part of the whole goal was to have a pedestrian friendly underpass, and this also wasn’t just for Bryan Place, but for East Dallas in general. It would be nice to see people walking from Greenville and Ross to the Arts District.
T.A.: Can you tell me about the traffic from your residents along this block?
W.S.: With all that we’ve had opening up over here, the One Arts Plaza and everything, there’s more and more residential moving in over here on this side. It’s kind of a natural thing to just walk over here, and also we’re adding to the greenness of the city by walking. There are a lot of folks in Bryan Place that subscribe to the symphony and the museum and all. Up until now it’s been kind of scary … This is helping a lot.
T.A.: Was Sparks’ idea for the artwork one that you collectively discussed or was this something he submitted?
D.A.: He submitted it and we were blown away with it from the start. Like I said, I’m always over here walking my dog, and I saw him working on the mural over there and I started talking to him about it and asking him about his interest in helping us out.
T.A.: Sparks, You’re doing great work here. Can you tell me about your project?
Sparks: Basically, I was working on the mural over there. It’s a television studio, and they hired me, and one day [David Allen] saw me and he approached me and told me the idea they had for the whole area right here. I told him that I was available and I could do it and I was really interested in it. We basically exchanged numbers and from there talked about it. They told me what they wanted, which is about the arts and the gateway into the arts. You know, coming from the outside into Dallas, downtown. So when they told me their idea, I came up with a sketch and I showed it to them and they liked it a lot … and we ordered the paint and we got started on it.
T.A.: What will the finished product look like?
Sparks: Sure, basically, on the right side of the main structure you see the Dallas downtown skyline, and it’s in that direction and kind of shows how all this comes from Dallas – how there’s a lot of culture and a lot of color, especially in this area right here. There’s a lot of art involved, and this is just a design about different colors. This is basically the eye that sees it all. I mean in my head, you know, it’s just the eye of imagination in my eye that I see things, that I hope a lot of people see my vision.
T.A.: And how are you doing this? What type of paint are you using?
Sparks: It’s spray paint. I don’t use anything else. It’s pure spray paint, because I’m actually a graffiti artist. I started as a little kid vandalizing stuff. Then I grew older, and I realized I had great potential for doing something good. Just real quick going back to the paint – it’s European paint, because it won’t drip and it’s higher quality. The climate in Texas is really hot, and that will hold really well compared to all the other paint. It won’t fade away. What I’m planning on the other side is going to be more of a musical theme. You know, we have the opera house, and I’m going to put musical notes and musical instruments and then also right there on top “Arts District” in big, nice letters. And on this side, I’m going to put, I think, the theater mask … maybe some spotlights. I’m going to try and make this section theaterish and that one musical. But all together it’s the arts.
Gateway to the Arts District invites walkers and helpers to celebrate this milestone and viewing on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. at the corner of Ross and Central Expressway. Sparks will continue his mural on the other side for most of the day.