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(UPDATE) Plans For Culture Vitality Interrupted As Galleries Worry About Permits
by Hady Mawajdeh 1 Aug 2016

As the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs tries to plan the next phase of the Cultural Vitality Program, local artist and galleries worry about their events being closed and their short term existence.

CTA TBD

At least 79 people packed into the South Dallas Cultural Center late Saturday morning for the last of two community meetings arranged by the City of Dallas’ Office of Cultural Affriars (OCA).

Check out Art&Seek’s article for an update on Dallas’ Cultural Vitality Program /based on Thursday’s meeting.

The meetings were supposed to be about the future of the Cultural Vitality Program (CVP) that was initiated this Spring. But most of the audience wanted to discuss the recent series of art shows and music performances that have been shut down or visited by the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department and city code compliance officers looking for permitting and occupancy violations.

One of people ready to speak out was artist Lara Lenhoff whose recent show at Mini-Gallery in Oak Cliff was shut down for improper permitting.

“We aren’t doing anything, but trying to keep the culture in the city alive and they’re killing us,” says Lenhoff.

Lenhoff disputed claims that the artist community in Dallas wasn’t being targeted and her comments were met with applause when she declared that enough was enough.

“I’m not going to tolerate it anymore and something needs to be done,” says Lenhoff, “We work really hard to make things happen in this city and we care and we’re passionate and we really want something good to happen. This has been going on for six months and it’s six months too long.”

Art&Seek is waiting for a response from the Dallas Fire Marshal’s office about the claims that they art targeting artist communities and for a comment about the new emphasis on safety concerns at independent galleries.

The map below pinpoints spaces that have been shut down or visited by Dallas Fire-Rescue. The map was created by local designer and co-host of the “ArtFunk” podcast, Ryan Rushing, after he heard about the recent closings during a recent Office of Cultural Affairs (OCA) meeting.

When Did This Start And Who’s Being Affected?

On Thursday, a performance that was part of the Art Conspiracy concert series was shut down at Kirk Hopper Fine Art in Deep Ellum. It was at least the second time in two months that city officials paid a visit to the gallery.

Giovanni Valderas, assistant director at the gallery and a former Cultural Affairs Commissioner, says a code compliance officer visited in June to tell him that the gallery didn’t have a certificate of occupancy. The gallery has been trying to work with the city since then, he says. Valderas, who spoke to city officials at the OCA and the Fire Marshal’s office, says that he thought as long as the gallery was working with the city, they’d be in the clear. But, a video he captured of Fire and Rescue shutting down the Art Conspiracy event shows that he was incorrect.

Screen shot of Dallas Fire-Rescue officer walking through Art Con event at Kirk Hopper Fine art.

Screen shot of Dallas Fire-Rescue officer walking through Art Con event at Kirk Hopper Fine art.

Back in February, DIY music venues and organizers of underground dance parties were first to experience the scrutiny of city officials. Then, in May, a city-sponsored music and arts event was shut down. And recently, Kirk Hopper Fine Art, BEEFHAUS, Erin Cluley Gallery and Ro2 Art – all established galleries – were visited by Dallas Fire-Rescue who told them that they didn’t have the proper certificates to operate.

After the June incident, Valderas said he was confused about what he should be doing to ensure the gallery could operate as usual.

“I started by calling the Code Compliance’s office to see if something could be done and nothing shook out. Then I emailed Joey Zapata, the Assistant City Manager, and I asked him what was going on, because I was starting to hear more and more about these sorts of shut downs. And, Joey spoke to me about safety concerns, which I totally understand, but he didn’t have any answers. Finally, I went down to the Permit Center to see if I could get a “showroom” permit because I had heard that’s what all the other spaces had… But, after almost being issued a “store” permit I was told that there had been some issues in the past that needed clearing up and that they could no longer speak to me. They needed Kirk Hopper to come down,” says Valderas.

Valderas isn’t alone in his confusion. Daniel Yanez, an artist and the owner of The Basement Gallery in Oak Cliff, said his gallery has been shut down for almost five months. Yanez spoke at Saturday’s CVP meeting about his struggle to reopen the gallery. He seemed at a loss about what could be done.

“I’ve gone back and forth with the city to get my [certificate of operation],” he says, “we already had a [certificate of operation] when the [fire marshals] first came and they said it was the wrong one. Is there anything that can be done? This has cost thousands of dollars. Is there some education or training? What can be done?”

Jennifer Scripps, the director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, asked Yanez  to meet with her privately so that she could steer him toward a liaison who has been specially assigned to deal with this issue. But, she reminded people that these issues predate her – she took over the OCA in May –  and there is little she can do to help artists and galleries unless they come to the OCA with their issues.

“A lot of these incidents were happening and the OCA was not involved,” says Scripps, “No one came to use and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I am dealing with this,’ so we are now involved we are going to be here until it’s fixed, but understand I am hearing about horrible things that are happening and unless someone calls us… we’re not able to know. The fire marshal doesn’t call us.”

What’s Next And How Do These Issues Get Fixed?

Scripps and officials at the Fire Marshal office have called a community meeting on August 9th  from 12:30 to 2 p.m. at City Hall Level1 EN, Conference Room 2.  Artists and gallerists can communicate concerns and get issues cleared up.

At Thursday night’s meeting, Scripps also announced that the OCA is hiring someone to help with community outreach, to better direct artists to helpful information.

“I think what we’re hearing is that we need to be better about making it really easy to call us and get what you need,” says Scripps, “”Good news, we have an open position and we’re going to be tweaking the job description to make artist outreach and support more a part of the job.”

But looking past the August 9th meeting with the Fire Marshal’s office and the new OCA employee, Scripps says that perhaps it’s time to look at new ordinances or new types of zoning so groups that help keep the vibrant art scene in Dallas alive don’t have to deal with these issues.

“We have run into issues where our city code and [certificates of occupancy] may not have kept up with what artists are doing; however, we’re working with artists to communicate what they need to do with code or building inspection to come into compliance,” says Scripps.

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