Update (Tuesday, 6 p.m.): In Dallas, a number of art galleries and performance spaces have recently been cited for safety violations and other issues. At a meeting today, the city says it wants to help the arts community address these problems. If you missed our live stream of the meeting, you can watch it here.
Artists, gallery owners and landlords nearly filled the auditorium in the Central Library. Many were frustrated about the city’s zoning laws and skeptical about what could be accomplished.
Several city officials spoke first, including representatives from Building Inspection, the Fire Marshal’s Office, City Manager’s Office and the Office of Cultural Affairs. They explained the role of the Dallas County Fire Marshal and provided a list of contacts for artists concerned about compliance issues.
Then the officials opened the floor up for comments and question. Robb Conover, an artist and co-owner of Gallery 3 in Bishop Arts, spoke about the ambiguity of the issue.
“All I could see is that you were targeting the art community,” said Conover, “but nobody could give me us a definite answer on why or what or what to do or how to resolve this.”
Conover said trying to work with the city to resolve issues with his certificate of occupancy has been a mess. Others agreed, including gallerist Daniel Yanez, who ran The Basement in Oak Cliff for four years before it was shut down. He says he’s done everything the city has asked to get his certificate of occupancy (CO), but still his doors are closed.
“Keep taking y’all’s time, I’ve been waiting for five months for my CO,” said Yanez. He said he’s been unable to support his family while he’s waiting on the city.
“My kids are starving. What am I supposes to do? I’m losing my business and it seems like nobody cares.”
So, what exactly is a CO and why do these galleries need them? Well, the permit designates what type of business is operating at a certain location. So, if you’re an office or retail store, then you’ve probably got a CO for one of those two business.
But, if you’re a gallery that throws parties or host gatherings, then you’re probably operating outside of those normal parameters, and you need different kinds of permits. Those can be harder to obtain, and they may require modifications to a building – extra bathrooms, sprinkler systems – that most small galleries could never afford.
In addition, many galleries that have been in business for years are now being told they don’t have the right paperwork to keep their doors open.
Head of the Office of Cultural Affairs Jennifer Scripps, who has been working with artists on these issues, says the city is working to improve its process and help artists.
“I hope that they understand the city of Dallas has mobilized a really strong team to try and help people have these conversations and take a hard look, and that’s the first step,” she said. “And the longer-term work is looking to see how we might need to adjust our code.”
Officials said they will look at how other cities handle these issues. They will also look at temporary permits, which may help some cases. But they did admit that this is going to be a long process. Writing new codes will take time and these issues will not be fixed overnight. Until then, they encouraged artists and galleries to be proactive and contact them before holding openings or when renting a new space, to make sure they have proper permits.
This story was reported by Hady Mawajdeh.
Original story (Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.): At 12:30 p.m. today, the Dallas County Fire Marshal’s Office will hold an educational meeting on zoning specific to art venues, open to the public, at the Central Library Auditorium (1515 Young Street).
The meeting comes after a series of citations for art gatherings and galleries in Dallas, sometimes resulting in the spaces being shut down. Locals in the art scene feel targeted by city officials, so the two sides are meeting to discuss how to keep the city’s art scene alive.
Art&Seek will Facebook Live the meeting. Visit our Facebook page at facebook.com/artandseek to watch the stream.
Read more of Art&Seek’s coverage about these closings and the reaction of the art community.