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MAP: A New Public Art Festival in Dallas This Fall

by Jerome Weeks 27 Mar 2013 7:35 AM

This fall, the Nasher will put up artworks around Dallas to mark its 10th anniversary. But a brand-new festival called MAP (Make Art with Purpose), will be doing the public-art-all-over-town thing as well. The budget’s smaller but the ambitions are big: Changing the way people think.


Janeil Engelstad in residence last summer at Art Mill in the Czech Republic. Photo credit: Alex Katis

This fall, the Nasher Sculpture Center will present new artworks at different sites all around Dallas — to mark its 10th anniversary. But the Nasher won’t be the only group populating the cityscape with art. KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports on the MAP Festival. MAP stands for Make Art with Purpose.

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Brennen Bechtol is in his backyard shed where he customizes old bicycles. He’s dismantling one — unbolting the components from the frame: pedals, brakes, chain. It’s an old Japanese bike, he explains,  probably from the 1970s. Bechtol works in a art-frame shop but he’s started a sideline in custom-building ‘cargo bikes’ — bikes with extended boxes, like small truck beds, to be used to transport groceries or any kind of goods. He’s even working on a commissioned ‘barrista bike’ — a bicycle with a compact but full-service coffee bar built on it.

Bechtol will tear this old bicycle down to the bare frame and send that out to be re-painted. Then he’ll re-furbish the bicycle with new parts, tires, gears, a seat, whatever it needs.

For the Make Art with Purpose Festival, Bechtol (left) is retooling a handful of bikes, a small fleet. They’ll be offered by MAP so people can tour the two dozen or so public art projects and lectures the festival will present in neighborhoods around town. Think of Bechtol’s bikes as part of guided museum tours – but outside, on wheels.

The point isn’t just about encouraging bike-riding in Dallas. Bechtol strips out the bike’s rusted chain: “This chain will probably get replaced. If it doesn’t get re-used, there’s a person that takes old bicycle components and turns them into pieces of art.”

So Bechtol’s project will lead to attractive, re-fitted bikes. It’ll encourage urban bicycling in Dallas and it recycle cast-off metal: That’s the kind of project Janeil Engelstad has built her MAP Festival around. It’s art that embodies or advocates progressive causes — environmentalism, international understanding, gay rights, helping the homeless — everything Engelstad sees as aspects of social justice.

“Really key to these projects,” she says, “is those ethical concerns. So that you’re not just coming in and using a community but rather partnering with a community and giving them an opportunity they might not otherwise have.”

Engelstad is a former Fulbright scholar who divides her time between Dallas and San Francisco. She’s a photographer, lecturer and curator. She’s spent years at the intersection of art and social practice – like documenting the lives of Eastern Europeans after Communism. Engelstad established Make Art with Purpose in 2010. This October will be MAP’s first festival, and Engelstad hopes to do one every three years in a new city.

So why start it in Dallas?

“I think it’s ready for it,” she says. “There’s a lot going on here in terms of conversations about how does art engage with urban environment. There’s city farms now. So all of these things are just beginning in the last year or two, and it’s not so saturated that there’s not room for more investigation.”

The MAP Festival budget is about $300,000.  That’s actually rather modest (the Nasher is raising several million for Nasher Xchange, its anniversary celebration). Yet the festival is ambitious in mustering local and international talents, finding partners like the Trinity River Audubon Center and UNT. The talent includes Slovak artist Oto Hudec who’ll help build a giant megaphone in an Oak Cliff park (left, the one he built in Brazil). The big horn’ll be used to discuss – and amplify – the concerns of Latino youths, whom Hudec will be working with for two months beforehand.

Also in October, the Texas Theater (NOT the Kessler, as originally reported) will screen Living Condition by Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman. It’s an animated documentary concerning three families with relatives facing capital punishment (below).

Narrating voice from Living Condition: “James steps in and says, you know, you’re not gonna get this dog. You’d better leave this dog alone. Stood up for the little guy and … somebody pulled out a gun.”

Many of the MAP projects are hybrids, involving performance, historical research, cuisine and urban re-use — as much or more than conventional forms like sculpture or painting. There’ll be a tent put up near White Rock Lake, for instance. Author-artist Robin Kahn spent time as an artist-in-residence with women in refugee camps in the Western Sahara desert in Africa. The people there have been fighting Morocco for independence. Kahn produced a book, Dining in Refugee Camps: The Art of Sahrawi Cooking, and documenta 13 approached her about expanding that. Documenta is the prestigious, contemporary art survey that takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany. So last summer, Kahn set up a tent — like the ones the Sahrawi women live in  — she played native music, served tea and lentils and hosted the women, who discussed their lives as refugees. Kahn will be doing a smaller, shorter version of that project in Dallas.

From just these three unconventional works, it’s clear Engelstad sees a prime function of art is getting people talking. Art provides a social gathering to demonstrate and discuss causes.

If you re-tool bikes, can you eventually re-tool people’s ways of thinking?

“How does culture inform us and shape us?” Engelstad asks. “It’s questions like that that we can use here in Dallas to ask about our own identity as a city” — she starts to laugh — “which of course the city loves to look at.”