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Meet Six Folks Who Are Reshaping Fort Worth’s Cultural Scene

by Anne Bothwell 21 Sep 2018 5:38 PM

Every Friday, we offer a conversation with an arts newsmaker on State of the Arts on KERA FM. But six times a year, we take the show on the road for a live discussion about arts issues of interest in Dallas, Denton and Fort Worth.

The fall season of our live series kicks off next Friday, Sept. 28, at the Kimbell Art Museum with “Trailblazers: Fort Worth’s Emerging Creative Class.”   Art&Seek’s Jerome Weeks will lead a discussion about the city’s emerging cultural class.

State of the Arts “Trailblazers: Fort Worth’s Emerging Creative Class” is Friday, Sept. 28 at the Kimbell Art Museum. 

Our panelists are folks who are reshaping the city’s cultural scene: Jonathan Morris, owner of Fort Worth Barbershop; Noel and Sara Viramontes, creators of Blackhouse; Susan Gruppi and Jessica Miller Worman, the developers who created the Foundry District, and filmmaker Red Sanders.

I sat down with Jerome for a preview of the conversation next Friday. You can click above listen to our chat, which aired on KERA FM. Or check it out here:

Jerome, there’s a group of people in Fort Worth who are developing novel ways to connect creative people and foster cultural communities and you’ve met several of them recently.

Right. For instance, here is Fort Worth musician Abraham Alexander, this is taken from a video, and there’s something about the video that’s notable.

What’s notable about this is it’s a promotional video made by a barber shop.

You mean Abraham is a barber?

No, it’s the Fort Worth barber shop that’s made it. It’s run by Jonathan Morris and he’s actually in marketing. He wanted to bring back the culture of the black barbershop because they’re places where people can feel at home. They feel good about themselves because they’re looking good and he likes people hanging out. He says he wants to connect to that energy and he supports people who do that, like Abraham Alexander. It’s all about encouraging relationships.

But isn’t that what any business is about? You need to develop relationships with your customers?

Yes, but in the arts, there is no official standardized path or place for artists to connect. There’s no social meeting place for area novelists. There’s a book called “Culture Crash” written by Scott Timberg and he talks about these unofficial impromptu gathering places for the arts and how important they are. They’re essentially literary hangouts or painter’s hangouts. It’s where a lot of them discuss their art, their work. So when we lose a bookstore, Timberg used that it’s actually the loss of a kind of cultural community center and that can affect the feel of the neighborhood and that can affect an entire city’s culture.

So you talk about the Fort Worth barbershop as a cultural center. What other unexpected cultural centers have you found?

Well, there’s Blackhouse, created by  Noel and Sara Viramontes. They gutted their own home and turned it into an arts venue, all this being to done to promote that kind of connectivity across to the arts.

This all sounds great, lots of collaboration, lots of energy. But it’s kind of on a small scale, isn’t it?

Yeah, but the Viramontes and Morris have plans to expand their efforts. And other people are working on more ambitious scales. Susan Gruppi and Jessica Miller Worman are the co-founders of M2G Ventures and they’re big on re-purposing older buildings. Taking an old auto parts warehouse and turning it into studios and shops. But they’re big on for-fronting culture and art in their developments. They have murals painted and they encourage creatives to move in, so they developed the entire Foundry District on the west side of Downtown. And now they’re working on O.B. Mac, as they call it, which is in a former macaroni company, which is on the south side.

So all of these folks are creating an environment that might be more conducive in sticking around in Fort Worth and actually trying to make a living in a creative field. Is it having any impact? 

Well, a perfect model of doing just that is Red Sanders. He’s best known as a commercial video producer and filmmaker. He decided to stick it out here in Fort Worth instead of moving to L.A. and Sanders is now on the verge of a very big move. He’s about to become the real live head of a movie studio.

“The next big step for the company is called Backlot Studios and it will open this winter. And that was with creating this media production development zone over the Southside that provides an incentive for businesses to move in there and build something real and tangible like the studio.”

So what’s a media production development zone?

Basically, it’s a tax-exemption plan that encourages media companies to gather together in one spot to help develop that in the area. I’ll be asking Red more about that on Friday.