A couple of years ago, before the Calatrava Bridge was even finished, I wrote about the artistic hope the other side of the bridge in West Dallas presented as a working-class area full of mostly vacant warehouses that seemed ripe for artists to intervene somehow, as artists historically have in similarly neglected but interesting neighborhoods everywhere. At the time that I wrote that piece in 2011, the conversation surrounding the West Dallas development was tense because of the likelihood that new development would push out long-time residents of the largely Hispanic neighborhood surrounding Singleton Blvd., the main strip the bridge feeds into. But so far, thanks to efforts by groups like Brent Brown’s urban archiving studio, BC Workshop, which catalogued stories of the La Bajada neighborhood last year, support of the old community has galvanized, making the issues at hand less fraught. Two years ago, in the heat of the debate, there wasn’t really anything new by way of retail or restaurants on the other side of the yet-to-be-finished bridge, and save for a few occasional pop-up shows, there wasn’t much happening by way of art interventions either.
Now, with the once pristine and white Calatrava bridge now sullied with eighteen months of exhaust stains, the other side of the bridge looks decidedly different. Thanks to the deep pockets of a team of developers, called West Dallas Investments, headed by restaurant mogul Phil Romano (of Eatzi’s and The Macaroni Grill, among others) the area has seen a boom of restaurants, including the “restaurant concept incubator,” Trinity Groves. And thanks to the Dallas Contemporary’s penchant for street art, the once drab faces of many of the warehouses are now bedecked in with colorful mural commissions by the likes of Shepard Fairey and, most recently, the graffiti duo Faile. Plus, by way of heralding the signs of a boom, a new traffic light was installed near all the new development a couple weeks ago, much to the surprise (read: screeching-to-a- halt) of this frequent area commuter.
But for all of the food hoopla and infrastructure adjustments, apart from the Dallas Contemporary’s mural commissions there has been little evidence of any artistic infiltration in the neighborhood, at least not out on the surface. But anyone moderately involved in the Dallas art scene will know that a group of artists — Arthur Peña, Nathan Green, Matt Clark, and Brian Ryden — share a warehouse studio together just off the Singleton Blvd. drag. They call it Deadbolt Studios. The crew pulls in a steady stream of friends and associates to the place, where guests can marvel at the carpentry, electrical and plumbing finesse of the artists, who largely outfitted the space to meet their needs all on their own. The building that is Deadbolt Studios is owned by the same investment group, WDI, that owns the Trinity Groves complex and most of the other colorfully painted warehouses that line Singleton and its side streets. WDI, under the guidance of member Butch McGregor, in addition to incubating food concepts, is also keen on drawing artists to the area to add to its retail and cultural viability. McGregor is the go-to guy when artists in Dallas have an idea that would involve a big empty space: he’s lent buildings for many pop-up shows over the last few years.
Inspired by the No Wave music and performance art scene of the 70s and 80s which operated out of abandoned warehouses and storefronts in downtown New York, often for little or no rent, Arthur Peña recently opened up a warehouse space called Ware:Wolf:Haus — a nod, perhaps, to the vampiric, fly-by-night nature of the No Wave scene — where he hosts experimental art shows and concerts.
“I found myself in a situation where the space was available,” says Peña, and it would have been irresponsible of me not to do something with [it].” Irresponsible, perhaps, because like many area artists of late, he sees a need to encourage non-commercial art activity, “something that isn’t directly tied to a market,” he says. Not being “tied to the market” universally means not being told what to do, and Peña thought he could navigate some pretty interesting waters with just such a carte blanche space, producing some art/music hybrid performances and shows that could push the needle on Dallas’ exposure to new things. ” Those shows NEED to happen,” says Peña, understanding that pushing the limits of the status quo can allow for newer innovations and therefore more cultural growth. “All I am doing is tapping people that I think are doing interesting things, handing them the space, and all I ask of them is that they do whatever they want as long as it pushes their limits, whatever that may be,” he says. “The great thing about WWH is that it is not a gallery, it’s just a warehouse with track lights and some bathrooms. So, immediately the context opens the conversation and broadens the content.”
Peña would really like to engage the area universities as well, pulling from their on-campus talent: “Those garage band, internet dwelling, synth groups need is a place to play that isn’t some dank, dark bar. WWH can be that place. That’s what it’s for.” He is also in the process of creating an alternative to Denton’s music festival 35-Denton, a “dragon-west coast-vampire-genderless-noise-sludge core alternative to it.”
Most recently, Peña handed the keys to artist team Tim DeVoe and Miriam Ellen Ewers, who created an interactive installation involving a van, a skateboard-ramp-cum-landscape, and some sculptures scattered throughout the space. The artists were able to get discounts on the materials they used from a local lumber yard, forming a retail alliance that Peña sees as part of the success of the project. And getting art world names like Nasher Sculpture Center director Jeremy Strick to come see the show was also a testament to the fact that effort and energy are valuable, no matter the art market cache. “All of this comes from just asking,” Peña says, and “I’ll say this to my dying day: everything is so much easier when people say ‘yes!'”
Even given the creative expansion the space could push, Peña doesn’t imagine running Ware:Wolf :Haus forever; in fact, he thinks the faster and more intense its lifespan the better. “It needs to be like the Chappelle Show: around for about three years, produce some quality material and then peace out.” His dream show, though, is “to have DNA and Sonic Youth play a show on opposite sides, with a cat farm in the middle, with lots of fog and lasers happening that are bouncing off of Gerhard Richter’s mirror-robot paintings from DIA: Beacon,” so I hope that at least he stays open long enough to finagle that David Lynch-y action. After that, let’s say, “it will be up to others to pick up the slack,” says Peña, “and I hope that’s what happens.”
Picking up the slack is the great hope of renegade projects like these — creating a kind of artistic progeny that, through imagination and ingenuity, draws the unseen art boundaries out farther, gathering more people within it.
Like the great musician and producer Brian Eno said about the No Wave movement at the time: “What they do is a rarefied kind of research; it generates a vocabulary that people like me can use. These… bands are like fence posts, the real edges of a territory, and one can maneuver within it.”
Deadbolt Studios will be holding an open house on Sunday, October 13, 2013, from 3-8 p.m.