“A lot of people think ‘mañana’ means tomorrow, but really it means ‘just not today,’ ” Michelle Kirk told me recently.
Kirk, cofounder of Fort Worth’s latest progressive art gallery with former Art Tooth Executive Director and Senior Curator Dee Lara, describes Mañanaland’s concept as a space dedicated to fostering the talents of new and nontraditional artists, those who find themselves staring down a dream, clinging to the belief that the future is what we envision.
The idea for the project first took hold about 14 years ago, when Kirk left the brick-and-mortar, canonically appointed Fort Worth art scene for Marfa, Texas. While living in the high desert, she opened an antique shop.
“I sold mid-century furniture,” she said. “That was my dream back then and then … I got burnt out on the life of the hoard.”
She then chased her creative ambitions down to New Orleans, where she worked with artists in her first gallery space, Square 459, until the building’s property manager sold her space with little notice. A rent-controlled apartment in downtown New Orleans almost cajoled her into staying, but an old warehouse off Stanley Avenue on the Near Southside beckoned her back to Fort Worth.
“I started thinking about how everything in Fort Worth had changed so much, and it just seemed like the time was right to come back,” she said. “I’ve been back here for two years working on this building.”
Mañanaland is an artist-run DIY space that lived another life once as a World War II-era army warehouse, also known as a quarter house. Resembling a barn, the unpretentious white structure plays well with installation art for now, although Kirk hopes to secure more funding to continue development of the 30,000 square-foot space.
Perhaps the building’s most remarkable feature faces outward, literally. It’s a black-and-white mural of a cheerful JonBenét Ramsey in a 10-gallon hat. Behind her, a band of rainbow colors stretches from one end to the other of the building. On one side of the building just below the rainbow is an upright piano painted in all white, signed in large script by Miami-based muralist Andy Catlin, who is a good friend of Kirk’s.
“Now every person that drives by [Mañanaland] is accosted by art,” Kirk said with a laugh. “It’s a powerful mural that lets us touch everyone who drives down the street now. We are shoving art in people’s faces on their way to work or … taking the kids to school.”
At its core, Mañanaland’s mission is centered around social practice art, the kind of socially progressive, community-driven approach to creation and display celebrated by feminists like Corinne Loperfido or local influencer Darryl Ratcliffe. The colorful, otherworldly aesthetic that Kirk champions wasn’t one she studied in school. She simply knew she preferred art that communicated a message.
“Our ethos is radical inclusion, radical self-expression, and radical self-acceptance,” Kirk explained. “Because art is for everyone, and it should be accessible to everyone. It should include diverse points of view and not just what’s represented in museums, which is mostly white men.”
True to her philosophy, Kirk and partner Lara held a spirited reception for Mañanaland’s grand opening earlier this month, with Madie Braswell, known for her prismatic projection pieces, and Juilliard-trained modern dancer Dangerous Rose. Arnoldo Hurtado parked his Art Scream Truck outside, and one of New Orleans’ most popular DJs, DJ Otto, painted the soundscape with colorful beats.
Mañanaland’s cofounders are planning an event for the end of May. Kirk said she’s looking for new talent, emerging, underserved artists in need of a platform to share their message. Her focal point remains set on nurturing local artists, which she deems especially important given the difficulty that regional artists face in establishing a career in the art industry.
Kirk also maintains close ties to her compatriots in Marfa. Soon she plans to announce future collaborative efforts with the Marfa Film Festival, taking place in July, when she hopes to arrange for a Mañanaland pop-up show out in West Texas.
Kirk said she owns a second property in Marfa, which is waiting to be developed into her next dream venture: a creative compound of gallery spaces and artist residences that could serve as a pipeline of experience for aspiring artists in Fort Worth. With so many possibilities ready to develop in Mañanaland, Kirk said she continues to welcome participation from interested affiliates, noting that at the heart of everything she touches is collaboration.