The introductions were largely perfunctory. Many of the arts leaders seated in this large circle are longtime friends. They had seen one another’s respective groups grow from grassroots concepts to brick-and-mortar galleries, nonprofits, and artist collectives over the past few years. Members of Art Room, Fort Worth Art Collective, Art Tooth (of which I am a member), Latino Hustle, and the local photography community were represented at this first-of-its-kind meeting at Art Room, the new Near Southside gallery and classroom space.
“I think that we need to piggyback, all of us, on promoting everything that we’re doing,” said Nathan Madrid, Art Room executive director.
Art Tooth’s Aimee Cardoso responded that her group posts about local art events on a weekly basis.
“Beyond social media, what can we do?” asked photographer Chip Tompkins. “I don’t get on Facebook very much at all.”
Responses that ranged from phone calls and house calls to carrier pigeons brought laughter and chuckles. The group settled on a public Facebook page, later dubbed Fort Worth Art Scene, which was created that night. The conversations ebbed and flowed between chats about promotional videos and fundraising to ways the groups could collaborate. At one point, Madrid pitched the idea of creating a fine arts district in the Near Southside. Having such an area, he said, would create a center of gravity where folks who were interested in modern art could gather.
“We need buildings for these art organizations to exist,” he said.
Art Tooth board member Dave Riddile saw a broader focus for the groups moving forward.
“You started this conversation asking about money,” he said. “Then it went to communication. The reason we are wanting to communicate things is to get butts in seats so we can fundraise. It’s part of the same circle. You have these big dreams for where you’re going. You have to start thinking like a business.”
Latino Hustle founder Jessika Gúillen noted that Fort Worth’s arts group are focused on the same goals: elevating the quality of work made in Fort Worth, providing opportunities for artists to show and sell work, and making Fort Worth a fine arts destination.
“The fact that we’re all onboard with working together to elevate this city is such a Fort Worth thing,” Cardoso said toward the end of the meeting.
This summit for Fort Worth’s arts groups and collectives didn’t end so much as it slowly unwound. The friends chatted about upcoming events and assigned action items to be completed before the next meeting.
While past generations of Fort Worth artists, including the recently deceased George Grammar (himself part of the famed Fort Worth Circle art group), were content to move to large cities like New York City to further their careers, the current crop of young painters (Jay Wilkinson, Ariel Davis, Jeremy Joel, and many others) have staked their futures here. Fort Worth is now the 13th largest city in the country, and there is a belief among many young artists that the benefits of shaping the local art market outweigh the potential risks of moving to Houston, Los Angeles, or New York City.
The collectives and individual artists are creating opportunities for showing and selling art largely without the help of funds from the city and corporate benefactors that artists in Dallas, Austin, and Houston enjoy. Fort Worth’s fine arts reputation remains overshadowed by its world-renowned art museums. If the city is ever going to bill itself as an experientially rooted destination for modern art lovers, though, that future will be shaped by the local artists who work outside of Fort Worth’s established art institutions.
After the meeting, Madrid, Art Room cofounder Katie Murray, and program director Deedra Baker sat down to chat about their new nonprofit. Art Room grew out of the mutual friendship between Madrid and Murray, who both graduated with MFAs from Texas Woman’s University in 2014. While finishing graduate work, Murray and Madrid entertained fantasies of one day managing a white wall art gallery.
In early 2016, Murray was commissioned by Susan Gruppi and Jessica Miller (twin sisters and local developers) to paint a number of murals along Camp Bowie Boulevard and the Foundry District, a mixed-use development just northeast of the West 7th Street corridor. As part of the collaborations, the twins offered Murray a space in the Foundry District to show work.
Murray immediately called Madrid. “I told him that we have a space,” she said.
The duo put on their first show in March 2016.
“It was like an addiction,” Murray said about the high she felt following the show. “It was amazing — not just the turnout but the quality of artists and their willingness to do it. There was an outpouring of support.”
Soon after, Murray’s pregnancy, Madrid’s guest lecturer position at Texas A&M University, and general burnout took Art Room off the scene until the summer of 2018, when Baker and Madrid began tinkering with the idea of reviving Art Room as a nonprofit gallery space. Near Southside property owner Eddie Vanston offered Art Room’s current location on St. Louis Avenue for an agreeable rate. After Madrid cleaned and painted the gallery, Art Room was back.
“The idea was always to bring in new kinds of art and to have a space that didn’t rely on selling art,” Madrid said. “In order to do that, we needed to be a nonprofit. We also wanted to bring in arts education and use our arts education background.”
Art Room returned to the local art scene last October with 10: Small Works Show, which featured 10 local and regional artists. Showing work from San Francisco, New York City, and elsewhere is part of Art Room’s educational mission.
Showing outside work “challenges you,” Murray said. “It creates healthy competition. As art educators, we understand that value. If you see the same thing over and over again, you’re not learning new things.”
Art Room hosts artists workshops each Saturday and continuing education art classes throughout the week. Madrid, Baker, and Murray recently finished several pilot programs in Fort Worth school district art classes. Some of those programs involved working with students in their classrooms while others brought the kids to Art Room’s gallery and workshop space.
“We’re exploring what’s feasible for us,” Baker said. “The idea is to take our educational programs and to make them more extensive next fall. We’d eventually like to work with the same kids from elementary school through middle and high school.”
House of Iconoclasts
Fort Worth’s newest art collective is only several months old, but the 10 artists/members of House of Iconoclasts already have an impressive track record. Their first show, Fuck Your Art Degree, drew more than 500 attendees and showcased 83 artists at Shipping and Receiving Bar last March.
Founder Natalie Price said locals can expect a handful of massive shows from House of Iconoclasts each year that pair live music with themed exhibitions that pull from a wide range of mediums.
“I think we’re all kind of frustrated with how things are ‘supposed’ to be run in the art world,” she said. “I don’t think it is necessary for you to be in a gallery to be successful. I don’t want to view art as this lucrative thing that is valued [by its sticker price]. We want to create shows that are fun and inspiring. We want to inspire artists to create simply” for the love of creation.
Fuck Your Art Degree didn’t charge artists a submission fee, and Price didn’t take a cut from art sales, although several artists donated a percentage back to support the cause.
“That was something that was really important to me,” she said. “The donations are going toward the next show, paying our performers, and toward any fees that go into putting this on. I tried to be as generous as I can.”
Organizing art shows is now Price’s day job. When she quit her career as a hairdresser last fall to pursue art, she said she didn’t know where that choice would lead her. As other art collectives have discovered before her, there continues to be a shortage of opportunities to show and sell art in Fort Worth.
Price is planning a second show, Rebel, Rebel, at Shipping and Receiving Bar in late July. She plans for House of Iconoclasts to put on three events this year, including a possible Halloween-themed exhibition this fall. Rebel, Rebel will have a political theme.
“Fuck Your Art Degree was pointed at the art world,” Price said. “This show is pointed at the political climate that we’re living in. I think a lot of people share that frustration. We want to remind everyone that, with all the things that are happening, you’re still loved. Stay true to yourself and your individuality.”
Fort Worth Art Collective
Fort Worth’s longest-running art collective is barely eight years old. The 26 members of Fort Worth Art Collective (FWAC) have established careers, but they still benefit from pooling their resources to put on three to six shows per year in addition to their monthly shows at The Basement Lounge in the Ridglea Hills area.
FWAC member Bernardo Vallarino is currently heading the group. Under his tenure, FWAC has worked toward more strictly curated shows.
“We have to be much more guided on how we present ourselves,” he said. “We’re trying to do fewer overnight shows and more month-long and two-month-long shows.”
Vallarino is currently talking to Arlington Museum of Art directors about what a long-term collaboration would look like. The museum stands to gain from drawing on the social capital that groups like FWAC, Art Tooth, and Latino Hustle have garnered over the past few years. Vallarino said Fort Worth’s collectives and arts groups could benefit from having a presence inside an established museum. The plan is to start with pop-up shows throughout Arlington that would build toward curated shows inside the AMA.
I asked Vallarino if the recent meeting at Art Room was a good first step for Fort Worth’s arts groups.
“The first step happened years ago, when we started creating the collectives,” he said. “I’m encouraged by the emergence of everything that has followed. The second step happened when these groups figured out what they wanted to do. Now, everyone knows what they’re doing. We’re at the third step now. We’re all clear on what we’re doing and our respective roles.”
SAM Gallery is the vehicle through which painter Jeremy Joel plays the dual role of artistic provocateur and high-profile regional art show organizer.
“That’s my vision right now, to create an environment that is welcoming and to make this city a destination,” Joel said ahead of his recent music/art event, Pass the Peas.
From his early days organizing DIY art shows on Race Street six years ago to his more mainstream appearances at Fort Works Art and Shipping and Receiving Bar, Joel continues to be the anchor that holds many aspects of Fort Worth’s growing art scene together. With help from Shasta Haubrich, Jonathan Arguello, and others, Joel is tying SAM Gallery’s reputation to a regular series of spring and fall art shows that mix local, regional, national, and international artists under one Fort Worth roof. SAM Gallery’s next show will feature photographers and video-based artists this October.
“There are a lot of artists working in [those mediums] in Fort Worth,” he said. “My whole thought process is communal. It’s about trying to make cool shit for Fort Worth.”
Art Tooth grew from the converging aspirations of several young employees at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the founders of the art collective Bobby on Drums (Joel, Brandon Pederson, and Jay Wilkinson). Today, artists Aimee Cardoso, Ariel Davis, and Haubrich head the nonprofit, which is best known for its Gallery Night-based pArty bus, organized in collaboration with Blackhouse (a home/event space that hosts artists, musicians, and filmmakers).
Art Tooth is a resource for local artists. Cardoso and her team provide the local artist community with educational workshops, artist profiles published through Madeworthy Magazine, exhibition opportunities at prominent museums and galleries, and other events. The nonprofit also churns out high-profile projects, including the recent gateway to Fortress Festival and the SoMa District Mini Gallery at South Main Village. Art Tooth is co-organizing an artist workshop conference at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center on Saturday, June 15. The event, Art Aid Expo 2019, will feature guest speakers, seminars, and workshops. Art Tooth executive director Cardoso said her nonprofit is partnering with local business and municipalities to fund public art projects and events.
“We are so pumped to see this momentum continue, and we are truly blessed to have not only a great pool of artists but also supportive businesses and organizations,” she said. “Our goal is to elevate Fort Worth art and the surrounding areas by utilizing the talent we have here. This work will one day ensure that artists don’t feel they have to move elsewhere to find exhibitions and representation.”
Michelle Kirk describes her social practice as “bringing people together in an experience that breaks down boundaries and hopefully raises their joy quotient.”
For the last two years, she has engaged the community (and, yes, probably brought more than a little joy to folks) through her event space, Mañanaland. The former WWII army warehouse has seen better days. After decades of neglect, Kirk cleaned the large wooden structure as best she could. Her recent shows have showcased local artists, installation works, and various live performances.
“My shows are collaborative in nature,” she said. “Mañanaland is a venue for people to come together and do weird stuff. It’s a blank slate where people’s ideas bump against each other.”
Kirk recently secured funding to completely renovate Mañanaland. The improvements and upgrades will include foundation work, a new HVAC system, refinished walls, and repairs to the roof. The renovations, which start in a few months, will mean that Mañanaland can present shows throughout the year. Beyond overseeing renovations, Kirk said her focus will be on selling art and cultivating new art collectors in Fort Worth.
Fans of Kirk’s immersive and collaborative shows can look forward to August, when Kirk plans to unveil a new mural by Mariell Guzman and Adam Palmer. The unveiling will coincide with a show featuring avant garde music, installation sculptures, and a painted Mañanaland van that will have an interior made of “stuffed animal” material that visitors can crawl into.
When artist Jessika Gúillen noticed that Latinos weren’t adequately recognized in area galleries and art shows, she decided to take action. Gúillen partnered with photographer and online publisher Raul Rodriguez and musician Gerardo Contreras to form Latino Hustle three years ago. Their first show at Blackhouse showcased Hispanic artists and drew a crowd of several hundred.
More recently, the trio curated Aqui/Ahora, an exhibition at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center that showcased works by Sara Cardona, Francisco Josue Alvarado Araujo, Giovanni Valderas, Fabiola Valenzuela, and others. The theme for the show was political. The collective continues to push for greater opportunities for Latinx musicians and artists across North Texas.
The Riverside-based collective Art Luck has roots in figurative drawing. Artist Guillermo Tapia hosted the group’s first figure drawing session in July 2016. From those early classes, Art Luck has grown into a vibrant volunteer effort that hosts mixers, pop-up shows, and collaborations with local businesses.
“We believe in generating our own momentum,” Art Luck’s mission reads. “We are drawn to self-starters and hungry emerging talent. Our goal is to continue adding to our city by supporting small businesses and giving creatives a launchpad that creates an environment for self-exploration.”
Art Luck recently started a monthly Featured Artist series at the Riverside space that doubles as Tapia’s studio. Tapia is currently working on a monthly zine/photo album series that features work by local artists.
Fort Worth’s art groups, collectives, and nonprofits evolved out of necessity. With few galleries and museums that, up until recently, had limited engagement with the local artist community, Tapia, Gúillen, Cardoso, and others were faced with three possibilities: leave Fort Worth, acquiesce to the status quo, or change the art scene paradigm.
As the groups proved their ability to draw new audiences for art, institutions like the Kimbell Art Museum, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and Visit Fort Worth have seen the benefits of partnering with the still-young groups.
After hearing the viewpoints expressed at Art Room and chatting with the collectives’ founders in the days afterward, it became clear that the groups share two goals: create opportunities for artists to create and sell art and make Fort Worth a destination for engaging and relevant contemporary art. When these goals are met — and Fort Worth is heading in that direction — it will be largely due to the efforts of groups like Art Tooth, Art Room, and Latino Hustle. Madrid summed up the roll these collectives and nonprofits play.
“These groups are the only ones willing to take the risk,” he said. “We’re doing this with no salary. We are making a path that others can learn from. Maybe we’ll be around in several years, or maybe we won’t. Either way, we will pass on what we’ve learned.”