About a month ago, I had this conversation with a longtime Area Band Dude about the state of live music in a post-pandemic Fort Worth. Specifically, I was curious about where one went to see bands if one was not old enough to go to bars, seeing as how the last place that offered all-ages shows, 1919 Hemphill, was years gone before 2020. He told me about “this place in Bedford. It’s kind of the epicenter of the local hardcore scene.” Following this lead, initially through creeping the Instagram account of a local band called Ozone, I found what he was talking about, a place called Central Arts of Bedford. On the Central Arts account, seeing the photos of bands tearing it up on what appeared to be an ancient disco floor was kind of thrilling, like I had found a stack of old Thrashers and was reliving some moment in Bay Area metal history.
But hosting hardcore shows isn’t Central Arts’ only function. It’s a 501(c)3 nonprofit, meaning it is funded and crewed by donors and volunteers. To sum up its mission statement, Central Arts exists to create spaces where art can flourish and offers creative opportunities to the community through art-related events, education, and community outreach. On some nights, those spaces feature death-metal bands, and on other evenings, there are Paint-and-Pot Nights, in which attendees paint terra cotta pots and plant succulents in them. Two Sundays ago, there was a show headlined by Oakland, California’s Twompsax — the punk rock vehicle of pro skateboarder Cher Strauberry — which made an amusing contrast with what I saw when Cedric Santillan gave me a tour: some sweet old ladies browsing a gallery of paintings from the artists of the Trinity Arts Guild.
Santillan is an Area Band Dude himself, who grew up in Bedford, spending his teenage years riding around on a skateboard and listening to punk. He got into booking shows as a teenager, first at his high school, then at 1919 Hemphill, and he played bass in a punk band called Pulled Under. I met up with him at Central Arts of Bedford, the art space/community outreach center that he and his father, Joshua Santillan, operate. Found in a strip mall off Central and Harwood in Bedford, Central Arts of Bedford is housed in a space that used to be a tae kwon do studio. It is neighbors with Bedford Pharmacy, Lone Star Yarn, and Planned Parenthood, and it’s a couple of doors down from Danny’s Celtic Pub. Santillan said most of the tenants leasing the strip mall’s spaces weren’t there prior to Central Arts.
“Around five, six years ago, we would do these pop-up art galleries inside these empty strip malls,” Santillan said. “That’s what we started out as. And what we realized is that art is an economic driver. It drives everything — community, culture — and this whole shopping mall, except for a few spots, was empty, ugly, nobody rented it out.”
His dad had done some foam installation work for the mall’s owner, and they worked out a deal to show art in some of the spaces. And, gradually, the tenants started leasing again.
“We turned it from 10% to 90% occupancy,” Santillan said.
He started booking shows in one of the last spots to be rented, now occupied by Lone Star Yarn.
For the moment, the ladies and their landscape paintings will coexist with the sturm und drang of punk and metal shows, but when another location is fully operational, this one in Hurst, Santillan will have two spaces for live music.
“Right now, the Bedford space is kind of more of an adult area, while the Hurst space is more geared for children,” Santillan said.
And to his point, the Hurst location has more arcade games, and it also has boxes and boxes of arts and crafts supplies, and stacks of kids’ art, much of which came from last summer’s art class attendees. But next to that space is the former grocery store that Santillan and his dad are in the process of repurposing. The erstwhile Just Ripe Produce will eventually house a thrift store, pantry, library, and art studios, as well as a live performance space that’s about the size of Lola’s Saloon. It’s an ambitious endeavor, but the impact it will have on the neighborhood is inspiring. And in the meantime, Central Arts of Bedford will continue to be a spot for all-ages shows. Hopefully, some local version of Thrasher exists to capture the venue’s moment in time.