A few evenings ago on a Fort Worth street corner a scrawny guy with reddish hair and a crooked grin was rapidly stroking a guitar – not humming, not singing, not talking, just stroking, and not necessarily playing something that had much of a head-bopping melody. It reminded me of an acid rock tune that made absolutely no sense, a descant that was merely noise, made up by a musician who had lots to say musically and was saying it all at once in no particular harmonious order.
Yet there I stood, mesmerized. After a few minutes, it hit me: I was craving live performance, any live performance, that wasn’t a stream of consciousness from some opportunistic YouTuber.
The Arts right now is a ghost of itself. There’s zilch at the Levitt Pavilion and limited offerings at Arlington Music Hall and the Arlington Museum of Art. Upstairs Gallery is holding classes but only a few days a week, and with size limits. Former AMH General Manager Mark Joeckel was so fed up he started Create Arlington, which brings together musicians, artists, photographers and other like-minded creatives under one roof.
It is housed in a retro space in downtown Arlington and is exactly the sort of thing Downtown Management Corporation President and CEO Maggie Campbell had in mind when a consulting firm was hired to conduct a feasibility study on arts in Arlington. It’s a partnership formed with the City of Arlington and UTA from a Texas Commission on the Arts grant to explore the need of shared arts facilities in downtown Arlington.
“Artists tend to want to be around other artists,” Campbell tells me when asked why the assessment. “It has to be a place where creativity is fostered and welcoming. We did this because we think Arlington is well-positioned to be an attractive alternative for artists.”
Advancing the Arts in Arlington is a long-term plan, Campbell reminds me, with the end game being a more vibrant city attracting vibrant businesses.
While Campbell and crew look at this as an economic venture involving developers and the like – and there’s nothing wrong with that – artists just want to make art, whether it’s painting or making pottery or stroking a guitar.
“I feel like art is just healthy, period, on all levels,” is how Judy Geifert puts it.
Geifert is a painter known mostly for her acute attention to detail when it comes to everyday surroundings, whether it’s urban scenes or landscapes or profiles, such as her signature one of George W. Hawkes in the downtown library.
She grew up in small town Bowie in schools with no art instruction, but her grandmother was an artist with a studio in the back of the house.
“My mom drove me to things like art workshops in Wichita Falls,” says Geifert, who teaches at Upstairs Gallery along with other notables as Margie Whittingham, Sam Hopkins and Lynne Buchanan. Upstairs Gallery houses the largest selection of local artists.
“She took us to every art gallery around. What I loved about art early on was how it helped me figure out that there’s more to the world than what was in Bowie, which wasn’t much.”
Arlington artists I spoke with think a concerted City effort to advance art is a virtuous endeavor. But they all fall back on how art matters not just from the standpoint of lifting a city economically but transforming its soul. Art, whether it’s a mystery novel or street corner guitarist or Pentatonix belting out Little Drummer Boy, reaches us on an intellectual and emotional level, creating a kind of synergy of change in perceptions and attitudes and thoughts.
We certainly need that right about now.
“Art makes life more manageable, tolerable and enjoyable,” is what Tarrant County College Associate Professor of Art Angel Fernandez recently wrote in the school’s Reach Magazine. “Art forces us to look far beyond that which is necessary to survive and leads people to create for the sake of expression and meaning.”
So while DMC looks to integrate into a larger brand and identity to extract more value out of existing arts facilities through a combination of physical improvements through operating policies aimed at cultural development . . . Arlington artists will keep visualizing, keep creating, keep feeding this City’s soul.