LGBT-owned businesses in Uptown, Design District help complement new downtown Dallas performance venues
With the expansion of the Arts District, Dallas Voice spotlighted the many contributions of the LGBT community to the arts, which are generating new jobs and new interest in the city.
But downtown’s Arts District is only part of the story. Kenneth Craighead of Craighead Green Gallery said people from out of town are asking what’s going on in Dallas. And he’s not talking about new performance halls or the museums. He’s talking about North Texas’ working artists and Dallas’ vibrant gallery business, comparing the city’s art scene favorably to Seattle’s or New York’s.
Dozens of art galleries have opened in and around the Design District in the last several years. Smaller concentrations flourish in Uptown and Deep Ellum.
Surprisingly, only a few are gay-owned. Craighead Green is among them.
Opened in Uptown across from the Crescent in 1992 by Craighead and Steve Green, the gallery remained at its original location for 14 years.
Craighead said, "Our landlord understood the importance of art and rented us the gallery for under market rate."
But when their landlord retired and sold the building, the rent increased, which pushed them to look for a new home.
Conduit Gallery had just opened in the Design District. Others were looking at the area. Craighead said when they found their current Dragon Street location, their space increased from 1,800 to 6,000 square feet.
Since then, more than a dozen other traditional and contemporary galleries have followed them onto Dragon Street. Many more line Hi Line Drive and the cross streets between Interstate 35 and the Trinity River levees.
"The Design District has more than 100 galleries, antique shops, furniture shops and specialized shops having to do with the home," Craighead said.
Despite so many galleries in the area, Craighead said the competition is not a rivalry. Instead, the owners work together.
Neighboring gallery owner Holly Johnson coordinates openings so that all of the Dragon Street contemporary galleries stage them on the same day.
He said she moved the openings from Friday to Saturday so that customers can wander through a number of exhibits during the day, decide which ones they liked the most and then return in the evening to meet a few of the artists.
Each is "a true reflection of the personality of the gallery owners. Everybody does it in a different way. [Assistant gallery director Scot Presley] and I spend a lot of time putting the calendar together," Craighead said.
He said the secret to their success is "setting the standard and sticking to it."
Craighead said they placed their desks toward the back of the gallery because they wanted people "to walk in and think, ‘I’m allowed to look.’ It should be a pleasure. A fun luxury."
Because the Design District was formerly open to the trade only, Craighead said that not everyone knows that the general public is welcome there. That’s changing, he said, as new residential complexes open in the area.
In the evening, he’s noticed as many cars driving into the neighborhood as leaving. On Saturdays, he sees joggers and people walking dogs now. He said that had translated into new faces at every opening.
Artisan Style, another gay-owned gallery, opened this fall in Uptown. Despite the economy, owner Brandon Lynch thought this was a perfect time to open a new business.
Craighead agreed. He said he originally opened during a down economy in 1992 and thought this could be a very good time again. Landlords are more willing to negotiate.
At his former job, Lynch said he felt like he was on a sinking ship. His partner, Steve Iha, recently lost his job in advertising. Iha, however, had done well as an investor in the Deep Ellum restaurant Twisted Root.
They decided this was a good time to begin a new venture. Their love of art steered them to open an art gallery.
They found a house on Mahon Street in Uptown and negotiated a reasonable short-term lease. In September, they opened Artisan Style.
In contrast to other galleries in Uptown, they positioned themselves as affordable and have targeted the LGBT market.
Among the artists represented are a number of gays and lesbians, including Jim Frederick whose work has been featured in articles in Dallas Voice.
"The thing I looked for is affordable art in an area not known for being affordable," Lynch said. He would like people to think of giving art as gifts.
To create sales as the business grows and to promote the idea of art as the perfect present, they have included a number of gift items in their gallery.
Robelyn, a Waco-based artisan, recycles old clothes into new handbags under the label Red Neck Chic. Other gift items include pottery and jewelry made by local artisans.
Lynch and Iha recently rented another retail space in Deep Ellum and will open Main Street Mercantile to sell American antiques.
Lynch said he expected a lot of walk-in business from people visiting more established neighboring galleries, but he has found Artisan Style to be a destination for art enthusiasts.
Craighead said that he keeps a seating area with magazines and loves when people come in just to relax and just enjoy being surrounded by art. At the end of a day in court, he said, he has attorneys who "come in to decompress."
Rather than in an underground garage, park right next to the front door. Enter for free rather than pay an admission charge. And see work that may soon hang in the museums downtown. •
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 27, 2009.