The Artist Residency Program at South Side on Lamar in Dallas
Charissa N. Terranova
Supremely inorganic, the organic is the Generic Citys strongest myth.
The Artist Residency Program at South Side on Lamar offers an urban economics lesson on gentrification and the peculiar commerce of cultural exchange in Dallas. Like most cities, the process of gentrification in Dallas marks the triumph of capitalisms organic unfolding. But location in this instance is cause for qualification since Dallas hosts, or shall I say performs, the organic unlike other cities. That is, in the hands of Dallasites the organic and the natural are invariably rethought, in turn becoming both fantastic and manufactured.
Not unlike Duchamps revolution-stirring Fountain (1917), the progressive form of urban renewal proffered by South Side sets in relief a new type of readymadethe cultural readymadethe scale of which goes beyond anything Duchamp himself ever envisioned. But then again, this readymade functions under the auspices of the Establishmentthose social and economic forces that Duchamp sought to subvert. Support from the Establishment in no way lessens or negates the status of vanguard urbanism. Rather, it sheds light on the new, amoral condition of avant-gardist production as an anti-polemical existence. The interdependence of the Establishment and avant-garde so apparent and active at South Side makes a silent pointa point of no ideological or moral bones.
The raison dtre of the Dallas avant-garde is not to resist capitalism or the powers that be. As far as Dallas is concerned, art has always and will forever be a matter of the marketplace. Here, art is naturallyeven organicallyintertwined with capitalism. Coupled with and fueled by the free market, Dallas tendency to embrace what the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas calls the myth of the organic has, in fact, made the city an inevitable site for creative and profitable misinterpretation of given standardsthose of the avant-garde and otherwise. In this instance, though, by given standard I refer to the process of gentrification.
In the world at large including and beyond Dallas, gentrification follows a path easily recognizable to contemporary eyes. As an operation and progression of urban revitalization, in now-blighted once-bustling areas of a citys core, gentrification works best. It flows quickest and succeeds with greatest vibrancy in spaces where the streams of capitalism course unfettered. When the State intervenes, it does so with an eager, invisible hand, gently guiding those coursing currents and, in so doing, reveals its role as arbiter, cog and necessary enabler of the capitalist machine itself. Gentrification thus depends upon the capricious swing and flux of the marketthe abandonment and depopulation of old city locales and, perhaps most important of all, the agency of the willful, choosy and desiring urban actor, or what we might otherwise refer to as the consumer.
Yet far from a matter of chaos, gentrification functions according to a succinct and almost predictable logic, what might be considered a natural path of development. It is a path from which South Side veers not so much out of illogic but experimentation, which is perhaps the very seed force of gentrification itself.
Ludwig Schwarz, Schremp 1000 (Carry On), 2004
Mixd media installation, South Side Gallery, April 2004
Photo: Harrison Evans
Normally, gentrification starts with blighted or abandoned land most often located in or close to the old industrial center of a cityland that has temporarily fallen into disuse and momentary obsolescence.2 Transformations in manufacturing and labor are usually the twofold catalyst for an exodus of businesses and population and an ensuing fall in property value. The seemingly valueless and dead property lies dormant until certain urban agents appearnot so much like God from the machine but rather as purposeful and cognizant go-betweens in a system perpetually in expansion. They are consumers in need of an affordable productshoppers looking for a good deal on rent. Acting between the not-yet-marketable and an open and all-consuming market, they are cultural intermediaries who, unwitting or not, become the movers and shakers helping the market to flourish and expand by injecting vitality back into the anemic and seemingly useless organs of the greater urban body.3
These actorstypically artists, gays and lesbians, single mothers and other representatives of various subculturesmove in for reasons of sheer pragmatism, namely because industrial carcasses in abandoned neighborhoods provide ample and much needed affordable space.4 Artists find spaces large enough to house them and their artwork. The gay community finds oases away from less tolerant areas of the city. Single mothers find convenient public transportation and childcare facilities. And all find a bargain in housing.
As the area re-populates, cafs, bookstores and sundry service infrastructure start to appear, providing amenities for residents and a rising pool of trendsetters. Such cultural intermediaries make blighted areas safe, interesting and livable for others, creating a seedbed for a shift in demography from lower to middle and elite classes.5 As part of this organic unfolding, the demographics of the area change: property becomes highly sought after, rent goes up and nomadic intermediaries who pioneered the area move on to more affordable (and as yet un-gentrified) areas. Finally, an old neighborhood becomes revitalized and the process begins again in some other forgotten niche of a vibrating, booming metropolis.
Veering only slightly but nevertheless in significant fashion from this standard model, the process of gentrification on the south side of Dallas tells us otherwise. South Side on Lamar is proof that the process of gentrification itself has evolved. Insomuch as a given organisms organic path is constituted by life, death, and in the long run evolution, we might look upon this as an example of capitalisms evolutionary passageproof that like all living organisms, the process of gentrification must veer, shift, form and reform in order keep up with an ever-shifting marketplace.
Sai Selvarajan, Last Free Exit, 2003
Far different from the slow, seemingly natural passage of gentrification discussed above, the development of South Side offers a hasty all-in-one program of gentrification. The factory-cum-loft space of South Side is an example not so much of capitalisms organic path run amok, but rather a variance in its very staging in the form of manufactured gentrification. Instead of the steady development of an area over a decade or so according to the fluid passage of artists and the like, here is a case of insta-gentrificationreadymade cultural production by way of one developers vision for an abandoned Sears catalog center on Lamar Street.
Key to such insta-gentrification is the built-in and subsidized space for artists connected with the Artist Residency Program of the University of Texas at Dallas and South Side. Since Jack Matthews purchased the property in 1997, he has held that art is the catalyst that drives the economic motor.6 Matthews understands that, over and above hard manufacturing, urban revitalization in the current moment prescribes investment in the cultural fieldthe arts and what Joel Kotkin has called the cutting-edge activity of the knowledge-value economy.7 Here is an instance of gentrification determined by the notion of the artist-as-trendsetter.
Yet artists alone could not set this project afloat. Funds beyond what Matthews could invest would be needed. Financial incentives arising from the complexs listing on the National Register as a City of Dallas Landmark, coupled with a Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit amounted to $15 million in financial incentives. In addition, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] provided a $64.4 million loan. Matthews combined such support from the public sphere with investments from an international consortium of investors: five Canadians, five Europeans and one American to cover the additional funds needed for the South Side urban experiment.8
Matthews integrated ten subsidized live/work loft spaces for an Artist Residency Program as part of the rehabilitation of his 17-acre site in 1997. Thus, when South Side opened its doors to renters in 1999, artists would constitute part of Matthews vision from the very beginning. Artists are provided space for two months to one year in exchange for guest lectures, exhibitions and performances at both UTD and South Side.
Two furnished units reserved for international visiting artists add a little cosmopolitan spice to the space. Each unit is a comfortable 1,150 square feet with hardwood floors. Depending on ones taste, these spaces are quite nicevery SoHo on the go-go, very urbane. They come with a full kitchen and bath, basic appliances, air conditioning and heat and, most important of all, the beautiful high ceilings, old firewalls and revealed concrete piers characteristic of typical loft space.
The Artist Residency Program floundered for the first three years of its existence until Rick Brettell, Professor of Aesthetic Studies at UTD, stepped in in 2003. Using the preexisting Cedars Station train stop located a block away, and the enormous police station newly constructed just across the street as part of his argument, Brettell persuaded UTD to work in conjunction with the Artist Residency Program at South Side. Today, the robust program is known as the UT Dallas/South Side Artist Residency Program.
The linchpin of successful cultural production at South Side is the figure of the artist. This may come as no surprise since the redevelopment of this old factory into loft and commercial space parallels the gentrification of the south end of the city. And with gentrification comes the presence of the artist. Or, to be more accurate, before gentrification must come the presence of the artist. In an unusual twist, at South Side on Lamar, the two have arrived simultaneouslythe artist with gentrification. As a result, we have on our hands a very provocative and singular form of gentrification. This is what makes Matthews master plan truly a cultural readymade. The presence of artists on site is meant to cast a certain cultural joie de vivrean instantaneous imprimatur of the full urban existence.
Obviously, absent from this scenario is the rough and tumble life that usually confronts pioneering urban actors, those cultural intermediaries who enter blighted urban areas of seeming ill repute. For a different trajectory of urban revitalization and gentrification, one might look to neighboring Deep Ellum. Today an entertainment district with bars and art galleries, Deep Ellum was a vibrant African-American community in the first half of the twentieth century first settled as freedmens town by former slaves after the Civil War. The area grew into a bustling industrial enclave in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By the thirties it had become a vibrant center for jazz and blues.9 Because of the same shifts in manufacturing that ultimately caused the Sears Catalog Center to close its doors in 1993, Deep Ellum declined beginning in the immediate postwar era. Rail lines were rerouted and manufacturing jobs dried up, forcing inhabitants to leave in search of work.
While driven in part by a master planthe Near East Side Area Planning Study of 1982gentrification in Deep Ellum was a piecemeal effort, following the standard model more closely than the South Side. Because of its physical spread, the urban fabric of Deep Ellum propounds a cultural complexity different from South Side. South Side is special if not peculiar because of its purpose, its scope, its developer and, perhaps more importantly, the space itself.
In short, what makes South Side special is its structure and content: its scale and type as a self-contained, former plant and its revised and diverse architectural programming that includes live/work space for artists. In South Side we witness the birth of micro-urbanismart galleries, a caf, florist, grocery store, video rental store and residential spaceincluding subsidized lofts for artistsall inside one giant architectural superstructure.
From this perspective, the Artist Residency Program might seem a little sanitized, even theatrical and vaguely ostentatious. The showy if not schmaltzy character of the program in its first life is brought home by the shop windows and small exhibition spaces that are part of each artists live/work space. These units reveal the developer indeed had a visionnot only for urban living but for arts place within this constructed reality. (Easel painting anyone?) Ultimately, these are niggling remarks that detract from an overwhelmingly positive presence both as an urban entity and an Artist Residency Program. Frankly, this is how Dallas does things. So-called authenticity and authentic living are foreign to this placein this case, thankfully so. Instant change and instant lifestyle are part of this citys peculiar ethos. This is a place with a perverse sense of cultural legacy: a place where forgetting reigns.
Reynaldo Thompson, The Banquet: Pigeon, Snake and Pig (installation view), 2003
Fabric, furniture, ink jet prints, oil on Plexiglas, two beta fishes, two computers with flash animation
Exhibited at the Green Center in the University of Texas at Dallas, September 2003
The situation at South Side brings to mind the ideas of Bernard Mandeville, who in his Fable of the Bees (17141732) wrote of private vices and public benefits.10 Tweaking Machievelli for a post-Enlightenment world, Mandeville argued that as long as there is public benefit, the means of production are of little importance. People naturally work for reasons of greed and perform good deeds out of self-interest; if hypocrisy is so often at the root of altruism, we shouldnt waste time arguing the morality of sources. It is obvious that good deeds are often wrought from questionable motivations. Of course Mandevilles Fable was a satire but it is nevertheless in part true.
Matthews lives a Mandevillian reality some three-hundred years after the fact; the livelihood of artists at South Side is the result of enlightened self-interest. Matthews sees symbolic cultural capital in the figure of the artist and this, in turn, works in the artists favor. She is an asseta commoditythat will not only raise the value of his space but also bring with her a tasteful distinction, to invoke Bourdieu, to living at South Side on Lamar.11 She, eccentric or not, will make life tony and sophisticated, avant-garde and new. She will make South Side at Lamar trendya full-out lifestyle rather than just a place to live.
The residency program at South Side on Lamar is managed by Karen Weiner. The 2004 artists-in-residence are Chris Jagers, Annie Murdock, Ludwig and Marjorie Schwarz, Sai Selvarajan, Reynaldo Thompson, Kyle Wadsworth, Chen Xinpeng, Kelli Connell, Carola Dreidemie and Kaneem Smith.
1 Koolhaas, Rem, The Generic City, SMLXL (New York: Monacelli Press, 1995), 1253.
2 See P.A. Redfern, What Makes Gentrification Gentrification? Urban Studies, Vol. 40, No. 12 (November 2003), 2351-2366 and John A. Hannagan, Gentrification, Current Sociology, Vol. 43, No. 1 (June 1995), 173-182.
3 Ley, David, Artists, Aestheticisation and the Field of Gentrification, Urban Studies, Vol. 40, No. 12 (November 2003), 2541.
4 Hannagan, 174-177.
5 See Matthew W. Rofe, I want to be Global: Theorising the Gentrifying Class as an Emergent lite Global Community, Urban Studies, Vol. 40, No. 12 (November 2003), 2511-2526.
6 Creating Cool: The South Side on Lamar Project, in State of the Arts, 6; from the files of Karen Weiner.
7 Kotkin, Joel, The Future of the Center: The Core City in the New Economy, Part 6: Learning from Reality: Guidelines for Policymakers, Investors and Entrepreneurs (November 1999), http://publicpolicy.pepperdine.edu/davenportinstitute/reports/center/center7html.
8 Unpublished essay by Catherine C. Galley, South Side on Lamar: Arts and Light Rail Revitalize South Dallas, 4-6.
9 See Alan B. Govenar and Jay F. Brakefield, Deep Ellum and Central Track: Where the Black and White Worlds Converged (Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 1998), and Deep Ellum, http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/DD/hpd1.html.
10 See Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees (New York: Penguin Classics, 1989).
11 See Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984).