Working on emptying my brain to the page – and started with the introductory letter for the Deep Ellum vision. Everything included is open for discussion and I’d love any/all feedback as well.
To the eyes, hearts, and minds reading this document,
Allow me a moment of your time, a brief moment for a story full of politics, tribes, friendship, betrayal, change, death, rebirth, romance – all leading up to today, this very moment, set in these very words.
This story takes place in downtown Dallas, Texas in a small quirky neighborhood known colloquially as Deep Ellum. Five streets wide, running east/west, and twelve blocks long, has housed workers, creators, and visionaries of all stripes and varieties since World War I. It’s the home of the original black country jazz and blues, pushed out of the propriety and snootiness of what would eventually be a glamorous city. The hired help, sharecroppers, carbetbaggers, and others called it home. Henry Ford’s auto workers assembled the Model T here. And as the sun went down each afternoon, the neighborhood hopped into action. Men walked home from work and fed their families on a few hard-earned dollars everyday. Women took in laundry, sowed, and roosted over the children of the neighborhood. It was urban sustenance living.
And a vibrant culture blossomed among neighbors caught between prissy Dallas proper dwellers and the wide-eyed feats available at the county fair grounds. The food was local, ingredients brought home from work and supplemented by small gardens, cooked to soul-filled perfection among the close citizenry. Granaries and warehouses flanked the neighborhood, readily accessible to the rail lines. Music and art were local, based on travels and exploits in, out, and around Deep Ellum. Low arts, low culture, created for and by those living their lives, unable to fully express themselves anywhere other than home.
Then things changed, as things do.
Black music gave way to black gold, Dallas at the epicenter. A national highway system was constructed, moving people and their goods faster, better, more efficiently through Dallas out toward the resource-rich countrysides. Intolerance uprooted the neighborhood as its inhabitants pushed southeast further from the view of the downtown boom. Oh, the days of Neiman Marcus, political vigilantes, and social upheaval of the 1960s as incomes in Dallas boomed, property values soaring, buildings constructed to scrape the sky. Deep Ellum sat culturally fallow many years as auto mechanics and other light industrialists took advantage of location, location, location, disappearing with the sun. Additional warehouses stored building materials for the rushing influx of residents hoping to strike it rich – and maintain the appearances of such position.
And then things changed, as they always do.
A basic principle: what goes up must come down. The velocity may be fixed, but the acceleration surprised many now caught in shady practices, designed for inequitable results. Dallas County shuddered. Yet as shutters slammed downtown, cultural seeds sprouted in Deep Ellum, attracting passionately subversive creative-types willing to mark their territory fiercely and with plenty of color and disillusioned angst. No squares allowed in their neighborhood, a vibe cultivated first by graffiti, then by performance art, then by punk music. The culture blossomed into mythological status: Deep Ellum was the symbol of bravado among city and suburb dwellers. Only those unfazed by the signs and stories on the tongues of many could venture into this neighborhood and remain unscathed. But once there, the glories rivaled those of Greenwich Village, Ashbury Heights, Santa Monica Avenue, South Central Los Angeles. Rock bands launched their careers in the tiny performance spaces provided by sympathetic owners charging dollar covers from a card table as one garage band after another took the stage. Street artists gathered to repaint in the colors and symbols of the times, sharing their work to every driver, walker, and dweller. Body artists proffered their skills with pins and needles, creating lifelong commissioned masterpieces. Underground writers published their first works based in the freakish and delightful street scenes of Deep Ellum. Jazz musicians revived the scene long pushed out. Performers danced dirty, filled with the soul of new vibrant music made by the streets. The buildings, originally constructed for the heydays of industrial revolution, rallied with new ballads, updated for the modern clientele.
And then things changed, as they tend to do.
A mythological story must face cold realities before too long. A rampant drug scene stole souls. With drugs came erratic crime. With erratic crime came fear as mere teenagers died at the hands of something so much more than they could comprehend. With fear came a government crackdown on any subversive activity. The roots poisoned, inhabitants cleared out, again moving south for greener, more temperate pastures. The neighborhood fell fallow yet again.
And yet again, concurrent bubbling booms exploded, dooming another cycle of investments. Another recession, another depression, mayhem and ruin cut across the land. And so Deep Ellum sat, unused, underutilized, struck down by bloodied balance sheets.
To see Deep Ellum by sunlight today is to see the hundred year oak trees lining Elm, Main, and Commerce Streets. It’s to see a sparse yet motley mix of inhabitants get creative and eek out an existence in couture live/work spaces sprinkled through the neighborhood. It’s to see a handful of legendary music venues struggling for breath as they face the inevitable change in surroundings. It’s to see green grass growing despite the lack of care, to see countless buildings boarded up and bursting with potential for the next great Dallas chef, the next famous Dallas band, the next nationwide trend to take hold in Dallas and blossom on the streets of Deep Ellum.
And what of the future inhabitants?
A generation reared on the principles of collaboration. A community desiring evangelism for something larger than themselves– potential, promise, praise – who provide significant political weight and economic support for principles they believe in. An individual who preaches to the entire world that Deep Ellum is the enlightened place for every one and every thing who believes in creative collaboration to solve any problem, fix any mess, and achieve any dream. We live here, we work here, we play here. We are the new generation of artists, musicians, writers, performers documenting the riches of our culture. We are the collaborative scientists and researchers solving the ills of the world. We are the innovative entrepreneurs, attorneys, and doctors providing new solutions to problems current and old. Together we are the strong hands and active voice of the new political and economic engine.
Join us in this project to revive Deep Ellum. Make your voice heard. Lend a hand to the group. Be part of the ambition constructed specially for you, part of a larger, textured history – and create your promising future.