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WATCH: Dallas City Officials, Arts Community Discuss Gallery Shutdowns

Kirk Hopper Fine Art/Facebook

Recently, art gatherings and galleries in Dallas have been cited, and sometimes shut down, for a variety of zoning and code violations. Locals in the arts scene feel like they’re being targeted by city safety officials.

The two sides will meet today to discuss what can be done to keep the city’s arts scene alive.

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Some galleries, like The Basement Gallery in Oak Cliff, have closed because they can’t meet city requirements. Others, like Kirk Hopper Fine Art in Deep Ellum, are facing the possibility of closure. The arts community is frustrated by a complicated mix of requirements and permits from a variety of city departments. And underneath it all, questions are being raised about how the city zones for art galleries.

Giovanni Valderas, assistant director of Kirk Hopper, says it’s time to fix this problem.

“Now’s a really great opportunity for not only Office of Cultural Affairs, [but also] the City of Dallas to really concentrate on fixing the zoning because that’s the issue,” says Valderas.

The start of shutdowns 

Art&Seek wanted to know when and why these artist gatherings were attracting the attention of Dallas Fire-Rescue.

Jason Evans, the public information officer for the fire department, says that Fire-Rescue had received their first complaint about an “illegal assembly” back in May of 2015 via Twitter.

“This gathering was an art showroom that was hosting an event with over 150 people in attendance,” says Evans, “This referenced event consisted of a large tent, catering, and music on top of the roof without any of the necessary permits from Building Inspection or Fire Inspection.”

Evans says that neither the tent nor the gallery were inspected for safety concerns, like whether or not exiting during an emergency could be handled safely. That put the Design District and similar areas on the department’s radar for inspection.

Later in 2015, Evans says Dallas Fire-Rescue received requests for fire watches at after-hours events that were planned in showrooms and studios off Oak Lawn Avenue. He says the owners and managers of the showrooms and venues were renting out space in their businesses for events that included food and music, which lead to an increased number of people in the spaces and those showrooms didn’t have the proper certificates.

“Businesses with certificates of occupancy for Business (Studios/ Showrooms) were having the types of events that would, by definition, require a certificate of occupancy as an Assembly,” says Evans.

He explained that a certificate of occupancy for Assembly requires more safety precautions than certificates of occupancy for Businesses. To obtain a certificate of occupancy for Assembly you must have a sprinkler system and multiple exits with properly lit signage.

In a phone interview with Art&Seek, Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal Chris Martinez reiterated that Fire-Rescue and city code compliance officers are just doing their jobs and that safety was the main priority.

“It’s about life safety. You know, at the end of the day we just want to make sure people go home,” says Martinez.

Aligning safety with artist interests

Dallas Fire-Rescue aren’t the only ones that are concerned about safety though. Artists also have a desire for safety, but the ways that they interact with their audience – opening night parties, live performances and pop-up shows – don’t currently align with city rules. And that worries Valderas. Kirk Hopper has been visited three times and recently had a charitable event shut down, even after coordinating with the city.

“If you don’t take of the issue really quickly, these people will be out of business. And then, the arts and culture scenes suffers. The vibrancy ends. And, this is something you need to fix, like immediately,” says Valderas.

Office of Cultural Affairs Director Jennifer Scripps also sees the importance of fixing this issue. She’s knows that artists are helping neighborhoods gain a reputation for being cool.

“All sorts of artist venues are extremely important because this is how artist and creative people get to interact with the public and the market,” says Scripps, “It also creates a sense of place in exciting neighborhoods. If you see neighborhoods such as the Cedars that are really evolving, it’s because the artists have led the way.”

Chief Martinez says he hopes to work with artists, and other city departments like the office of cultural affairs, code compliance and building inspection, to try and come up with creative – and legal – solutions to keep artists happy. But, Chief Martinez says they’re also trying to avoid tragedies.

“Sometimes it happens where you’re looking at the news and you see a two, three alarm fire, and I’ll be honest with you – your heart skips a beat, because you’re thinking I was there, and, you know, you carry that with you,” says Martinez.

City officials will meet with the arts community today at 12:30 p.m. at the central branch of the Dallas Public Library.

Read more at Art&Seek.