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Poets And Painters, Newbies And Professionals All Get Caught In Denton's Spiderweb Salon

Courtesy of Leah Jones
Courtney Marie hosts Spiderweb Salon's SpiderCon at J&J's Pizza in Denton, Texas.

It’s a scorching Sunday afternoon in downtown Denton and the Square is all but empty. The only folks around are dressed in cosplay costumes, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes outside J&J’s Pizza.

Inside the restaurant, down in the basement, there are about 60 people. There’s a dude in a Spider-Man getup, a woman dressed as Harley Quinn and a few characters I don’t recognize.

“Welcome to Spiderweb Salon,” says Courtney Marie. “We’re a performance and art collective, and we do all sorts of things.”

This is the art collective’s first SpiderCon, Marie says. She’s a poet and co-founder of the group.

“We don’t normally go this nerdy,” she says. “I mean, we’re super nerdy. But this is portion of nerdy that we don’t often delve into.”

Today’s event is billed as a “celebration of sci-fi, fantasy and all things strange.” It’s a perfect description because, as Marie said, this nerdy collection of creatives dabbles in many art forms.

“We do a little bit of everything,” Marie says.

More than 150 artists are caught in the web. Some, like Marie, work with text. Others, like her co-founder Conor Wallace, are musicians. Mathew Sallack, a visual artist and the group’s zine adviser, says it doesn’t matter what sort of art you make or even your experience level.

“We’re all inclusive,” he says. “If it’s your first time to read, we want to give you that platform, just like we’d give someone who’s a [touring] writer a platform.”

Marie says the collective isn’t pretentious, which sets it apart.

“That’s one of the beautiful things about it,” she says. “Nobody’s like, ‘We’re doing this because we have to be the best at it.' We're doing it because it’s fun and because we’re exploring our boundaries as artists. It may look really bizarre to the outside world, but we’re doing it and having fun, and that’s kind of the point.”

'It’s like the place to get stuck'

The group takes on all sorts of projects. For example, there’s a songwriting scholarship. Recipients get their songs professionally produced at a Denton recording studio. Elia Tamplin’s “40 Days and 40 Nights” is a recent winner.

Spiderweb also produces a series of zines, a weekly program on the community radio station, KUZU FM, and a literary podcast.

On top of all that, the group programs weekly workshops on everything from puppetry to watercolor painting.

“There’s so many things you can just grab in the [Spiderweb], like baking, poetry, performance, music,” says member Seth Malloy. “All of those different aspects of your art are caught in the Spiderweb. It’s like the place to get stuck.”

Malloy’s a part-time poet and a full-time father. The IT consultant brought his three kids to SpiderCon to watch him read. He says lots of groups put on events, but Spiderweb makes it the easiest to join.

The award-winning sci-fi author Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam agrees.

“There’s so many different genres at a Spiderweb show that you can come to this and just get inspired by hearing stuff that you wouldn’t normally hear,” she says.

Stufflebeam’s short stories are regularly published in magazines and anthologies, but she says writing’s a lonely gig and Spiderweb Salon helps with that.

“I’m sitting at home and I’m on my computer, you know, for however many hours a day, and I’m not getting out of the house,” she says. “Being part of Spiderweb kind of gives me a local community and local support. We get together and we have writing days where Courtney gets out all of her typewriters and we make up poems on the spot.”

It’s a flexible community that’s safe for artist of every medium, gender, sexuality and background – the kind of spider web you’d actually like to have in your corner.

Hady Mawajdeh has been a reporter, producer, and digital editor at KERA since 2016. He is the creator and the co-host of KERA's first narrative podcast, Gun Play. And prior to his work in engagement, he also reported on arts and culture, social justice, and gun rights for the newsroom.