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The party's over. After 28 years, the organizer pulls the plug on the Deep Ellum Arts Festival

The neon sign in Deep Ellum
Jerome Weeks
/
KERA News
Deep Ellum often glows at night.

The financial and personal liability risks simply became too great.

Stephen Millard, who established the Deep Ellum Arts Festival in 1994, has shut it down.

Millard managed to steer the annual street fair through several COVID-19 cancellations and even through previous outbreaks of crime (mostly thefts from cars). But in a public announcement, he said it's fears for the economy and personal safety that have made it impossible to go on.

The red-brick entertainment district has long drawn people downtown for nightclubs and music — and the Undermain Theatre. It was where the Texas blues scene began with Blind Lemon Jefferson. It was where Dallas' punk scene flourished for a brief time.

So bringing in some crowds over a weekend for free entertainment with bands and craftspeople not only made sense, it contributed to Deep Ellum's general atmosphere, its legend of late-night partying, music and food.

But Mallard said producing the Deep Ellum Arts Festival had become too costly, too difficult. He couldn't handle the increased financial and liability risks.

Earlier this year, rapper T-Pain moved his concert from Deep Ellum to Grand Prairie because of low ticket sales that he claimed were because of safety concerns. This spring, two shootings in the area left one dead and five injured.

But the entertainment district has always had a gritty reputation. And April's festival still managed to pay for itself.

But Millard said it didn't generate enough outside subsidies or investments to start another one. Not only is he closing the festival, Millard said he's retiring after 45 years producing such events.

Got a tip? Email Jerome Weeks at jweeks@kera.org. You can follow him on Twitter @dazeandweex.

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Jerome Weeks is the Art&Seek producer-reporter for KERA. A professional critic for more than two decades, he was the book columnist for The Dallas Morning News for ten years and the paper’s theater critic for ten years before that. His writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, American Theatre and Men’s Vogue magazines.