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A mosaic of everyday memories: Neighbors reminisce for South Dallas Cultural Center installation

The iconic Forest Theater sign in South Dallas overlayed on a street scene from decades ago.
Sally Verrando
Adriane McCray film still "The Forest Theater"
The Forest Theater in South Dallas is an iconic landmark that is just one of the memories discussed in Adriane McCray’s documentary, “MVMTLS: Movement of Lone Stars,” in a free exhibit at the South Dallas Cultural Center through March 24.

In a pandemic lockdown, what’s a storyteller to do?

Filmmaker Adriane McCray was itching for a project.

“I was trying to figure out how to scratch that itch,” McCray said, “as well as to create in ways that I normally do but can't because of the isolation.”

She said in 2020 she felt like she was losing touch with people. She looked for a way to express herself, “feeling like I didn't really have a voice or wasn't sure if I did or wasn't sure if my voices were protected, let alone the bodies of me and my peers, my family.”

That was the inspiration for her current film, “MVMTLS: Movement of Lone Stars,” now an installation at the South Dallas Cultural Center through March 24. Admission is free.

McCray was in the 2021 group of the Juanita J. Craft Artist Residency at the South Dallas Cultural Center. This film was her residency project, said John Spriggins, the general manager of the South Dallas Cultural Center, which was to create engaging work about the South Dallas community.

Curious about childhood places, McCray said she sought out family members, former teachers, coaches and other community leaders to ask about the old neighborhoods of South Dallas. From Fair Park to the Forest Theater, they shared their histories from decades ago.

A visitor to the gallery wearing red scarves looks at a photograph of a parade
SDCC Staff / Imani Chet Lytle
Adriane McCray film still "Routines"
“The most fragile thing is really memory”, McCray said, “and there's no way to put it in a box." The historical value, the political ramifications, the geographical setting, the layout of the space—”that shapes their experience.”

She recorded her subjects' voices first. They told her of the celebrations of parades, football, cheer squads and the latest dances. Local businesses and neighbors were remembered and how streets have changed.

McCray called it a mosaic of collective memory.

A closeup of a smiling elderly woman
Sally Verrando
Adriane McCray film still "Juanita"
“When I heard them all refer to a grandmother,” McCray said, ”or a kind of mother figure that lived in the neighborhood—if it wasn't their own grandmother, one next door—it felt like we're all talking about the same thing here.”

Then, McCray spent the next couple of years, she said, compiling footage from home movies, old films and photographs of Black history, especially of South Dallas. She also searched through the Texas State Library and Archives, the Texas Digital Archive and other cultural institutions to match images with her soundtrack.

At the opening reception of the exhibit, “MVMTLS: Movement of Lone Stars" by Adriane McCray, a patron watches a segment of the film at the South Dallas Cultural Center.
SDCC Staff / Imani Chet Lytle
Adriane McCray “MVMTLS: Movement of Lone Stars"
At the South Dallas Cultural Center's opening reception of the exhibit, “MVMTLS: Movement of Lone Stars" by Adriane McCray, a patron watches a segment of the film on Feb. 19, 2023. Visitors walk through a gallery of still photos and the film running in three segments in different areas.

Movement is a prominent feature of McCray’s project. Overlapping voices tumble over a collage of moving and still images onscreen, much like thoughts in a person's head. She said she compiled segments of the half-hour film in this fragmented way because she did not want to produce a typical linear documentary.

Visitors actively interact with the installation. They move from room to room, watching the film in three sections. Still photographs from the project also hang in the gallery.

The multisensory experience requires an open mind, Spriggins said. He compared it to going to a football game with the sounds of bands, crowds and cheerleaders all happening at once.

"It is a visual and auditory journey layered with imagery both past and present," he said, that evokes nostalgic memories.

"Since the 1950s," he said, "South Dallas has been predominantly populated by African Americans with 15 neighborhoods which vary from working middle class to working poor."

South Dallas is now experiencing rapid changes with infrastructure, housing and socioeconomic shifts, Spriggins said.

South Dallas then, McCray said, was an area of segregation, redline housing restrictions, gentrifications, and migrations to Oak Cliff and Hamilton Park.

“The consistent thing," McCray said, "is neglect.”

Because people are so inundated with media, she said, they are distracted from “the reality that some people are living a more unpurposed life or don't have the same opportunities...that, I think, the average person might in America.”

A man and woman look at the photos of the film, “MVMTLS: Movement of Lone Stars” by Adriane McCray, at the South Dallas Cultural Center.
SDCC Staff / Imani Chet Lytle
Film stills by Adriane McCray
Adriane McCray's installation of her film, “MVMTLS: Movement of Lone Stars,” includes a photo gallery at the South Dallas Cultural Center. The exhibit opened Feb. 19, 2023, and runs through March 24.

McCray looked for stories from everyday people “because that's the forgotten one that adds to the lost people that have consistently been a part of this community...their stories have not been told,” she said.

"'Movement of Lone Stars'...attempts to shed light on the people, places and spaces of the longtime Black community," Spriggins said. He's a native of South Dallas. The installation reminded him of his own memories from childhood about the joys and struggles of being Black in the South.

"It was thoughtful and unique, all-encompassing," he said. "She didn't attempt to take one view, but rather tried to bring to our attention the experience of South Dallas."

MVMTLS: Movement of Lone Stars” by Adriane McCray is a free exhibit that runs until March 24 at the South Dallas Cultural Center, 3400 S. Fitzhugh Ave., Dallas, and is open Tuesday-Saturday.

Senior in journalism at TCU, intern with KERA's Art&Seek