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‘A safe space for all’: Free art workshops at South Dallas Cultural Center end in May

Artist and educator Jessica Bell looks on as community member Deirdre Harris paints at an art workshop at the South Dallas Cultural Center.
Morgana Wilborn
Artist and educator Jessica Bell looks on as community member Deirdre Harris paints at an art workshop at the South Dallas Cultural Center.

While art classes in North Texas can cost hundreds of dollars, the South Dallas Cultural Center is offering free art workshops to Dallas residents through May.

Dallas-based artist and educator Jessica Bell is a 2022 Juanita J. Craft Residency recipient who leads the workshops. She said the expressive art workshops aim to make art more accessible. It’s something that hits home for Bell.

“Growing up, my family couldn't afford to send me to private art lessons, so I relied on a lot of what was offered at the public library or through school,” she said.

The workshops are open on Saturdays to all Dallas residents ages 18 and older. Most of the participants so far have been amateur artists. Bell said everyone is welcome to join.

“Art has the ability to bring people together and to give voice to a community,” said John Spriggins, general manager of the South Dallas Cultural Center. “As with all of our resident artists, Jessica’s workshops are meant to provide a safe space for all to participate in the creative process and commune with each other.”

Each workshop is capped at 20 through online registration, but no-shows means three to five people can usually walk in.

The collection of 10 workshops rotates mediums every two weeks. So far, the workshops have covered weaving and acrylic painting. Future workshops will cover mediums like mixed media collage and drawing.

“So I tried to pick things that I felt people would feel safe no matter what their art, background or experiences coming in to work on it,” Bell said.

This weekend, visitors can expect to learn about mixed media painting. Paint, canvases, brushes, oil pastels and objects will be available for workshop participants. Bell will be teaching visitors a collage technique, but wants participants to express themselves in their own way.

When people are initially exposed to art, we're told what it should look like, what we should be doing, how we should be doing it,” she said. “So it was really important to me not to have it be ‘This is what we're making and this is how we're doing it.’ But more just providing the space and materials and the expertise needed for them to be able to create something that speaks to them.”

A recent participant used their visit to the Dallas Arboretum to inspire their artwork. Another has been working all month on the same painting.

Bell said she’s been excited to see many returning participants. The workshop hasn’t just been a space to create art; it’s also been an opportunity to connect and build community.

“One of the most enjoyable days was when a musician Kamica King came. So she came to make art, but then she also went outside and brought her guitar in. So people were singing and making art and it was just a really good event,” she said.

Bell is also teaching the Juanita Craft Residency Workshop, an open studio event where participants can work alongside the artist. It is a free workshop on Wednesdays and Saturdays that’s open to Dallas residents ages 18 and older.

To conclude the workshops at the end of May, works created by participants of the Expressive Art and Juanita Craft Residency Workshops will be displayed at the South Dallas Cultural Center.

The next Expressive Art Workshop is on Saturday, April 22 from 11-12 p.m. Learn more about the workshops and sign up.

Arts Access is an arts journalism collaboration powered by The Dallas Morning News and KERA.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.

Elizabeth Myong is KERA’s Arts Collaborative Reporter. She came to KERA from New York, where she worked as a CNBC fellow covering breaking news and politics. Before that, she freelanced as a features reporter for the Houston Chronicle and a modern arts reporter for Houstonia Magazine.