NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Deep Ellum gets a new arts fair -- marking 150 years of music, art and nightlife

 JoAnn Henkel and the band Hen and the Cocks will perform on the main stage at the Deep Ellum Community Arts Fair during Memorial weekend.
Breonny Lee
Deep Ellum Community Association
JoAnn Henkel and the band Hen and the Cocks will perform on the main stage at the Deep Ellum Community Arts Fair during Memorial weekend.

It may be the first Deep Ellum Community Arts Fair, but it's celebrating decades of the artistic ferment that has marked the neighborhood. This year is Deep Ellum's sesquicentennial, and the new festival focuses on local visual artists and artisans.

“Most of the artists are hyper-local,” said Breonny Lee, president of the Deep Ellum Community Association. There are a handful of regional artists, she said, but 90% of those participating are from North Texas.

 Close-up of artist painting a colorful picture.
Breonny Lee
Deep Ellum Community Association
North Texas artists represent 90% of participating artists at the new Deep Ellum Community Arts Fair.

She stresses this is a big difference between the new arts fair and the decades-long Deep Ellum Arts Festival that was canceled. Lee worked for many years with that festival, recruiting local artists and managing their booth sites.

The cancellation caused "an overwhelming response from the community,” she said. People told her "they wanted to do something, that they love that event, that they were going to miss that event." But they wanted it to be "more locally driven" and "friendly to the neighborhood."

Streets will be blocked off along Crowdus between Clover and Indiana Streets for pedestrian-friendly strolling past outdoor booths, two live-music stages and street performers. Many restaurants are creating custom menu items for the event, Lee said.

The block-long mural of Blues Alley, behind the Stack Building on Clover Street, features 16-foot-tall paintings celebrating the musical history of Deep Ellum.

Blues Alley at The Stack Deep Ellum

Fair visitors also can get a look inside the new Deep Ellum Community Center before its grand opening in September. It's a gift for the neighborhood's 150th year, she said. The center will contain gallery space, plus space for studios and artists-in-residence.

Lee is a Dallas native and photographer and mixed media artist with a long-standing love of Deep Ellum. At age 13 in the 1990s, she said she visited the neighborhood for the first time for an open-artist studio event that exposed her to numerous styles of visual art.

“That's a big part of my personal story and my impression of Deep Ellum,” she said.

Lee kept coming back.

“It felt to me like the first place that I'd ever really felt at home,” she said. "Not necessarily a place where you live, but the place where you belong.”

 The interior of the new Deep Ellum Community Center with tables and chairs, and original art from local artists.
Jerome Weeks
The new Deep Ellum Community Center will house artist-in-residence studios and gallery space. It opens officially in September, but you can get a look during the fair.

Local artists have been a significant part of Deep Ellum since the 1920s, when the area first gained a reputation for its music and nightlife. Starting in the 1980s, artists, theater companies and entrepreneurs revitalized the neighborhood — it had become rundown, filled with empty storefronts.

It is now a state-recognized cultural district.

“The live music and the visual art and theater — these kinds of things are so critical to the DNA of Deep Ellum,” Lee said. And the neighborhood continues to change.

“These different pieces throughout the decades of individuals and groups working together to make cool stuff happen in the neighborhood is the reason that we're talking about Deep Ellum, that people in other countries are talking about Deep Ellum.”

This arts fair, she said, is part of that revitalization.

Deep Ellum's 150th Kickoff

Deep Ellum Community Arts Festival is May 27-29. Free. Hours: Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday and Monday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

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