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In Deep Ellum, a Patch of Concrete Becomes a Busy Gathering Space

What happens when an artist teams up with an urban planner?
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In Deep Ellum, a Patch of Concrete Becomes a Busy Gathering Space

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100 Trunk Avenue, at the northern edge of Deep Ellum, is a patch of grass in an empty lot. That’s it. It’s sandwiched between the Case Building’s apartment parking garage and flanked by precious few trees. It’s across from the Continental Gin Factory, which used to host art studios before it was sold last year—and ousted more than 50 artists from their studio spaces. It’s a rare piece of disuse in Dallas’ densest entertainment district.

Last weekend, an artist teamed up with an urban planner to reinvision the lot. In came the pop-up vendors and artist booths. They hooked up an amp and a microphone for musicians. And about 3,000 people over two days showed up to shop, gawk, talk, and listen. The pitiful patch of land was briefly transformed into the Creative Market.

“This was a strong first step,” said urban planner Amanda Popken, who helped organize the event. “Hopefully, the city will consider further how this space can be considered as a valuable asset for the community.”

The idea for the Creative Market came from artist Harley Barnes, the CEO of the Decent Collective, an organization that brings similar events to similarly empty spaces. This market’s concept may seem reminiscent of the larger, better-known and internationally-focused Deep Ellum Arts Festival. But the Creative Market made its bold stake with a different vision: it was a hyper-local microcosm of Deep Ellum artists. It’s also something an urban experiment, proving that empty land can still attract people with the right programming.

The day before the market vendors set up their booths, Barnes got to work himself. He used two pallets of gravel to fill the holes, some of which had up to eight inches of pooled water after a recent rain. But in one night, the uneven, dusty ground pocked with mud puddles transformed into a market space for vendors to share their art and businesses.

“We’re always looking for places that want to have local spaces activated with local artists, music,” Barnes said. “This is just a different iteration of what we (Decent Collective) have been doing in events for a long time. And our sponsors all really helped make this a financial reality.”

Popken, who is also the president of the North Texas chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism, called the Trunk Avenue space a “an old street that’s been long-ignored and forgotten.” When Barnes approached her about hosting the Creative Market there, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I’ve worked with plenty of little downtowns that use markets as a tool people use to revitalize neighborhoods,” Popken said. “But to really understand how that synergy can be used to create momentum around a place … that sets apart a typical event organizer from someone like Harley. He has an eye toward urban design. He really understands the place-making aspect that makes markets to revitalize an area.”

Popken treated this as something of a proof of concept. She believes in Trunk Avenue’s potential as a focus for community investment, especially for residents in the overlooking Case Building. More people are coming to the neighborhood. The Deep Ellum Foundation is anticipating a 75 percent increase in residential units in Deep Ellum between 2018 and 2020. Uber plans to bring 3,000 employees here. Popken believes activating spaces like Trunk Avenue will help serve those folks when they arrive, as well as those already here.

Meanwhile, Barnes is weighing when to bring the Deep Ellum Creative Market back. In the meantime, his sights are set on planning the Decent Market on Dec 1 at Four Corners Brewing, with a focus on all-local affordable goods under $100. He also works on similar events at the Galleria, West Village, and the Farmers Market.

“This event was kind of a beast, as normally we go someplace that’s flat with concrete or grass and have the full support of someone paying us to be there,” Barnes said. “We had to DIY this whole thing. … We’re all just trying to survive as artists here. … It takes events and organizers to bring in a crowd so they can share their work. That’s our role. Activating spaces that are community-oriented.”

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