Elizabeth Lavin

Visual Arts

The Rise and Fall and Rise of Deep Ellum

Deep Ellum has changed—and changed and changed—over the past several decades. But one thing has remained constant: Frank Campagna.

Frank Campagna has spent most of his life in Deep Ellum. He was there in the early 1980s, hosting bands at his Main Street art studio, Studio D, on weekends. The Dead Kennedys played at the tiny Studio D. So did the Meat Puppets, Hüsker Dü, the Big Boys. It was just this side of legal, and no one really cared if it crossed the line every now and again.

“The only people that were down there were the people going to Sons of Hermann Hall,” Campagna says, “and we always wondered who the hell these cowboys were on Friday and Saturday nights, because no one else was down there.”

He was there in the ’90s, when the old, empty warehouses and cheap art studios turned into nightclubs and bars and restaurants. His murals on their walls provided a backdrop for a couple of generations of weekend fun. Many are still there.

He was there in the 2000s, when most of those nightclubs and bars and restaurants had gone away. Some of the property owners wanted to get back to the neighborhood’s roots. Campagna was the roots. So he opened his gallery, Kettle Art, on Elm Street when everyone else was closing. “On our side of the block, it was just us and Deep Sushi and 7-Eleven for a long time,” he says.

And Campagna is there now, back on Main Street, his gallery in a new space offered to him by Scott Rohrman, the real estate developer whose 42 Real Estate is at the forefront of yet another resurgence of the historic district. Rohrman’s biggest hit so far—and it’s a big one—was luring Pecan Lodge away from the Farmers Market earlier this year.

“The powers that be are willing to take some guidance this time around,” Campagna says. “It was more organic the first time, which was great. But like any organic movement, sooner or later, it tends to collapse. I think the neighborhood learned its lesson. I think it’s really focused this time around. Scott has a clear-cut focus, a nice, clean, clear direction.”

And Rohrman has Frank Campagna. Because Deep Ellum always will.

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