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The Museum of Street Culture Takes a Ground-Level Look at Dallas Arts

The new museum at Encore Park offers a lens into the city's often forgotten history, and into its often overlooked contemporary troubles.
By Peter Simek |
Courtesy of Museum of Street Culture

Dallas has never had a place to tell—or, frankly, had much of an interest in telling—the story of its musical history. But in October, Encore Park opened the Museum of Street Culture, a new, multidisciplinary, multi-venue museum that will interpret and preserve Dallas’ significant musical heritage, as well as the broader cultural ecosystem, the culture of the street, that gave birth to it.

“The street and street culture is a lens through which we can better understand the vernacular of that period,” says writer, photographer, filmmaker, and founding executive director Alan Govenar, who has written extensively about Dallas’ musical history.

The idea for the museum is very much a product of its setting. Encore Park is an outgrowth of the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas’ Stewpot, which provides a variety of services to Dallas’ downtown homeless population. Encore Park also includes 508 Park, the 1930s art deco movie distribution center that was the setting of some of the most significant recordings in early American music, including those by bluesman Robert Johnson.

The opening of the museum’s first exhibition, “Looking for Home: A Yearlong Focus on the Work of Mary Ellen Mark,” illustrated the immersive vision Govenar has for the museum. Featuring performances by street entertainers and concerts paying tribute to the blues, conjunto, and Western swing music recorded at 508 Park, the exhibition didn’t just open in buildings inside Encore Park’s campus. Mark’s photos of Erin Blackwell Charles—known as Tiny, a 13-year-old street prostitute whom Mark met in Seattle in 1983 and continued to document for 30 years—were also exhibited on walls outside and inside The Stewpot. The images served as a poignant, public reminder of the challenging circumstances that face many Dallas residents today.

It is only one of the ways the museum will incorporate The Stewpot’s mission into its programming. Throughout the exhibition’s run (it will be updated quarterly, the images showing Tiny age), the museum will host free public learning opportunities, launch a paid docent program for Stewpot clients, and exhibit work by youth and adults participating in The Stewpot’s art programs.

“This isn’t only about history,” Govenar says. “But also about the contemporary world.”

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