Dallas often feels like a city on the cusp of something big — and one key reason for this is the energy of residents like Arthur Peña. The artist and entrepreneur bubbles over with enthusiasm, speaking a mile a minute about his passion for local music, local artists and the challenge of engaging an audience with mind-opening work they may not be quite ready for.
An accomplished painter (he’s planning a solo show this fall at the Latino Cultural Center), the Rhode Island School of Design grad returned home to Dallas in 2012, where he promptly founded Deadbolt Studios with artist Nathan Green. This was followed by the emergence of his now-defunct gallery space Ware:Wolf:Haus in Trinity Groves, but Peña always had something a little more energetic in mind.
“We had stellar shows, and a lot of things happened for the artists, but I had three music shows at Ware:Wolf:Haus, and it gave me the buzz of working with musicians,” he says. “You can see art in different settings and it maintains its own power, but when you get music involved, everything changes.
“I can’t believe the city got behind it,” Art Peña says of the grant. “How I pitched it to them was, ‘What if New York City had given Andy Warhol a grant to produce the first Velvet Underground album?’”
“Art has its own merits, but for me it was about recognizing the people who are here [in music], and there wasn’t a space to highlight what they were doing.”
His solution was Vice Palace, a pop-up party that moves from warehouse to warehouse, providing a venue for some of the city’s edgiest acts. Opening with a performance by George Quartz that overlapped with the Haus’ solo show of artist Thor Johnson’s work, Vice Palace ultimately took over as Peña’s main focus, and the concept is now celebrating a fruitful year with what promises to be a mind-blowing event this Saturday, April 25, at 2516 N. Beckley Ave.
Showcasing five acts and the work of two designers, the Vice Palace: Year One was curated by a collective of “entities” who nominated their favorite acts — some of whom were previously unknown to Peña.
The cultural website Central Track chose Tony Q and Plain Jane, a rap duo with “an urban feel and danceable beats.” Crown and Harp’s Moody Fuqua picked Pleasant Grove rapper $kaduf, while Dallas Distortion Music (DDM) label’s 18-year-old wunderkind Evan Henry chose art band iill.
Up-and-coming pop vocalist Rat Rios (picked by booker King Camel), local singer Lily Taylor and visual artist Sean Miller (chosen by Thrwd magazine) round out the extremely eclectic bill. All proceeds from the $15 cover goes directly to the artists.
To give the night a different context and further expand the audience, the night begins with a 7 pm fashion show by Charles Smith II and Jim Duran highlighting their new collections. Orgullo Primitivo (alter ego of musician Stefan Gonzales, performing only with drums, vocals and car coil) launches the music portion of the evening with a raw, direct performance Peña says may make some audience members walk out — but that’s a good thing, in his book.
“It should be intense, but Orgullo more than anybody embodies the Vice Palace spirit, in his attitude, edge and willingness to push your art to a place that isn’t totally acceptable. He’s responsible in his own right for the burgeoning scene. He runs the Outward Bound Mixtape Sessions at the Crown and Harp.”
It’s clear supporting and growing the scene is what keeps Peña motivated. In the last year, he says things have picked up with more music performances in galleries and studio spaces. And the more vibrant the Dallas music gets, the more he can push the envelope, engage with artists and expand into multimedia with original content on his site and a planned Vice Palace documentary.
Already curating a selection of cassette tapes in the Wild Detectives bookstore, Peña is taking his media mogul-dom a step further with the launch of a Vice Palace record label. The Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs just granted him a modest $5,000 budget to get things up and running. He’s planning a first release by the end of summer, and he’ll deliver initial offerings via tape with limited edition vinyl in the mix for future recordings.
“I’ve got to find a way to make it a sustainable business model, but it’s totally real and it’s totally gonna happen,” Peña promises. “I can’t believe the city got behind it. How I pitched it to them was, ‘What if New York City had given Andy Warhol a grant to produce the first Velvet Underground album?’ The city would have produced one of the greatest albums of all time!
“It’s about me being like Alan Lomax and documenting this era of Dallas music.”