For more than two decades, the Continental Gin Building has been a creative nucleus of Dallas. Housing 44 fine artists, two fashion designers, two interior designers and an award-winning production designer, the space has evolved from a leaky warehouse with a virtual “swimming pool” of rainwater on the third floor to built-out studios (ranging from 300 to 3,800 square feet) that house both up-and-coming and established talent.
Continental Gin marks 25 years of studio visits with its biannual open house event, held November 8 and 9. Visitors are encouraged to wander through the 43 workspaces to view — and purchase — photographs, paintings, sculptures, glasswork and more.
Built in 1888 by Robert S. Munger, the brick buildings along Elm Street and Trunk Avenue served as a manufacturing warehouse for cotton gins until their closure in 1962. Bought by real estate developer John Tatum just as Deep Ellum began its early ‘80s revival, room in the Gin were quickly rented by the likes of Bob Nunn, who has remained in his spacious studio to this day.
“When I moved in 26 years ago, there were probably only six or eight tenants,” Nunn recalls. “Some of the best artists in town were there back then, but we weren’t doing a lot publicly.
“The first open studios we did in conjunction with the Deep Ellum Art Walk, since there were so many artists living down here at that time. It’s always been a place to show where we work and how we work.”
And, of course, how they collaborate. During the press preview, other artists and bloggers popped by to view Ty Milner’s intricately detailed painting of downtown Dallas. Derived from 833 images shot during a helicopter ride by colleague Heather Ray, the 15-by-4-foot landscape is a perfect example of the Gin’s synergistic spirit.
“We’re very supportive of what we do; it’s not an unhealthy competition,” Milner says. “There’s a diverse group here that have their own styles, but people don’t feel threatened with each other.
“When you have that feeling of freedom, it’s amazing to see how people have grown over the years.”
Ray says she was also drawn to the Continental Gin for its sense of community. “I used to come to open studios before I moved into the building. If you’re an artist, you like to be visually stimulated by your space.
“When you work for yourself, you get isolated. If you have a studio space in a building like this, you can go across the hall and have a talk and get motivated.”
With a wait list of over a year and half for one of the units, Continental Gin property manager Christy Harris says the precedent the building has set illuminates the city’s need for creative real estate.
“As more and more serious artists take a space here, I have two or three people waiting to come in before I can even clean out a studio,” she says. “There’s such a dire need for art space in Dallas, there are a ton of unused buildings to renovate. I’d love to see this expand beyond the Continental Gin building.”
The Continental Gin Building’s 25th anniversary celebration is Friday, November 8, 6-10 pm, and Saturday, November 9, 2-8 pm. The event is free and open to the public.