A cultural center in South Dallas has a new residency program for artists. Called the Juanita J. Craft House Artist Residency Initiative, it's an immersive, interactive program for artists of all disciplines to connect with South Dallas neighborhoods.
The program is at the South Dallas Cultural Center, under the wing of Dallas' Office of Arts and Culture department. It will begin accepting applications in April.
The residency will offer non-living studio space and connect artists to residents, organizations, and institutions to develop a body of work centering on community activism.
It opens space for artists to capture the rapid change of historical neighborhoods due to socio-economic shifts, creating a document of South Dallas for future residents, visionaries, and developers.
As noted in a release, since the 1950s, South Dallas has been predominately populated by African Americans with 15 neighborhoods which vary from working middle class to working poor. Now, like many other neighborhoods around the country that are near downtown areas, it's become appealing for urban renewal and redevelopment and is being carved into trendy districts.
The South Dallas Cultural Center has been led by manager John Spriggins since 2017, who used the pandemic downtime to develop the residency program.
"I am a native of South Dallas and dreamed of making an impact on my neighborhood," Spriggins says in a statement. "I know the power of a residency and at the time, there weren't many artist residencies in Dallas that focused on supporting artists of the African Diaspora."
He drew inspiration from other residencies like Project Row Houses in Houston and Rebuild Foundation by Theater Gates in Chicago, "where specifically Black artists went into Black communities and developed art projects with a community focus, making a cultural impact," he says. "My hope is to connect creativity with community in South Dallas. It is the right time to launch the residency with all of the changes happening in the area."
Spriggins worked with artist Nitashia Johnson to pilot the program. Johnson was raised in South Dallas and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in 2008. Her work includes The Smart Project, a creative after-school program for artistic teens; and her 2018 photographic book series, The Self Publication, created to uplift the Black community and dismantle harsh stereotypes associated with the culture.
Her unique voice and community-oriented work made her the ideal candidate to pilot the residency.
"The art of storytelling has always influenced my multimedia artwork," Johnson says. "My eagerness and love for the world and others have pushed me to produce a body of work highlighting environmental spaces, communities, and individual muses. When I started working on the residency project which I’ve titled The Beauty of South Dallas, Capturing the Now Before the Future, I was excited yet nervous about where to begin. South Dallas is a large area, and I wanted to make sure to capture the spirit of the people and the land."
She welcomes all to share their South Dallas photos and memories as part of The Beauty of South Dallas project at www.thebeautyofsouthdallas.com.