“Deep Ellum Dialogues – A Cultural Inquiry” seeks to bring the community together

A musician playing guitar and singing

Eric Martin of local band The Memory Shivers performed after speakers from the community at Deep Ellum Dialogues. Photo: Jessica Waffles

In the heart of Dallas lies Deep Ellum – a neighborhood pulsating with history, art, and the rhythm of community.

Last week, Kettle Art Gallery played host to an event that illuminated the very essence of Deep Ellum: its people, its challenges, and its unwavering spirit. Aptly named “Deep Ellum Dialogues – A Cultural Inquiry,” this gathering brought together a constellation of voices from various corners of the community, weaving a tapestry of narratives, concerns, and hopes for the future.

Topics of the event included finding was to unify the community, health insurance, travel grants, artist resources, the possibility of creating a union, the Deep Ellum community center, concerns of the changing businesses in the area, and embracing the culture that Deep Ellum stands for.

Four people standing and smiling

The UTD students that put the Deep Ellum Dialogues event together. (left to right) Scott Tucker, Célia Hay, Anish Kusupati and Karee-Anne Rogers. Photo: Jessica Waffles

A person speaking into a microphone

Scott Tucker at Deep Ellum Dialogues – A Cultural Inquiry. Photo: Jessica Waffles

The event was organized by Scott Tucker, Célia Hay, Anish Kusupati and Karee-Anne Rogers – four students from The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD). The gathering acted as an assignment of part of their curriculum in a Masters and PhD-level class called Social Engagement Art with Dr. Kevin Sweet.

“The whole idea of the event is that we look at it as a piece of art,” Tucker elaborated. “We call it social sculpture. We’re presenting a forum for dialogues for what I consider the four corners of Deep Ellum all coming to gather in one room. The sculpture itself are the conversations that everyone is having. Not just the speakers on stage but everyone talking about and being made aware of new ideas.”

A crowd standing in a room

The guests at Kettle Art Gallery. Photo: Jessica Waffles

Pieces of art at Kettle Art Gallery. Photo: Jessica Waffles

Several people from the local music community were invited to speak at the gathering, including Stephanie Hudiburg (Deep Ellum Foundation), Breonny Lee (Deep Ellum Community Association), Dezman Lehman (Dezi 5 / Dallas Entertainment Awards), Andrew Sherman (Dallas Famous Podcast), Emsy Robinson Jr. (musician), Veronica Young (Deep Ellum Foundation), Roland Rangel (Deep Ellum Community Arts Fair), Jason Janik (photographer) and the poet Derrick Walker.

Jason Janik evoked the familial bond that ties the denizens of Deep Ellum together.

His words echoed a sentiment felt by many: Deep Ellum is not merely a location; it is a sanctuary for artists, a haven for creativity, and a testament to the power of community. His plea to preserve the authenticity of Deep Ellum amidst encroaching developments struck a chord, igniting a collective determination to safeguard its essence.

A person speaking into a microphone

Jason Janik. Photo: Jessica Waffles

“I think that an important part of this project was preserving what makes a culture a culture. The culture is a reflection of the people and institutions that it, and I think that is one of the aspects that everyone that spoke with us seemed to believe in as well,” one of the students Anish Kusupati emphasized.

Tucker, singer of Aztec Milk Temple, provided a poignant reflection on the event’s significance, weaving together threads of academic inquiry, artistic expression, and community engagement.

Three people smiling

Smiles at Kettle Art Gallery. Photo: Jessica Waffles

A person speaking into a microphone

Breonny Lee of the Deep Ellum Community Association speaking at Deep Ellum Dialogues. Photo: Jessica Waffles

“I think for me, it’s really awesome to have opportunities to perpetuate this culture outside of what I’ve done with art and music throughout the past couple decades,” Tucker said. “And looking at some of the issues Deep Ellum has from a strictly academic standpoint has given me a new perspective and can hopefully bridge some of the gaps in community leaders working together more efficiently.”

Dezman Lehman, with roots tracing back to a Deep Ellum of yesteryears, painted a vivid portrait of personal transformation intertwined with the heartbeat of the neighborhood. From childhood wanderings through the streets to crafting trophies celebrating communal achievements, Lehman embodies the spirit of advocacy and community upliftment.

“Our job is to find the resources available to artists and businesses and give them to each other,” Lehman said. “We need to keep community first.”

A crowd standing in a room

Camaraderie among the crowd at Deep Ellum Dialogues. Photo: Jessica Waffles

“I have been part of the Berlin and London rock’n’roll scene before moving to Dallas,” student Célia Hay said. “And although the Deep Ellum DIY scene is a new community for me, everywhere I’ve lived artists face the same challenges: rent getting higher, lack of access to affordable rehearsal spaces, unaffordable mental health support, small venues struggling to stay afloat or being shut down due to noise complaints from newly built luxury apartment blocks, and so on. Therefore, I approached this event as a first reaching out to my newly found community, a dialogue for everyone to feel seen, and a first step towards organization towards mutual support and tangible change.”

The event was not just a convergence of voices but a celebration of Deep Ellum’s rich tapestry of culture. From the speakers to the musical performance by local musician Eric Martin, each contribution added a layer to the collective narrative of Deep Ellum.

A person speaking into a microphone

Dezman Lehman aka Dezi 5 speaking at Deep Ellum Dialogues. Photo: Jessica Waffles

A crowd standing in a room

Attendees talk to each other nearing the end of the event – the social sculpture in action. Photo: Jessica Waffles

As the event drew to a close, the echoes of dialogue lingered in the air, reverberating through the streets of Deep Ellum. In the face of change, uncertainty, and adversity, one truth remained unshakable: Deep Ellum endures, a beacon of creativity, community, and unwavering resilience.

“Deep Ellum Dialogues was a dynamic event that made me further appreciate the spirit of community and collaboration I’ve seen in the Dallas area,” student Karee-Anne Rogers said. “I hope these kinds of events continue getting to the heart of Deep Ellum’s charm and I believe that the mainstays of the community can and will survive, evolve — and thrive— with the city.”

A musician playing guitar and singing

Eric Martin at Kettle Art Gallery. Photo: Jessica Waffles

Jessica Waffles is a freelance photographer/videographer and regular contributor to KXT. 
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