News and Features

Vickery Meadow: When A Neighborhood Becomes An Art Project

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Inside one of Trans.lation’s White Cube galleries at Vickery Meadow.

People from 120 countries live in Vickery Meadow, and 27 different languages are spoken in the neighborhood of ’70s apartment buildings, not far from North Park Mall.  Houston artist Rick Lowe has been working on an unusual project there for more than a year, commissioned by the Nasher Sculpture Center.  I spoke with one of Lowe’s collaborators, Darryl Ratcliff, who is artist-in-residence at Vickery Meadow. He says that ongoing workshops, monthly markets, and most recently, three outdoor public galleries, are adding up to create art that is much more than the sum of its parts.

  •      Market: The next Trans.lation market is Jan. 18 at  1 p.m. at 6327 Ridgecrest Road
  •      Galleries: The three White Cube galleries  (two are white, one’s green) are open all the time on Ridgecrest Road. Look for them in front of buildings at 6026,  6318 and 6466 Ridgecrest.
  • Listen to the interview that aired on KERA FM:

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  •  Can Art Transform Vickery Meadow? D Magazine’s Peter Simek tackles the question.
  • Listen to Rick Lowe tell Think‘s Krys Boyd about the Vickery Meadow project, and another of his efforts, Project Rowhouse, in Houston.
  • Dallas Morning News visited Vickery Meadow for a piece about the Trans.lation project Sunday.

Some background and excerpts from our conversation:

Lowe’s “piece” is one of 10 commissioned by the Nasher Sculpture Center for Nasher Xchange,  a collection of public artworks positioned throughout Dallas to mark the museum’s 10th anniversary. The official title of the Vickery Meadow work is  “Trans.lation.” Lowe and a group of many collaborators have been working in the neighborhood most of the year, planning, meeting neighbors, running workshops. This fall saw a series of monthly “markets”.  Sometimes, they are more traditional markets, selling residents’ artwork. But there has also been “Lucky Pot,” 17 women from different countries sharing traditional dishes with neighbors.   And “Vickery Meadow’s Got Talent,” 27 acts performing for about 500 people.

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Darryl Ratcliff

“There doesn’t need to be a literal interpretation of the word [market]“ says Ratcliff. “It’s really about how do we facilitate these cultural exchanges inside the community and also with the greater Dallas community as well.”

Last month, the newest feature,  White Cube Galleries, opened. These three outdoor cubes – two are white, one is green – are accessible 24-hours.

“They’re meant to be these community spaces where we can bridge the high-end art world and the community world and bring the two together,” says Ratcliff.

What makes it all art?

“When you look at social practice, there’s one way to think of it, aesthetically, is that there’s the thing.  It’s these worskhops, it’s these White Cubes, it’s these markets. That’s one thing and you can evaluate how successful that is. But then there’s this bigger thing that [these components] gesture toward. And in this case, it’s the idea of public space, it’s this idea of cultural exchange.  Hopefully as the project developed, all the little parts that we do, when you look at it from a holistic standpoint, they’ll make this symbolic gesture of how we can better think about the issue of exchange and public space. And that is the art.”

What kind of reaction are you getting from residents?

Ratcliff says the project’s engaged about 1,000 residents in one way or another.  He mentioned the women who participate in the art workshops are especially connected to the project. Most of them, he says, do 90 percent of their creative work at home. But the workshops are popular “because it provides the space for them to talk to another woman from Vietnam, from Nepal from Iraq, that doesn’t really exist anywhere else in their lives that feels safe to them. ”

 What’s next?

The Nasher project – and its funding – ends in February. But the collaborators are looking for a way to keep it going. So’s the community.

“It’ll be really interesting to see…if the arts community in Dallas sees that as  worthy to invest in and continue this type of work here,” says Ratcliff.

“In a normal art world, the gallery world, we have a show and then it’s over. We sweep the floors, we take the work down and it’s time for the next show. If it’s a bad show, whatever. With work like this, it’s not quite that easy because you’re really dealing with people’s lives. You can’t just take the work down and sweep the floor.”

One woman who had heard that the workshops might go away began crying, “expressing how much it meant to her to have this place, where people are so open. And that moment really impacted me, that realization that ok, you’ve come in you’ve provided spaces for people’s lives. Just pulling the plug like that can sometimes also be disruptive.”