Folklórico muralists, painters and dancers lead an art movement native to Pleasant Grove

For some artists, art is not just an expression of ideas and aesthetics, but a means to change the narrative of mischaracterized or maligned places and identities.

Ask Viktor Ortiz, 35, what the Mi Barrio 214 gallery, a cultural center he opened in March in Pleasant Grove, is for.

“I’ve been traveling for 10 years and always wanted to do something like what they have in New York, Washington, DC or Oakland, LA, you know, a community space,” said Ortiz, a son of what he describes as Chicano parents.

Ortiz’s gallery is one of many art spaces that have sprung up in recent years in this southeastern part of the city. Graffiti artists, muralists, painters and even folk artists see their art as the link between thriving communities and their people.

Mi Barrio 214 (214 stands for the Dallas area code) is also a gathering place for African American, Latino and LGBTQ artists seeking a safe space in their neighborhood, Ortiz said.

“We still stick with Dallas on the East Side because we don’t come from the same privileged places that people on the West Side or downtown Dallas have,” he said.

“We are a little more disconnected but aqui estamoswe are still Dallas.

Owner Viktor Ortiz and local artist Raquel Zamora tie marigolds to a string as they build a community ofrenda at Mi Barrio 214 in Dallas on Nov. 1.(Elías Valverde II / Personal photographer)

Pleasant Grove is home to about 87,000 people, including 61,000 Hispanics and 20,000 African Americans, according to the 2020 census.

The area has a thriving business district along Lake June Road and Buckner Boulevard. Dallas College’s Eastfield Campus opened a satellite building there in 2009. DART expanded its Green Line in 2010.

But the area has been rocked by crime. So far in 2022, Pleasant Grove is Dallas’ second most violent crime area, with 600. Only nearby Cedar Crest has had more violent crime, 744, according to the Dallas Police Department.

Muralist Juan Antonio Castillo, 31, knows firsthand the impact of crime in this community. Two family members have been in jail for crimes.

“I think the one thing that saved me was the fact that I had art. The fact that I had something to really guide me and (where) to focus my energies,” a- he declared.

Castillo has lived most of his life in Pleasant Grove. When he attended Urban Park Elementary, a teacher, Vicki Crenshaw, taught him drawing and painting. This, he says, marked his life as a future muralist.

One of the best-known images he has painted is called “Americano”, which he created in 2017 in Deep Ellum, inspired by the Mexican-American population.

Later in November, Castillo, along with artists Nicolás González and Javier Riojas, will open a new art studio in Pleasant Grove.

Gallery 86 is to be housed at 2084 N. Jim Miller Road, Suite 102 A, the same street from which he was inspired to become an artist as an elementary school student. Castillo and his friends will use the studio to work and present their work.

“I feel a responsibility to my neighborhood, as if we can change things. It requires people to really invest time and effort into it, and I think with this art studio, we’ll be able to do that.

Ballet folklórico engages children and parents

Every week, Cindy Vergara, 49, practices dancing to Mexican folk songs with a group of more than 40 children, ages 4 to 17.

Vergara launched the Ballet Folklórico El Trigo in 2018, to strengthen the identity of this neighborhood through the arts. She keeps membership affordable, about $5 per class.

Vergara, a former member of the folkloric ballet company Anita Martínez, said she became interested in starting her own children’s academy when she moved from Oak Cliff to Pleasant Grove in 2017.

At first she offered lessons from her home, and in January she opened a location at 9709 CF Hawn Freeway, Suite K.

Her ballet has performed at local events, including a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration hosted by the City of Dallas in September and at the Mundo Latino Pavilion at the State Fair of Texas.

Members of El Trigo Ballet Folklórico performed at Dallas City Hall on September 15.
Members of El Trigo Ballet Folklórico performed at Dallas City Hall on September 15.(José Adriano)

“Kids love to perform in live shows. They say they feel like stars,” Vergara said.

The ballet is made up entirely of children living in Pleasant Grove. Vergara said this group has sparked greater parent involvement, where friendships and networking counteract negative misconceptions about this part of town.

Creek transformed into an art gallery brings together muralists from afar

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People walk through ‘The Walls’ during Styles Fest at Pleasant Grove on October 15 in Dallas.(Elías Valverde II / Personal photographer)

For the past decade, the murals along “The Walls” have been a gateway to Pleasant Grove’s bubbling street art scene. Art promoter Khadafy “DAP” Branch has one goal in mind: to let art serve as a community unifier and change the narrative around this neighborhood.

“I brought artists from all over, like from Canada, California, New York, Florida and all over the west coast,” said DAP, 40, a resident of Pleasant Grove, who curated murals and facilities in this space, located south of Interstate 30 and east of US Highway 175.

The neighborhood celebrated its first edition of Styles Fest from October 15-17, a public festival, which included graffiti artists painting new murals.

The Walls is located in the bed of Elam Creek, an open-air, concrete-lined creek that can be walked during the dry season. The art project uses the creek walls for at least half a mile from Lake June Road to Hillburn Drive, with exits through the Pleasant Grove Public Library and the Umphress Recreation Center.

“It’s a part of town where we don’t yet have a cultural centre, and we’re working on it. But since many people don’t have access to the arts because they work or don’t have access to transportation, we want to host events here,” said Priscilla Rice, Dallas Parks and Recreation Board Member representing the district 5, which includes Pleasant Grove.

The location of The Walls is owned by the Dallas Water Utilities Department. Due to its location, city officials believe it has the potential to become a gallery with better facilities.

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People walk through ‘The Walls’ during Styles Fest at Pleasant Grove on October 15 in Dallas.(Elías Valverde II / Personal photographer)

“The goal is to be open to the public, and I think the opportunity is there to use this space for more events showcasing the arts in our community,” said City Council member Jaime Reséndez. of Dallas for District 5.

Murals at The Walls in Pleasant Grove, folk ballet El Trigo, and cultural galleries Mi Barrio 214 and Gallery 86 attempt to improve Pleasant Grove’s image — and hope to stave off gentrification.

“We want to put Pleasant Grove on the map in a meaningful way, not for show, but for community pride – and to unite us, because everyone in this community works hard and we need that kind of support. places to come together and celebrate all of our cultures,” said Tamitah Curiel, educator and member of the Dallas Art and Culture Commission.

DAP said it was a noble and resilient neighborhood.

“Our community is big and it gives a lot. I love Pleasant Grove,” he said.

Christopher S. Washington