Deep Ellum, the historic neighborhood just east of downtown Dallas, has been marking its 150th anniversary all year long. One of the biggest events is coming up Saturday, when visitors, stakeholders, and community leaders will celebrate the grand opening celebration of the Deep Ellum Community Center.
Organizers said the event will begin just down the street from the center at 5 p.m. Saturday on Elm Street, beneath an overpass where attendees will experience the center’s outdoor art installation, “Invisible Deep Ellum.”
The installation uses the concrete columns beneath the city’s I-345 overpass and North Central Expressway to feature advertisements and selected pages from 1911 and 1925 Black business directories that document the vitality of Deep Ellum, interspersed with comments by community leaders, African Americans, and whites who worked in the area.
The public art installation by Alan Govenar, with assistance from Bob Ray Sanders, Norma Adams-Wade, Harrison Blair, Phillip Collins, and Jason Johnson-Spinos, is funded in part by the Summerlee Foundation.
Actor, director, and writer Akin Babatunde will give an a cappella performance of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” followed by remarks by Alan Govenar and Deep Ellum leaders Stephanie Keller Hudiburg and Breonny Lee.
Jefferson was a noted blues and gospel singer who lived in Dallas in the early part of the 20th century. He died in 1929 at the age of 36.
‘When You Go Down in Deep Ellum’
The grand opening will continue at the new Deep Ellum Community Center at 2528 Elm Street, where its historical permanent exhibition and inaugural temporary exhibition will be unveiled.
The current lineup of the famed 1931 Western Swing band Light Crust Doughboys will perform their acoustic version of “Deep Ellum Blues” and “Match Box Blues” and debut an original composition about Deep Ellum.
The center’s historical exhibitions include the permanent exhibition “When You Go Down in Deep Ellum,” which brings to life the history of Deep Ellum via the district’s themes that span 150 years: migration, music, business and commerce, and art and culture.
The exhibition will highlight Deep Ellum’s vast musical legacy with a listening room and operational 78 rpm recording studio — the first of its kind in the nation.
Organizers said the exhibit is curated by Govenar with assistance from Jason Johnson-Spinos, Kip Lornell, Phillip Collins, Jay Brakefield, Jessica Schneider Adams, Norma Adams-Wade, Katy Parker, and Paula Bosse.
Architectural/design consultant Cliff Welch and lighting consultants Steve Woods and Mandy Stockhausen comprise the design team, organizers said.
Funding for the center came from the Texas Commission on the Arts through the Cultural Districts grant program, the Summerlee Foundation, Ace Records (London), and the Deep Ellum Foundation.
The center’s inaugural temporary exhibition, “Unlikely Blues,” showcases the illustrations of Chicago artist Louis Paeth, who designed “Race Record” ads that were made to promote early blues artists, most notably Blind Lemon Jefferson.
Center will be a central hub for an ‘eclectic, unconventional community’
The multifunctional Deep Ellum Community Center houses local nonprofit and arts organizations including the Deep Ellum Foundation, the Deep Ellum Community Association, and Deep Ellum Radio.
Those organizations will host regular community meetings, workshops, and recording sessions within the center as well as district tours. The center will serve as an incubator space by offering steeply subsidized workspace to burgeoning artists and entrepreneurs of color coupled with mentorship and educational programming, organizers said.
“Deep Ellum is a community of more than just the people who live here. It’s a dynamic blend of residents, artists, business owners, the people who work here, and the people who play here,” Breonny Lee, president of the Deep Ellum Community Association, said in a statement. “This eclectic, unconventional community has long craved a central hub. The Deep Ellum Community Center will serve in a multifunctional capacity as the first stop for residents, businesses, visitors, and the arts community to access neighborhood resources and cultural programming including interactive exhibitions, local art displays, workshops, walking tours, and much, much more.”
Weekly Deep Ellum History Tours beginning Saturday will provide attendees with a glimpse into Deep Ellum’s history and provide behind-the-scenes access to architectural gems.
Tours will be led by Brakefield, co-author with Govenar of “Deep Ellum and Central Track: Where Cultures Converged.”
The Deep Ellum Archive
New books from Deep Vellum Books, including the third edition “Deep Ellum and Central Track: Where Cultures Converged” by Govenar and Brakefield and “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean: The World and Music of Blind Lemon” by Govenar and Kip Lornell will be available at the Deep Ellum Community Center.
“As we mark this major milestone of 150 years of Deep Ellum, our lasting gift back to the community is the Deep Ellum Community Center. We are thrilled to deliver a space to gather, to learn, to experience and build culture, art and history together,” Stephanie Keller Hudiburg, executive director of the Deep Ellum Foundation, said in a statement. “Alan Govenar is a preeminent scholar on Deep Ellum’s unparalleled history, in addition to his cutting-edge work as a writer, photographer, and filmmaker. Govenar’s collaboration with the Deep Ellum Foundation and Deep Ellum Community Association culminates more than 40 years of his work.”
“I can think of no better way to honor this neighborhood’s rich legacy than to make these exhibitions available to the public during this historic year,” Keller Hudiburg added. “We invite all who hold Deep Ellum artifacts, memorabilia and stories to come make history with us and share with the Deep Ellum Archive that we are building in partnership with the Dallas Public Library.”
Organizers said that Deep Vellum also will partner with the Deep Ellum Foundation to close out the 150th anniversary celebrations with a Deep Ellum Storytelling Summit.
The Deep Ellum Archives is collecting, documenting, and sharing through a partnership with the Dallas Public Library artifacts and ephemera as well as oral stories about Deep Ellum.
Attendees will have the opportunity to meet Deep Ellum archivist Cathryn Colcer and Dallas Public Library staff to collect memorabilia and capture their own Deep Ellum stories, organizers said.
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