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Introducing Deep Ellum Arts Festival, the Hippest Block Party in Texas

By S. Mathur

The Deep Ellum neighborhood in Dallas has had its ups and downs, but has always been associated with music and the arts. The Deep Ellum Arts Festival was part of an upswing that began in the 1990s.

Stephen Millard was the original producer of the highly acclaimed Main Street Fort Worth Art Festival and was well known in the special events industry for producing successful, free-admission community festivals.

He recalls that "In 1992 the newly formed Deep Ellum Association leadership reached out to me to produce an arts festival in Deep Ellum which would promote the neighborhood on the just landscaped portion of Main Street which at the time only had dilapidated closed buildings. Since the mid 80's Deep Ellum's Elm Street had already earned a reputation as a hip entertainment district and the concept of building an "adult oriented" original art and entertainment festival one block away was intriguing to me."

Since that time the Festival has grown to become one of the most prestigious neighborhood festivals. It has had to move three blocks from its original location, to avoid blocking business entrances. That's quite a change from the time when all the stores on the street were boarded up. More than two hundred artists, including sculptors, muralists, jewelers, painters, leather and wood crafters, exhibit their work. There are a hundred and fifty bands, playing everything from Bach to rock.

Artists and vendors are chosen from a nationwide pool of applicants through a juried process Millard says that "We are always looking for fresh new talent with a cutting edge approach to their medium." Visual artists must be present at the show, and all music has to be an original composition by the performers. The Deep Ellum neighborhood has been known for its graffiti artists, and a new "Art for Dumpsters" competition has five local artists live-painting recycling dumpsters. The dumpster art should reflect on the importance of recycling.

The food is an attraction in itself and ranges from typical street fair delights like corn dogs and BBQ to Mexican, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Cajun, American, and Italian cuisine, crepes and specialty desserts, and health foods. Beer, wine and cocktails are also available.

Millard says that visitors at the festival appreciate the fact that admission is free, that "the art is high quality and fresh, the music enjoyable and new, the food fantastic and best of all the community has a platform to get together to share in a fun experience. People watching at this festival is also one of the highlights and in Deep Ellum and especially during the festival you never know what you're going to see." As well as people, you can watch their pets. The Pet Parade is an integral part of the Festival and the pooches enjoy it as much as the people do.

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