The Deep Ellum Arts Festival Is A Horrible Annual Tradition, And A Bad Appropriation Of The Neighborhood’s Cultural Cachet.
For the next three days, the Deep Ellum Arts Festival will once again take over four city blocks in the middle of Deep Ellum to host row upon row of merchant vending booths, fair-like food offerings and visual artists exhibiting their wares. The festival also features multiple stages upon which music performers will play sets almost incessantly all weekend long.
And so, upon the occasion of the festival’s annual kickoff, we would like to remind you: The Deep Ellum Arts Festival is utter crap.
The art it showcases is almost uniformly bland, the food is overpriced and the musicians are, with but a few exceptions, acts that would otherwise be hard-pressed to score a legitimate gig on a real Deep Ellum stage during any other weekend of the year.
Worse, the reputation that it is some sort of showcase of local upstart artists and creators is an utterly false one. The Deep Ellum Arts Festival exists as a celebration of Deep Ellum in name and location alone. Since its inception in 1994, it has been owned and operated by the California-based Main Events International Productions, which bears no ties to Deep Ellum beyond its annual hosting of this event and its hiring of a few local on-site operators, far as we can tell. And yet, somehow, MEI Productions has pulled the wool over the eyes of many a North Texan, having crafted a reputation that its offering is some sort of rallying cry for the what the neighborhood has to offer, and not just some carpetbagging cash-grab that clogs up traffic and perpetuates the notion that Deep Ellum is OK with subpar business concepts and artistic ideas that haven’t progressed since the ’90s.
Let’s be clear about this: Only a fraction of the artists who are exhibiting at this year’s event could be argued as local to North Texas at all, let alone “of Deep Ellum.” Of this year’s 176 showcasing artists, only 39 claim a hometown that could even be construed as local. That’s a paltry 22.16 percent. Rather, the majority of the artists on display at the Deep Ellum Arts Festival are, much like MEI Productions itself, from beyond state borders, from such who-cares distant home bases as California, Utah and Wisconsin. These exhibitors exist as part of a dated traveling festival economic concept that shouldn’t be able to still exist without repercussion in this age of the internet; these people travel from city to city to events such as this one, selling their crappy dentist office-quality landscapes or tacky handmade leather satchels to unsuspecting locals like the snake oil salesmen of yesteryear, capitalizing on the masses who are not yet hip to their con before packing up and moving on to the next city so they can pull they same scam on some other poor saps.
Slapping a local neighborhood name on something and deeming it local is a ruse that one might perhaps expect to continue working in some smaller city where its residents are none the wiser, perhaps. But the existence of this very website is proof that Dallas — a major metropolitan area by almost any definition! — boasts a thriving cultural climate, and that it shouldn’t be so naive as to fall prey to such a blatant bait-and-switch.
Because, make no mistake, the Deep Ellum Arts Festival is indeed that. Even with a wealth of quality food options currently existing in Deep Ellum, the fest — the acronym for which is DEAF because you can’t make this stuff up — each year shoves local vendors into a corner of its four-block footprint known as Deep Ellum Texas Village, whereas fried dough and frozen lemonade stands are otherwise allowed wherever they can fit within the festival grounds. Just make sure you hand over some cash to the ticket vendors so you can buy all that food first! Heaven forbid this affair operate on a traditional cash economy basis where foods aren’t priced at weird ticket values designed specifically so you will leave the space with extras in your pocket, the money you dropped on them now lining MEI Productions’ pockets.
Consider, also, the damage that DEAF will be doing this weekend to the actual businesses that prop Deep Ellum up on an everyday basis. Sure, a few of the suburbanites who file into the neighborhood this weekend might end up checking out one of these restaurants once their clogged arteries begin begging for something — anything — to eat that is neither fried nor sugar-based. But, odds are, the regular customers who would otherwise fill these spots’ tables on any other weekend are going to be discouraged by the closed roads and scant parking options, and just take a pass on dining in the area over these next few days.
Seriously: Traffic and parking are a problem that Deep Ellum already faces on the weekends, with most available spots gone by 8 p.m and with cars proceeding along Elm, Main and Commerce streets at a snail’s place between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.. Now imagine how things are going to be with four blocks of Main (and all of its cross streets from Exposition to Malcolm X) shut down all day and all night long this weekend so that this shitty appropriation of the neighborhood’s name and actual culture can operate! Spoiler: It’s not going to be awesome. In other words, if you’re going to head to DEAF this weekend, we suggest you take an Uber.
Gotta say, though, we’re not sure it’ll be worth it even then. Honestly: Of the 123 music acts slated to perform at DEAF over these next three days, only 21 of them — wanna guess which? — are ones that we wouldn’t actively walk out on if we were to catch them in a normal venue around town.
Of course, none of this is to say that you should outright avoid Deep Ellum this weekend. Quite the opposite, actually. There are a ton of great events happening in the neighborhood over these next few days — a number of which you can find listed right here. If anything, those events especially need your love this weekend as such support would help the neighborhood’s actual businesses continue to thrive and, perhaps, teach the property owners who OK this yearly atrocity that it’s just no longer worth the headaches that it brings. With all the chatter that’s going on these days about Deep Ellum losing its culture, it’s more important now than ever that you don’t let your support fall on DEAF ears, but rather upon the ears of those who make this part of town so great day in and day out.
Plus, if it’s art you really care about, and if where it comes from is really none of your concern, you’re far better off spending your time and money at the Dallas Art Fair, which is also going down this weekend and which features a number of both local and even international exhibitors whose work legitimately belongs in the hands of collectors and in galleries rather than above the urinal of some podiatrist who literally can’t afford better.
Fact is, Dallas can both literally and figuratively afford far better than the Deep Ellum Arts Festival at this point. It’s time everyone stopped supporting such garbage.