Dallas artist Vicki Meek is leading efforts to create a monument for the Tenth Street District.
The Nasher Sculpture Center has launched a collaboration with the Tenth Street Historic District to document and mark the historically Black neighborhood — before it’s possibly gone.
Dallas artist-curator Vicki Meek will lead a team of collaborators, North Texas artists and a historian in creating a monument for the endangered neighborhood in Oak Cliff. The final product of this Nasher Sculpture Center project has not been conceived yet. Meek says it will be developed over time, through community conversations. The fellowship she was awarded by the Nasher runs for 18 months.
“It could be a film,” Meek says of the end result. “It could be a play put on by Soul Rep [Theatre Co.]. It’s not traditional public art. What we’re doing is really looking at the way these communities get erased. But I want to remember them by getting the stories, because that’s really what communities are about — the human beings that lived there and the stories they create.”
African American slaves were first brought to Oak Cliff in 1845; by 1900, the neighborhood had some 500 Black residents, and Tenth Street had become a segregated Black enclave within Oak Cliff.
But by the late 1950s and early 1960s, the neighborhood was split by the construction of Interstate 35 — which had led to the demolition of some 175 original structures. Since then, Tenth Street has been battered by city neglect. But it was also left isolated from the kind of wildfire gentrification that took over Bishop Arts, just across the freeway from the district.
But now, Meek says, “there is aggressive gentrification in the Tenth Street area because it’s very convenient to downtown.”
In 1994, Tenth Street was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. But by 2019, it was also listed as one of the most endangered historic sites in America by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The trust included it with Nashville’s Music Row and the Pueblo cliff dwellings of southeast Utah.
Meek says she fears the neighborhood may go the way other freedman’s towns in North Texas have gone — like the one that pretty much disappeared beneath Uptown and the Arts District.
“But there are still people here,” she says, “who have real memories of the community as it once was.”
She wants to capture those voices and those memories, she says, to document and interpret them.
The fellowship Meek has received, the Nasher Fellowship in Urban Historical Reclamation and Recognition, is an outgrowth of Nasher Public, the museum’s offsite efforts at increasing access to modern art around Dallas.
Meek has artworks in the permanent collections of Dallas’ African American Museum and Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts and is represented by the Talley Dunn Gallery. For this project, she will collaborate with Dallas playwright Jonathan Norton, filmmaker Christian Vazquez, social practice visual artist Ángel Faz and historian Marvin Dulaney, president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
Meek says the Nasher approached her about the project. She’s had exhibitions there, such as the 2021 installation ”Stony the Road We Trod.” Meek called it “a contemporary shrine to the Black community.”
“They originally wanted something possibly along curatorial lines from me,” Meek says of the Tenth Street project. But when she declined, she says, “they allowed me to define what it was I was going to do. And we settled on a fellowship, because then I wouldn’t have to be going back into any kind of administrative role.”
This collaborative effort, she says, is more in the line of her current, community-centered practice.
Fundraising for the eventual “capstone public art project,” as the Nasher labeled it, is continuing, so no final price tag could be put on it — or even on Meek’s fellowship.
But Meek herself sees this as a pilot project.
“We’re hoping to get additional funding to look at the disappearance of the Mexican American communities [in North Texas] and the disappearance of the indigenous communities, and to do two other iterations of this project.
“So that’s it,” Meek says. “That’s my big dream.”
Arts Access is a partnership between The Dallas Morning News and KERA that expands local arts, music and culture coverage through the lens of access and equity.
This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.
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