100 Dallas Creatives: No. 37 the Godfather of Dallas Art Frank Campagna
Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. I met Frank Campagna for the first time earlier this year, when I suggested we put him in the People Issue. We spent time together leading up to to our interview, and if I'm being honest, I wasn't sure what I thought of him at first. For decades, he's made a living painting murals in and around Dallas, particularly Deep Ellum. He's a soft-spoken man with a gruff exterior, and -- I've learned -- a heart of gold. Since then, we've become friends. I've joined the hundreds, if not thousands, in the Dallas art community who have a special place in their hearts for Campagna and his Deep Ellum staple, Kettle Art Gallery.
Unlike other art galleries in town, Kettle's mission is one of inclusion, visible in the size of its artist roster, and in its price point -- which varies from two to four digits. Surface-level stuff. But it's Campagna, and his partner Paula Harris, who keep people coming back. They've made Kettle homey, and everyone who walks through the door is just one conversation away from feeling like family. So, Campagna makes the list not just for being an artist and a gallery owner, but for creating an art community that welcomes every new member with open arms.
You've seen Dallas and its art scene change and grow, what do you think are its strengths? The artists themselves seem to be more unified now as a force to be reckoned with. Sure, there are still plenty of fragile egos involved, but at least the artists I work with seem to set these differences aside to create a powerful statement.
What was the impetus for opening Kettle? What keeps you going? Kettle was opened with several initiatives. First, to offer local artists a place to exhibit and express themselves in a setting that presents their works on the same level as the more refined galleries, but without the uptight atmosphere. You know, where they can be themselves and meet other artists and be comfortable, make friends and be inspired. Second, when we opened in 2005, I think most everyone will agree that Deep Ellum was pretty much on the decline, like a trashed-out playground that no one wanted to visit. It seemed the time was ripe for someone to bring attention back to the creative side of the area and nurture the roots of what made the neighborhood great in the first place -- all the way back to 1873. Finally, it seemed only fair when I was offered a place to play with, to do something to assist other artists. I had somehow managed to eke out a living myself as an artist without a real job, and it seemed like a good way to pay it forward and have some fun.
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What are some of your favorite events/times of the year? We crank out so many events each year it's difficult to keep track, so I'd have to say the annual events. The Love of Kettle exhibits are always great because it's our annual fundraiser that helps keep the gallery going. We follow that with the Love of Artists exhibit, where 100% of the proceeds go to the artist. I really enjoy that one too, because nobody, not one other organization that I'm aware of, shows that kind of appreciation and respect for their artists. Then there's our Holiday Presence show. This will be our 10th year to pull this one off. I am aware that a 'unique, affordable gifts' exhibit is kind of a cheesy concept, but it works. Artists need to make it through the holidays and people need to buy gifts. Why not support your local culture, as opposed to getting mauled at the mall by buying mass-produced, crummy stuff from China.
You've painted hundreds of murals throughout Dallas, do you have a favorite that you've created? Or a dream project? I like the 'Greetings from Deep Ellum' mural best, because it took a lot of research to come up with various definitive images that would encapsulate the vast history of the neighborhood. As of a few weeks ago, due to building renovation, it now says 'eep Ellum,' but that one had a good run. The other one that comes to mind is the Robot Dinosaur piece, because it's based on my childhood fascination with those things. In a sense, that piece represents both the past and the future, as seen on TV. Dream projects? I still want to paint '3 Nice Guys' with Kennedy, Oswald, Ruby and Johnson, just to challenge the viewer. I'm currently working with a highly esteemed group to create many more murals throughout the neighborhood that will spotlight many of our great local artists.
You and Paula have successfully created a community around your gallery -- your business -- how do you think you've done it? Kettle has always been about understanding and supporting artists. Yeah, we take the same percentage as any other gallery, but not only do we as a gallery promote our artists, the other artists involved with the gallery also promote each other. I guess that comes from all of us being comfortable and friends. I notice from time to time, how beautiful it is that so many brilliant minds are in the same room, exchanging ideas and concepts. If these projects ever come to fruition or if they take place at Kettle, it doesn't matter so much, as long as the idealism blossoming within our walls does.
Pretend for a minute that money is not a problem, and you could make any one thing happen in Dallas, what would it be? Well, if money was not an issue, I'd want to increase funding for arts education. Not only in the schools and nurturing of young people, but for its citizens. Dallas is a culturally vibrant city. People need to know how great it is, and how great it can be. If we appreciate our own, then our creatives will be more likely to stay in town and continue to build this potential epicenter. As it stands now, Deep Ellum and Oak Cliff are both local cultural hotbeds of activity. If the creatives from these areas were showcased in our world renowned Arts District, this would do a lot to inform our city, and the rest of the world, of our culture. Texas is known for having enormous pride, so as this spreads into the arts, both artists and more collectors will gravitate towards Big D.
Advice for a young artist, go: For me, being an artist has always been a 'game' rather than 'my life.' This way I take nothing too serious or personal, but here are a few pointers that should help. Try not to get a job, because you'll get accustomed to affording a lifestyle most self-employed artists can't. If you must work, do it for knowledge and connections in an art-related field, more than the money. That should come over time as you become better known.
Do not give your art away unless you are trading or truly indebted to someone who supports your efforts. Get an education and a degree, because the people in charge will be more likely to appreciate and respect that. Mind your manners because it's important to know how to behave and how to be engaging at various art functions.
Do your best to be professional and be on time. Stay focused on the ultimate prize of being yourself and staying true to your art. Don't overthink or worry about what others may think or say about you or your art. It's your destiny to create the artist you will become, not theirs. Support your fellow artists and do not act like a prima donna. It's important to both have others you can lend a hand to if you get there and/or catch you if you fall.
If you achieve some attention or level of success, consider yourself fortunate and be humble. Take some time and submerge yourself to create a body of work. The stuff at the beginning and end will be okay, but the 'gold' will be created when you're totally lost in the zone. Keep in mind that when you feel like there is no hope, often that's the time when you are on the verge of something great. Overall, learn to multitask and/or scramble, so you cover your ass with your talent, strategies, connections and knowledge.
100 Creatives: 100. Theater Mastermind Matt Posey 99. Comedy Queen Amanda Austin 98. Deep Ellum Enterpriser Brandon Castillo 97. Humanitarian Artist Willie Baronet 96. Funny Man Paul Varghese 95. Painting Provocateur Art Peña 94. Magic Man Trigg Watson 93. Enigmatic Musician George Quartz 92. Artistic Luminary Joshua King 91. Inventive Director Rene Moreno 90. Color Mavens Marianne Newsom and Sunny Sliger 89. Literary Lion Thea Temple 88. Movie Maestro Eric Steele 87. Storytelling Dynamo Nicole Stewart 86. Collaborative Artist Ryder Richards 85. Party Planning Print maker Raymond Butler 84. Avant-gardist Publisher Javier Valadez 83. Movie Nerd James Wallace 82. Artistic Tastemakers Elissa & Erin Stafford 81. Pioneering Arts Advocates Mark Lowry & Michael Warner 80. Imaginative Director Jeremy Bartel 79. Behind-the-Scenes Teacher Rachel Hull 78. Kaleidoscopic Artist Taylor "Effin" Cleveland 77. Filmmaker & Environmentalist Michael Cain 76. Music Activist Salim Nourallah 75. Underground Entrepreneur Daniel Yanez 74. Original Talent Celia Eberle 73. Comic Artist Aaron Aryanpur 72. Classical Thespian Raphael Parry 71. Dance Captain Valerie Shelton Tabor 70. Underground Culture Mainstay Karen X. Minzer 69. Effervescent Gallerist Brandy Michele Adams 68. Birthday Party Enthusiast Paige Chenault 67. Community Architect Monica Diodati 66. Intrepid Publisher Will Evans 65. Writerly Wit Noa Gavin 64. Maverick Artist Roberto Munguia 63. Fresh Perspective Kelsey Leigh Ervi 62. Virtuosic Violinist Nathan Olson 61. Open Classical's Dynamic Duo Mark Landson & Patricia Yakesch 60. Rising Talent Michelle Rawlings 59. Adventurous Filmmaker Toby Halbrooks 58. Man of Mystery Edward Ruiz 57. Inquisitive Sculptor Val Curry 56. Offbeat Intellect Thomas Riccio 55. Doers and Makers Shannon Driscoll & Kayli House Cusick 54. Performance Pioneer Katherine Owens 53. Experimental Filmmaker and Video Artist Mike Morris 52. Flowering Fashioner Lucy Dang 51. Insightful Artist Stephen Lapthisophon 50. Dallas Arts District 49. Farmer's Market Localvore Sarah Perry 48. Technological Painter John Pomara 47. Progressive Playmakers Christopher Carlos & Tina Parker 46. Purposive Chef Chad Houser 45. Absorbing Artist Jeff Gibbons 44. Artistic Integrator Erica Felicella 43. Multi-talented Director Tre Garrett 42. Anachronistic Musician Matt Tolentino 41. Emerging Veteran Actor Van Quattro 40. Festival Orchestrator Anna Sophia van Zweden 39. Literary Framer Karen Weiner 38. Man Behind the Music Gavin Mulloy
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