By Reshaping Red Arrow Contemporary, the Stafford Sisters Might Just Be Gamechangers

Bye, Bye Dragon Street.
Bye, Bye Dragon Street.

Saturday night, the Stafford sisters open their final art exhibition on Dragon Street. Aptly titled, Always and Forever, it's a show revolving around memento mori - or objects that warn or remind of death.

But their gallery isn't dying; it's growing.

"We had two options, we could close or we could change," says Erin Stafford. "We decided to change."

For three years, Erin and Elissa Stafford created some of Dragon Street's more engaging programming at Red Arrow Contemporary. The shows, which varied from an Austin printmaking shop to Anne Ferrer's blow up sculptures, never fell into a particular aesthetic or genre. It was always engaging, but never felt like a commercial gallery. Which is why they knew they needed to evolve.

Earlier this year, they announced plans for a curator-in-residence program, and now they have their sights set on Trinity Groves for late 2015. When they reopen, they intend to be a nonprofit that includes live/work studios, educational initiatives, and exhibition space. To make that happen, the sisters embark down a road lined with paperwork and fundraising, but if they can make it happen, they believe it will be well worth the investment.

The Stafford Sisters have big plans.
The Stafford Sisters have big plans.

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"This will allow us to be constantly evolving," says Elissa. "We wanted to create something that allows artists to have the same experiences we've been lucky to have running this space."

They've brought on Lauren Kirchner as director of administration and created a committee of local artists and curators to help with the programming and the artist selection. And as they flesh out what the space will look like, they've added plans to assist high school students interested in applying for art schools, studio space, a wood shop, and workshops on professional practices, like how to write a grant proposal or hang your artwork.

"We're hoping to help people with the things that often get brushed under the rug," says Elissa. "We want to help artists be the people who get invited back to shows. We have all this experience from running a gallery and we're ready to give back."

It will be the first residency program of its kind in Dallas, and perhaps in the country, as curatorial practices are often taken for granted. When they're ready to open their doors, they will put out a call for applications, for which artists will propose potential shows and the selection committee will pick the resident. From there, they will put out a call for artists based on the show, and the curator-in-resident will sort through those proposals. Eventually they hope to grow from one resident at a time to two, with eight shows a year.

"We've got a five year plan, and we know it's going to be a lot of work, but we're ready to take baby steps to open an institution that stays in Dallas after we're gone," says Elissa.

"But we're definitely not closing," says Erin. "This space will go, but that will be good. We'll still be doing shows from time to time, and really working to make this happen."

Always + Forever opens at 6 p.m. Saturday, with seven artists interested in using their work to explore death. Up next, Red Arrow Contemporary takes to the streets with the blow-up sculptures of Jimmy Kuehnle. Keep up with the sisters at redarrowcontemporary.com.


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