Pariah Arts Adds Music to The Cedars' Thriving Fine Arts Scene

Coma in Algiers performing at Pariah last Friday.
Coma in Algiers performing at Pariah last Friday.
Vinh Ho

The Cedars neighborhood is on the rise. With art galleries and studios like RE Gallery and the Homeland Security art collective, it's increasingly known for visual arts. Just south of downtown, The Cedars is a place where many local artists live and work. Take filmmaker Frank Darko and painter Joshua von Ammon, for example. They live and work at Pariah Arts, an art space in the neighborhood that's been building a buzz in recent weeks. And it could be a watershed space for the neighborhood: In an area with a thriving visual arts presence, Pariah is the first to offer up live music.

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This past weekend was an especially good one for Pariah. Friday night, there was an event curated by THRWD led by Coma in Algiers. Saturday night they had Vice Palace's Cold Hearts event led by Convextion. Both were well attended and enthusiastically received. On Sunday afternoon, Darko and von Ammon were slowly recovering, cleaning up the mess, making sense of what happened and trying to explain how it all started.

Pariah Arts is in a Quonset hut, a prefabricated semicircular structure made of corrugated galvanized steel. Thousands were produced during World War II for the military and surplus was sold to the public. This Quonset hut in The Cedars is divided into three spaces and Pariah is the one in the middle, with the living quarters taking up the space behind it.

Pariah is an alternative space in which artists can come and practice visual- and sound-based art forms. "From the beginning we realized that there were these two groups that didn't seem to be talking to each other very often," says Darko, referring to fine artists and musicians.

Among past projects, Darko and von Ammon collaborated together on a show that had two ladies instructing bodybuilders to install the artwork. "Bodybuilders installing paintings at the behest of these women with champagne and high heels," says von Ammon. "It was entertaining."

Darko and von Ammon have been a part of the Socialized Contemporary Artists Bureau (SCAB) for years. SCAB is "a larger network of artists that have subgroupings of different spaces," explains von Ammon. "All of these spaces, with their owners, combine to network as a group and do shows in tandem."

In this tradition of "subgroups," Darko and von Ammon opened the fine arts studio that occupies the front of the building. They have called it The Union for two years, but someone is about to "steal" their name. They may start calling it "Tucan University" once they decide if it's a legitimately good name or just a humorous one. The Union has had art shows across the board, from new media art, to performance art shows and paintings.

In the past few months, Darko and von Ammon founded Pariah, the space behind the fine arts studio that they use as a film studio. They waited for a year and a half to get the additional space. "It was just an old broken-down warehouse," remembers von Ammon. "Three inches of dirt and old 1950s machinery everywhere." The structure used to be a window installation building for Neiman Marcus window displays, unused for decades. They found a calendar from 1964 and some old sign letters.

"Pariah is a larger project that extended out of fine arts," says von Ammon. "A way to bring more people into that community." Up until they secured the space that is now Pariah, Darko and Von Ammon basically just functioned in a fine arts capacity. "But it seemed like a natural progression," says von Ammon. "To function in a more underground capacity with music culture along with what we were already doing."

A video series featuring artists and musicians, Conversations in the Void was the first thing Pariah was used for, with Darko filming the program and von Ammon as host. They are also working on a series of "mini documentaries."

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And then came music -- something that was unique not only to the space, but the neighborhood. Melding the worlds of visual art and music could be a crucial step forward in the progression of this burgeoning creative neighborhood. With its close proximity to downtown Dallas and to Deep Ellum, there is certainly room for growth in this industrial-heavy area. Darko and von Ammon give credit to singer Lily Taylor for inspiring the change.

"Lily Taylor is the greatest ambassador between the fine artists and the musicians," says von Ammon. For an art show in The Union that featured media and music last April, Taylor was part of a 10-piece orchestra performing Terry Reilly's In C, a 1964 musical piece often considered to be among the first and most important minimalist compositions. Joshua Westerman organized the performance, Andrew Blanton played xylophone, and Rick Eye was also part of the large orchestra.

"That's how we met Lily," says Darko. "She is so good at curating shows. She has a wild attention to detail that I am learning from." Taylor not only helped teach Darko and von Ammon how to better coordinate events but inspired them to work with their friends Lee Escobedo from THRWD and Arthur Pena from Vice Palace. In December, Pariah had its first event, Vice Palace's Deathmus, "a dark dance party." On January 31, Taylor hosted another event called Texas Noise.

During these events, The Union a.k.a. Tucan University is used as an area for the crowd to mingle outside the Pariah. The next day, von Ammon and Darko cleanup, drag their equipment back out, and again they have a fine arts studio and a film studio.

After the back-to-back shows over the weekend, Darko and von Ammon are preparing for their next show on Thursday, "Sounds from the Void." Curated by Joshua Westerman, it will feature music, video and projection work. They are also working on another event with THRWD.

"I'm trying to get more video artists in here," Darko says. "And installation artists. Pariah is always about pulling two camps together and trying to get them to interact." Pariah was conceived more as a cultural movement than performance space, but it has added music to fine arts in The Cedars with some impressive recent events.


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