Kayli House Cusick met Shannon Driscoll at a volunteer meeting for the very first Better Block Street Festival in Oak Cliff. They immediately clicked. And for that year's fest, they wanted to fuse Shannon's background as an art conservator and leader of adult craft workshops and Kayli's work as a children's arts curriculum writer. So, they took over an old warehouse to create a "pop-up" art studio. And Oil & Cotton was born.
Now, they run a space at the corner of 7th and Tyler Street where kids and adults alike can take classes in everything from printmaking to sewing. Their "make do with what you got" philosophy inspires creativity not just in their own lives, but in the lives of everyone who visits their studio. They're teaching Dallas residents to be expressive and resourceful, and they're making the art of making fun.
Why Oak Cliff for your shop? Kayli: Because Oak Cliff is Dallas, I live in Oak Cliff, and wanted to make a cool place for my daughter and her cohorts to get educated in the arts. Plus, Oak Cliff has history, grit, and soul. Shannon: After the success of that first iteration of Oil and Cotton, we were encouraged by neighbors, friends and family to make our temporary outpost permanent. The storefront beside the warehouse became available and we decided to invest ourselves in a project that has now been around for almost five years. I don't know if Oil and Cotton would be what it is today if it had not taken root in this neighborhood. We were in the right place at the right time. We found a beautiful and affordable space on a block bordered by new development and old residential neighborhoods. Because of this, our student body is socioeconomically and culturally diverse, characteristics that are important to us and our clients.
We immediately felt balanced, stable and supported in Oak Cliff. Our neighbors volunteered to help us settle into the building and have continued to help us with up keep, whether is was architect Fred Pena organizing a 2 week build design camp in which teens designed and constructed our back porch or JD's Tree Service donating mulch to convert a rocky dirt pit into our backyard garden. We work closely with neighborhood schools and other small business owners. It is a neighborhood that definitely identifies itself as a place for entrepreneurial creatives, and a place of endless possibilities. And Kayli and I both live in Oak Cliff. We spend a lot of time at Oil and Cotton, so obviously a convenient commute is nice.
What are your daily inspirations? Shannon: My partner Kayli and all of the other talented and ambitious people that work at Oil and Cotton. I am lucky to have a circle of the most creative, kind and ambitious friends in the universe. They instill a strong work ethic through all that they do. My family placed a great value on education, continuing to learn whether through teaching, taking a class or trying something new is important to how I move through every day. I find clarity in pushing myself physically through running, it keeps my dreamy mind a little more focused. And ESTATE SALES!!! I grew up junking with my dad in Baltimore. I love encountering the lives of those unknown to me in such a physically intimate way. The things that people hold onto, the way they organize the objects that surround them and imbue them with feelings...that totally floats my boat and gets me going.
Kayli: Listening. When I have a moment to notice the sounds around me, I feel like an artist. I find inspiration at all points of each day. Patches of paint colors over grafitti - Emily Riggert, a colleague and artist working in Austin, opened my eyes to these colors, along with Richard Prince and his primer painted car hood. Shannon's outfits and passion for color always inspire me to be more visually conscious. Waking up with my family, getting motivated by my husband Matt's drive to make art, making a list in the quiet of our space first thing in the morning, checking in with my mom while she's having her coffee and reporting on birds, lizards, bobcats and such, greeting smiling Shannon in the morning, seeing each person walk in to our space with that look of someone coming upon an idea, laughing with my students, watching my daughter be totally herself, answering our old green phone. All these things inspire me every day. Cleaning the sink in our studio, too. I love getting that sink clean.
Is Oil & Cotton able to be everything you dream for it? Or is there more you want to do? Kayli: Oil and Cotton started out as a manifestation of me and Shannon. It was a conglomerate of all our interests, education, experience, and ideas bundled into a non-sensical business model that has somehow survived. I say that, but really, it has survived because we've been frugal and obsessively hard-working, but mostly because we have had so much help from truly dedicated friends. It has the bones to be what we dream for it, but still needs lots more fleshing out. Oil and Cotton is more than Shannon and me. We are working with so many women with their own dreams and goals and the drive to execute them, and we know that many excellent things are on the horizon. Shannon: At times Kayli and I get a bit overwhelmed because Oil and Cotton is so many things. We are an art space, a creative exchange, a music school, a small business incubator, a community center, an art supply shop, an educational laboratory. Oil and Cotton taken on alter-egos, we have been Wig-Wam, The Read-Rite Market, Cut-It-Out (a collage cafe inspired by Uncle Joey), and even a haunted house. But in all that we do we are guided by the desire to make the place in which we live better. We do this by providing thoughtful, comprehensive and impactful art programming, educating the next generation of museum professionals, artists, and advocates of art and culture, and by creating jobs for artists and art educators. We would love to be able to reach more people, to create more living wage jobs, and to bring the magic into other neighborhoods, cities, islands! Like Laverne and Shirely, we're gonna do it our way! Oh my gosh, I am making way too many old television show references.
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If you had to title your memoir for your life up this point, what would it be? Shannon: Dolphin Cognition: A Big Ripple in the Water Kayli: So, what is it that you do?
Is there any skill you don't have but would like to learn? Shannon: I am a total skill seeker. I LOVE MUSIC and I have always wanted to learn to read and play music, but as of late, I want to become the best dang rope maker in Texas and hang out with cowboys and ranch hands. Kayli: My middle name is "like to learn." I've thought about getting an executive MBA, but well there's a lot of buts there, then I thought about going back to get a doctorate in education (still on the list), once my daughter is a little older. I'm not a good improviser, and I never learned to play honky tonk or blues or gospel well, so I'd love to get a non-classical piano teacher. I could study music everyday for the rest of my life and never know enough. There's so much I don't know how to do, but I am pretty good at asking for help, and I really value being able to pay people who have invested in developing a skill for their professional services. We all need to get paid for what we do, even if what we do seems like leisure to someone who doesn't do it for a living. It's important to maintain our culture and economy. I'm not so into DIY. I take our classes not so much to replace the teacher but to respect their craft. You weave a basket yourself, and then you don't hesitate to pay $75 for a well-made one. That's not an easy thing to do. It's worth the money. Everyone can use paint. But learn to paint with a great painter, and whoa - you'll understand the value of a $10,000 painting. I love people who take pride in their work. One of my favorite speeches is Martin Luther King's "Blueprint" speech to the junior high students about laying out the blueprint of their lives. It sticks with you. Take pride in your work no matter what the job, so important. That's the ruler totin' piano teacher talking.
You've contributed a creative outlet to Dallas, what else would you like to see pop up in this city? Kayli: More freedom. More surprises. More public access to swimming in the summer. Shannon: More opportunities for higher and continuing education, dependable public transportation, swimming holes and parks, additional art spaces and more weird things in general. Kayli: ...More women in power. More children being listened to. Smarter trash receptacle placement. C'mon 7-11, let's be pitching in on some trash & recycle bins in the 3-block radius of your store. How many bud ice cans and hot stix bags does a woman have to pick up? And public compost - genius. Less water wasted on grass, which makes everyone sneeze, and more shade trees and mist. I love mist! And small portions. And ban all testing in schools. Say no to standardized tests. That's not teaching kids to take pride in their work. It's the opposite. Standardized tests breed stressed out kids who standardize their lives to avoid doing anymore than they have to because they just can't take the pressure. Kids need to play. And play well. That's what needs to pop up - a place to play deeply, made out of trash, in the shade, with fresh fruit to eat and an ice cold water fountain. Call it the math classroom, and then you're really getting somewhere.
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