In a city where cultural capital lies somewhere between dive bars and ball stadiums, a loose-knit band of about 30 artists, some of them sucking in longnecks, gathered last week at the Arlington Museum of Art determined to craft their own fate.
Long after the lights had gone out on the Vivian Maier photography exhibit downstairs, spirited conversations lit up the museum’s third floor. Known as Create Arlington, the group of artists talked candidly about music, art, their upcoming inaugural film festival Frame4Frame and city politics.
Paul Knudson mingled while photographing the mostly young crowd, pausing for an animated tug at a leg of his trousers. He alludes to the common belief that if Arlington doesn’t “stay on it,” Dallas might hike up its pant leg, reveal its thigh and lure the Rangers.
Somewhat amused, yet poker-faced, David Conant sat nearby maintaining the swagger of a veteran promoter. A chemical dispatcher by day, Conant founded Arlington Nights, a website dedicated to promoting Arlington’s musicians.
“I’m tone deaf, and I can’t sing,” he said. “But I love music.”
Conant provides support and encouragement to performers like Jeremy Norvelle, Chris Acosta and other local acts.
“I don’t just promote them,” he said. “I’ll drink a beer with them and have a good time. There’s a lot going on in Arlington. It’s just that nobody knows about it.”
Sporting what looked like a three-day beard, Mark Joeckel, co-founder of Arlington Proud, an arm of Create Arlington, sat drinking coffee at the Tin Cup on Abram Street. He talked about wanting to catapult Arlington’s status as an artistic community, and he's doing his part, he said, by developing an “organic group” of local artists and informing people of what’s happening around town.
“We’re not affiliated with the city,” he said of the fledgling nonprofit. “But we’re very organized.”
The 52-year-old self-described “milk toast rebel” grew up in Arlington the son of a Lutheran minister. He said that when he was 12, his father handed him about a dozen jazz albums by people such as Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan, and he listened to those along with AC/DC.
“I’m a shitty musician,” he said. “I can’t paint. But I love being in the creative space.”
Joeckel, an ordained minister, said he has lived in culturally rich cities such as St. Louis, Austin and New Orleans, where he learned a lot about what makes people connect.
“The thing that does it is music and art,” he said. “In New Orleans, I was, like, the pastor to the jazz community. I’m really doing the same thing, but it’s not under the banner of the church.”
Joeckel says being digitally savvy gives him credibility with the younger generation, and he connects with the 35-and-under crowd by being able to organize and market their talent.
“That’s how I get to be around all these people,” he said. “When I was younger, I connected through sports. Now, it is a digital bridge.”
A single father of three adult children, Joeckel sold his home a few years ago and moved into a 650-square-foot, 1950s apartment next door to the Tin Cup in order to model the walkable, sustainable lifestyle he craves.
“I want to live in a city that has great music, great art, that’s walkable [and] that I don’t have to spend all my money on a house and a car,” he said.
Joeckel owns a car but mainly walks or Ubers around town. His office at the Upstairs Gallery is just across the street, and he walks to his UT Arlington teaching gig. After work, he said he might knock a few back with friends before strolling downtown or over to the college to catch a performance.
“Quite frankly, I find these students more passionate than professional performances,” he said. “I could go to stuff five nights a week, all right here.”
Joeckel said he forms alliances with anyone who will align with Arlington Proud. And so far, that includes more than 150 businesses, 110 individual members and 70,000 social media connections.
At times, he may take to social media to ask for help with an upcoming project or show. For instance, artists are sometimes needed to paint the little free libraries that are springing up around town. And in May, some group members went dumpster diving for wooden pallets to build stages for the Main Street Festival.
Conant said 500 people had been expected to gather for the Main Street Festival. Instead, a crowd of about 3,000 showed up.
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Joeckel said it caused the Division Street brewery to run out of beer.
“It’s the local nature of the artists,” he said. “It’s the local nature of the bands. It’s the social phenomena, this online communication that’s just blown up our events.”
Graphic designer Alan Beam, who mixes with the Create Arlington crowd, said the networking is tremendous.
“Our whole bottom line is building relationships,” Joeckel said. “In the long term, that’s what makes a difference.”