People Issue

People 2015: Endurance Artist Erica Felicella Works to Build a Better Dallas Over the Long Haul

In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 20 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Can Turkyilmaz. 

Erica Felicella’s office is the city, or at least the city’s coffee shops. Frequenters of Mudsmith, Bolsa Mercado or The Wild Detectives will likely recognize her as the woman who is always wearing a scarf and a hat, no matter the weather. Usually a vest too. Habits like these aside, she’s hardly one to suffer a routine. In addition to her duties as the executive director of Art Con, the homegrown annual fundraiser turned year-round event powerhouse, Felicella is continually dreaming up new projects to pursue as a photographer and performance artist.

She calls her practice “endurance performance.” Previous manifestations include locking herself in an acrylic box for 48 hours, where she wrote the same sentence on a piece of paper over and over again, and sitting in a booth at an art gallery, like a priest in a confessional, where visitors were encouraged to privately unburden themselves of their darkest thoughts or struggles. The week before we met for coffee, she had stayed up every night to replicate insomnia and enter a depressive state. Visitors stopped at her house as part of the annual Oak Cliff Visual Speedbump Art Tour to find her living room in chaos, with Felicella on the couch, reclusive and distraught. She cried for much of the afternoon. After their encounter, visitors were encouraged to write her a note.

“So many people in the creative realm suffer from depression but you only see them when they’re able to leave the house, and I wanted people to think about what happens behind the closed door,” says Felicella. “What people wrote me after our encounter are some of the most vulnerable letters I’ve ever been written. I keep digging into places where people share their truths with me.”

This drive for authenticity is a key motivator for Felicella, both personally and for Art Con. It’s what drew her to volunteer with the organization and eventually lead it. Under her watch, what was once an annual event has expanded into a community of movers and shakers who throw fun, significant events raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities and nonprofits. She likes to say that once you get bit by the Art Con bug, you don’t look back. Her drive for community building encouraged her to launch a monthly town hall meeting she’s named Dallas Executives and Arts Leaders Collaborative, or DEAL, where a broad swath of the arts community gets together to dream up ways to improve the city. A younger version of this East Coast native might find it hard to believe that she would eventually call a Texas city home and mean it.

“I have every intention as an artist to stay here. I love to be surrounded by people who all believe in positive change,” Felicella says. “I think we’ve got a long way to go, but right now the conversations are awesome.” And she would know, because she’s having those conversations at coffee shops all over the city, and she’s helping create the Dallas we all want to live in.
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Lauren Smart
Contact: Lauren Smart