The Cedars Union Is Turning an Old Ice Cream Factory Into an Art Space

The Cedars Union provides workspaces for Dallas artists.
The Cedars Union provides workspaces for Dallas artists.
Teresa Rafidi/courtesy The Cedars Union
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In the 1880s, the spot that is now the Dallas Heritage Village was home to the first public park, known to locals as Old City Park. Photos from the early 1900s show tree-lined streets and stately homes in this area of town outside of Dallas’ central business district.

In 1905, the luxurious Ambassador Hotel opened, and in 1921, the Boedeker Manufacturing Co. made ice cream in a brick building at the corner of Ervay and Griffin streets. Today, the houses are gone, Interstate 30 roars nearby and an arts organization hopes to use the former ice cream factory as a launching pad for local artists.

In 2014, the Bowdon Family Foundation purchased the 40,000-square-foot building at 1201 S. Ervay St. and formed the nonprofit The Cedars Union with the intention of providing workspaces for artists and helping them connect to the larger art community. Its twofold goal: help artists become self-sufficient and advance the arts in Dallas. The Cedars Union website calls it an "incubator for the arts," and later this month, studios will open for the organization's first batch of practicing artists in a smaller building on the other side of the parking lot.

"The Annex is the 7,000-square-foot facility at 1219 S. Ervay St.," says Consuelo Gutierrez, director of membership and programs. "It will house equipment, tools, programming space and additional resources, as well as micro-studios. There are 15 studios that are available for rent. The Annex will act as a proof of concept, where artists working in the facility will play an integral part as we grow in the future. The idea is to learn and grow in this facility before scaling up The Cedars Union’s offerings."

The Cedars Union began accepting applications for the studios in April, and Gutierrez says it has seen a balance from watercolor artists, oil painters, animators, sculptors and more.

"We are going through a jury process to ensure a balance of mediums and inclusiveness," Gutierrez says. "The space is being set up to work with all types of artistic practices, some of which include painting, drawing, new media and woodwork."

In addition to the 15 studios, there is also room for 30 shop artists to use the facility or tools for a day or so at a time.

While "arts incubator" may sound a bit abstract, The Cedars Union is committed to dealing with practical problems facing artists by conducting workshops on topics, such as the Lunch 'n Learn series, which will focus on art law. Thursday's Creative Careers Showcase will feature a talk by Sammetria Goodson, an art law attorney. It has a formal partnership commitment with Arts Counsel Texas, which participated in a fair-use panel discussion.

Gutierrez emphasizes the value of partnerships among local business owners, gallery operators and The Cedars Union.

"This gives artists opportunities to submit their work or give them a chance to mix and mingle with people who have an interest in supporting the arts," he says. "For instance, our Creative Careers Showcase program series identifies creative professionals who have an arts education, skills or work experience that has helped them flourish in amazing creative careers."

The Cedars Union values collaboration and often works with other arts organizations. In October, Bring Your Own Beamer Cedars, a project with the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, invited artists and creators to bring their projectors and media players and cast visual content onto the walls of buildings throughout the Cedars. In March, Cedars Union and the SMU Meadows Museum presented Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon.

The Cedars Union continues to work on program opportunities with its Cedars neighbors, including the Dallas Heritage Village, Ro2 gallery and Shotgun arts collective. Additionally, it has partnered with the Dallas Public Library and the Dallas Architecture Forum. In May, it will host an ice-skating performance piece by Jennifer Wester in the parking lot as part of the Dallas Symphony’s Soluna Festival.

The opening of the workspace facility puts The Cedars Union "incubator of the arts" one step closer to fulfilling its mission of serving artists and nurturing the arts community in North Texas, as well as changing the brick building on the corner of Ervay and Griffin.

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