The Dallas Handmade Arts Market: An Origin Story

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See also: Dallas Handmade Arts Market's Grand Opening is This Weekend

Sometimes you have to take the plunge, no matter how terrifying.

Early this year, Jorge Herrera walked away from a successful and secure career in the financial world because he had a dream, both for his own professional gratification and for Dallas. Its symbiosis, he believed, would help fulfill his lifelong desire to work in the art world, while also contributing a bonding agent to the Dallas arts community and an outlet for individual artists.

Born and raised in Flushing, Queens, Herrera credits a market in Brooklyn for initially inspiring his master plan, but it was not until he visited Paris again last May that the vision took hold. An avid Francophile, Herrera browsed items that were handmade but of evident quality and reasonably priced. Virtually every cosmopolitan city, he reasoned, has an outdoor market, but few reach this level of artisanship while remaining truly handmade. Dallas could foster such a market.

The timing seemed perfect, and Dallas Handmade Arts Market, which debuts tomorrow at 10 a.m., was born.

Herrera left behind the 90-hour work weeks and six-figure salary for another world, one of ceaseless work and new uncertainty. He describes mornings of sitting on his sofa with the dog beside him and laptop primed, searching for the right kind of local talent. He sought artists from diverse media with unique perspectives and dynamic execution. Artists he immediately respected and wanted on his team.

Herrera's love affair with art began as a pre-teen when he was offered a ticket to the New York Met through his public school. Though he can no longer recall how he raised the money for the then-pricy $15 admission, those funds and that trip instilled a lifelong passion for opera. When he speaks of it, his admiration is visible in animated gestures, an expressive face. At home, Herrera also paints, though he laughs about what he considers a lack of talent.

"I could never try to sell my work here," he says, showing off the 9,000 square feet building at 327 Cole St. that will on Saturday become Dallas' newest arts haven. "They'd laugh me out!"

Instead Herrera has procured the space and rented sections to local artisans for reasonable prices: $130 for a 6-foot-by-6-foot space and $190 for a 10-foot-by-10-foot. Because venders are not required to sign a contract, produce a jury fee or application fee, each weekend will feature a continually rotating variety of artwork and will feature 50-65 venders, depending of the sizes of spaces sold per weekend. And in order to ensure diverse options and fair competition for vendors, each weekend only two artists working in a particular medium are allowed to sell work. In other words, you will never see more than two booths with glassmakers or photographers during a particular weekend.

As far as what you will find, Herrera has curated the market in a way that he says will be "upscale and high-calibur, but quality within reason." His goal is to keep prices low enough (on average $30 to 50 but up to $300 to $500 for paintings) so that average Dallasites can afford original, American-made products. He adds, "It should be a place that I would shop and could shop. A guilty pleasure, but not that guilty."

But most importantly, Herrera's role is focused on the vendors. While he provides the space and advertisement, in his mind -- and as an avid art lover -- there should be no liaison between those who make art and those who love it. This connection, he believes, will help foster a stronger sense of community. "In this economy, I think the most important thing we can do is lift up others and support ourselves from within."

He recalls how, growing up, he observed the tight-knit Korean community in Queens, and realized that the business world can learn from their model. "When someone new would move in," he says, "right away that person would have a place to live, a job, food and clothes. Anything they needed. And as a result, people in that community were more likely to support local businesses. Seek them out, even. And businesses grow organically that way. They helped build each other."

In keeping with this model, Dallas Handmade Arts Market will feature local beer and wine as well as Dallas-based musicians, such as pianist Kelly Rodruiguez and cellist Dawn Oyedipe, who will play during this weekend's Grand Opening. And while no firm plans have been made, Herrera hopes to partner with the Dallas Opera in the coming months, bridging the Arts District and the Design District, which have yet to mix extensively.

"I think Dallas is ready for it," Herrera says, scanning the chic tile-work along the building's floor. "I'm anxious and happy and excited. And I'm ready for it."

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