Aldo Fritz was getting his master’s degree in real estate in 2012 when he first came to Arlington to attend the University of Texas. Like many other UTA grads, he didn't stick around once he got his degree, but zipped off for the bigger, brighter lights of Dallas, where for six years he served as a chief planner for the city. But then he did something unexpected. He came back to Arlington.
Last year, Fritz became president and CEO of the Downtown Arlington Management Corporation, a job that sees him connecting the university, the city and small businesses through community planning. One goal is to change outsiders' view that Arlington is a city of transients — students who come and go and tourists and sports fans who head there for games and theme parks then go back home. Arlington is tucked between two larger cities with museums, historic architecture and nightlife, and the plan is to show that when it comes to culture, the suburban area of nearly 400,000 people has more to offer than football, baseball and roller coasters.
This month, Fritz is going big with his strategy to alter the perception of Arlington to outsiders and residents both. Through Sept. 16, The Brewing Arts Festival will converge in downtown Arlington, a block party between the main streets of Abrams and Main, in the heart of the city. And how does Fritz plan to change the long-held perception of the middle city? By making art a priority.
“We want this festival to become a conduit and beacon for artists," Fritz says. "So artists feel comfortable to stay in the area and downtown Arlington begins an urban art movement. We can build an event people haven’t seen in Arlington before. It’s just the beginning.”
The event will incorporate Arlington-based artists and art students from UTA. To achieve his dream of raising Arlington’s cultural capital, Fritz has brought in someone born and bred in Dallas, Frankie Garcia, an artist, curator and adviser with a career built on the very thing Fritz needs to make his plan work: community building. Since coming on board, Garcia worked with Legal Draft Beer Co. to be the music venue for the event, providing a stage for the artists of Arlington-based SpyderPop Records to perform. The Ticket’s Cirque Du Sirois will air live from the event and High Brew Coffee is serving as a sponsor as well. Garcia went to work quickly to ensure the infrastructure was there to match the potential of what he knew the festival could achieve in re-energizing Arlington’s downtown and arts community.
“I’ve tried this before in Dallas, to include different collectives, but it’s like 10 chiefs," Garcia says. "It gets so competitive. We just want to put a show on. Everybody wants to shine. The approach here is not concerned with ‘look at me.’ They’re just doing it, sitting out in the heat, representing their community. I wanted those kind of collectives. They’re more interested in keeping this going, to keep this machine moving.”
Garcia reached out to art collectives in Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas, including important names like Art Tooth, Elevate Dallas, Ash Studios, Art Luck, Black Sheep Art Culture, Color Me Empowered and ArtLandish.
“I could give you three times in my career where I’ve bombed and had to rebuild," Garcia says. "You’re either gonna stay with your mission or end up finding people to pull you away from succeeding. I’m allowing the people who are working with us to pave their own way. I’m letting the public tell us what they wanna see.”
Fritz and Garcia have also worked together under the Downtown Arlington Mural Project to include two mural dedications to be a part of the festival.
“We are using art as the catalyst for development," Fritz says. "It will be multifaceted. You won’t run into a situation where you’re in some parts of downtown and you don’t know you are driving through downtown. We have a plan to erect murals across Arlington. This is an opportunity for artists to be connected. We want to create connections for artists to support themselves.”
Yet, with all the optimism one can have about turning Arlington into a cultural frontier, Fritz is realistic about the road ahead.
“We still suffer from an identity crisis,” Fritz says. “We have people who have lived in Arlington for over 30 years and still don’t know where downtown Arlington is.”
When Garcia came on board, he admitted he knew nothing about Arlington.
“My wife is from Arlington, but growing up in Oak Cliff, it was always known as where the sports was,” Garcia says.
He had been working for years to set up a festival of this size and support in Dallas, but he saw too much competition in a city where everyone had great ideas but is mostly unwilling to collaborate for the greater good.
“There wasn’t anything like this happening in Arlington," Garcia says. "This was a whole new public to set our art out in front of. It was night and day to Dallas. Arlington, really, what is it?”
Fritz understands Garcia’s sentiment. As someone whose job it is to change the perception of the city’s downtown amenities, he knows he has to start at the idea level.
“I feel Arlington gets a bad rap,” he says. “It really is a hidden gem. It was voted as one of the best managed cities, fiscally, in the nation. It has the 10th most diverse university in the country, and it’s a minority majority city. If you are a foodie, you will find some of the most authentic restaurants here that include Cuban, Vietnamese and Mexican, that you will find anywhere in the metroplex.
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"Then you got downtown, where you have two breweries located a quarter of a mile from each other, a Tiki bar, a coffee-wine-bar, theater, museum, music hall, the Levitt Pavilion and some great restaurants. There is a lot going on down here, and it just keeps growing.”
Garcia took his years of producing pop-up art shows across Dallas to the concept of a festival in Arlington. He saw an open frontier, a city hungry for culture but unaware of the potential space and opportunities waiting to be used.
“How do you nurture culture?” Garcia asks. “By going with the flow and not looking at this like, ‘This is how it should happen.’ I’m embracing every group and organization that I’ve approached. I’ve approached Matt Clark, an art professor at UTA; he is bringing his students to be a part of the festival. I’m teaching these students how to use their art as a catalyst for business. I’m going to speak to his class about picking art and turning it into a business, the ups and downs and what to look forward to.”
The Brewing Arts Festival is through Sept. 15 in downtown Arlington at the Urban Union, 500 E. Front St. It features more than 100 visual artists selling works plus interactive art, mural dedications and musical performances. For more info, visit www.downtownarlington.org.