Dean Terry and Patrick Murphy thought their event was rock solid. In March, the city awarded the pair a $5,000 grant as part of the Cultural Projects Program of the Office of Cultural Affairs. They called the proposal Acoustic Nerves, a three-day nonprofit event that would combine installation, performance art and musical arts at a warehouse in West Dallas.
But on Friday night, Dallas Fire and Rescue shut it down, leaving an estimated 70 ticket holders disappointed.
“We had just done sound check and were ready to turn off the lights,” says Hilly Holsonback, whose experimental band Therefore was about to close out the second night, around 11 p.m when the fire marshals came in. The band stood helplessly on stage while the crowd filed out. But Therefore—known for incorporating elements of theater into their music— followed the crowd to their cars with performance art based on cellphone visuals and gestures.
“We were confused,” says Holsonback. “We had been funded by the city and the city was coming in to shut us down.”
The Ice House Warehouse in West Dallas has had many different events over the past few years, but none of them had ever been shut down. Terry and Murphy had even taken safety precautions, making sure doors were open, exit signs hung from the walls and fire extinguishers were ready. But there was one thing hadn't been aware of: the building is missing a certificate of occupancy (CO), which is required for such events.
“It’s disappointing,” says Giovanni Valderas, Vice Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission, District 15, of the shutdown. But he is also quick to point out that the city funding the event and then shutting it down is not necessarily a contradiction when you consider the liability. The COs are a cut and dried issue in the eyes of the city. “If they didn’t have the proper permits and something did happen, then on the news it would say the city is responsible because they helped pay for this,” he says.
Terry has curated events at the Dallas Contemporary and attended plenty of DIY events, but this was his first rodeo as curator for a DIY show. “I was focused on producing the event and supporting the event,” Terry says. The promoters were not shy about promoting Acoustic Nerves on social media, even reached out to publications for publicity. Terry has no idea why his particular event at the Ice House Warehouse was shutdown. He guesses that it could be a miscommunication between different bureaucracies of the city.
“If we want to develop West Dallas, vibrant cultural activity is critical,” Terry says. “Some of the most creative people in the city were in that building.” He is also in Therefore and thus had limited interaction with the fire marshals.
Murphy was in the same boat with Acoustic Nerves. He thought DIY events were shutdown because of safety concerns. “For five years there had been performances in that space,” Murphy says. “Some were much bigger than ours. I wasn’t concerned. We gave the OCA that address in the proposal.”
But just before Therefore started, someone told Murphy there were fire marshals outside. He went out and introduced himself and they asked who was in charge. They were calm and professional, but made it clear that everyone was going to vacate immediately or they would write citations. When Murphy asked why, they indicated that the building did not have a certificate of occupancy. He told them it was a nonprofit event paid for by the city of Dallas. But when he couldn’t provide a contact for the city, the conversation ended.
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Murphy then asked the fire marshals if they could have 45 minutes to finish the show, to no avail. He asked why the other shows weren’t shutdown and mentioned seeing numerous events there before. The answer he received, he says, was, “No one ever asked us to come out and check on it before.” Murphy asked who made that request, but wasn’t given a response.
There were no citations issued. Murphy says the owner of the Ice House Warehouse, Butch McGregor, was surprised by the bust:
“He did mention that the Dallas City Council was telling him and other business owners that they wanted things to happen in that area, especially with these abandoned buildings. They wanted temporary things happening there just to get people out into that area. He felt that the city was encouraging this just a few weeks ago and now they were shutting it down.”
Terry and McGregor are planning to reschedule the third night at a different venue. They are thankful that few have asked for refunds. McGregor declined to comment. Dallas Fire and Rescue did not respond to requests for comment.