Cruising down the Jefferson Boulevard drag, you’ll find a variety of Hispanic/Latino-focused businesses — from taquerias and quinceañera dress shops to grocery stores — and the historic Texas Theatre. Slowly, newer shops and eateries catering to different crowds are moving into this Oak Cliff neighborhood.
One new resident is trying something different while attempting to keep the spirit of the neighborhood and its residents alive. The Mercado Artesanal aims to show off and educate people about one-of-a-kind artwork done by people of the Americas with its art gallery, shop and cafe.
Jorge Baldor, founder of the Latino Center for Leadership Development, came up with the idea within three months. He says some friends pitched the idea to him, and it was too hard to pass up.
“They present this idea of a mercado that they want to do — a Mexican market,” Baldor said. “My first comment was, OK, we all love Mexico, but there's more to it than Mexico. If it's just a Mexican market, it's the same thing everyone else is going to be selling.”
Baldor says he designed the space more like a gallery instead of the traditional sectioned-off vendors normally found in a mercado. To fill it up, he and his colleagues are taking trips around Central and South America to find artwork and bring it to Dallas. They’ve brought back some colorful artwork that is spread out everywhere on the floor and along the exposed vintage brick walls.
There are beautiful hand-carved gourds from Peru, pottery from Central America and wooden demon masks from Michoacán, Mexico. A lot of the work comes from indigenous people, and next to some artists' works are iPads that people can scroll through to learn about how a piece was made and the history behind it.
In order to make it feel like a public space, Baldor is planning on hosting artists a few times a month for workshops. He says he wants the Oak Cliff community to feel like the shop belongs to them, and for others to understand what Latinos are like.
“We bring a different understanding and way of thinking about things,” Baldor said. “We’re family oriented, larger community based, rather than individual based. Those are the subtle differences and influences Latinos bring to this country that are making it a much richer nation. Art is just a form to bring it all together.”
Food brings people together, too. Inside the space, you'll find Café Hatuey, stocked with "select wines and beers from the Americas, tequilas, mezcal and pisco and a variety of delicious food offerings," according to the mercado's Facebook page. "Study, meet a friend, network, grab a bite to eat, or host a private or corporate event to experience an environment of effortless culture."
The cafe is named "in honor of the 16th century Taino Indian Cacique (chief) who led the first organized resistance to the invading Spaniards and was later burned alive by his captors," according to the mercado's website. "His efforts to keep the unique culture of the Americas intact is an inspiration to those who honor traditions and the artisans who are dedicated to keeping that spirit alive."
The cafe serves food and drink anytime the mercado is open, and there's Wi-Fi for those who want to grab a cup of coffee and hang around. Visit after 6 p.m. Saturdays, and you'll also find live music and dance.
Baldor grew up and went to school in Oak Cliff, so he understands that the mercado is bringing in a gentrified quality to the neighborhood. He says he wants it to happen in a positive way for the community to maintain what it’s known for.
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“We're on Jefferson. Denying that and just having someone come in and bring in a chain doesn't fit,” Baldor said. “That’s not what this space is. We want people to come here excited to see their culture.”
The goal, by the spring, is to have artwork represented by every country in the Americas.
“It's been three months of nonstop,” Baldor said. “We've been making it a reality — this is from something that wasn't even a dream.”
Mercado Artesenal, 369 W. Jefferson Blvd. Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.