Meet The Cedars Union May 28, 2020

On March 30, 2020, we announced the 46 recipients of our annual TACA Arts General Operating (AGO) Grants. The AGO Grant program is our largest granting program and it provides annual, unrestricted grants to nonprofit performing and visual arts organizations in Dallas County. Organizations can use this unrestricted funding as they see fit on an array of expenses, including program costs, salaries, administration, office expenses, technology or to meet other operational needs.

Of the 46 organizations we funded, five of them are new TACA grant recipients – including The Cedars Union!

We had the opportunity to chat via email with Betsy Lewis and Adrienne Lichliter from The Cedars Union to learn more about the organization, what makes them special, and how folks might get involved!

First off, tell us about The Cedars Union. What kind of work does the CU do?

The Annex Meeting Room is where the CU holds public programming, as well as the hands-on workshops for their Members.

The work of The Cedars Union is about the visual artists of Dallas, their process of creating, and the supportive community that arises organically with inclusion, resources, and space. We define ourselves as an “art incubator,” meaning we nurture the conditions and environments that let visual artists create new work and, in turn, nurture professional careers. A big part of that is cultivating a vibrant arts community—and a resilient one, too. It’s all a big cycle, really. That generally takes two forms—facilities and programs. We’re located in two brick-and-mortar buildings that share a parking lot. The smaller, called the Annex, has shared workspaces for artists with tools, software, easels, and other cool makerspace stuff, but also a limited number of “microstudios” that are designated for individual artists over an 18 month period. But even the microstudios build community because they don’t have floor to ceiling walls on all sides encouraging both community AND exposure.

Our first cohort just wrapped their 18 month tenures a few months ago—they were the grand experiment to see if this concept would work. Boy, did it ever. The dream and the goal is to move that concept into our larger building, so instead of 15 microstudios, there would be more like 50, plus more shared workspaces serving more mediums, like ceramics and metals. But wait, there’s more… we offer programs and pro-bono services for the city’s creatives, too. Anything from how to write about your work to how to do your taxes. It is best described visually, so please come take a tour and see for yourself!

We have visited the Annex and completely agree – you need to see it for yourself! From what we know and from everything you just described, the CU sounds pretty unique, would you agree?

The CU wood shop is outfitted with professional quality tools and equipment for Members to use.

We’re one of a kind in North Texas in helping local emerging artists develop their creative practice after leaving art school, or never having attended art school at all. The CU is the brainchild of sibling artists, Matt and Megan of Dalahast Studios, who felt lost at sea, so to speak, after finishing school at Savannah College of Art and TCU. Once you graduate, you lose your workspaces, the school’s equipment, and your tribe of like-minded souls, if you ever had those things to begin with. The Cedars Union is their solution to that. We also like to think of ourselves as an alternative to going to art school. It’s important to have options as artists consider today’s tuition costs and the economic hardships already placed on many creatives trying to make a living. Even if we can’t offer the same rigor and structure, we’re working towards being able to offer that community, and some of those facilities and guidance.

Because we have a limited number of studio spaces, we ask a jury to determine the artists for those units, but otherwise there is no barrier to either becoming a Community Member with full access, or using our resources on a pre-determined day pass, or coming in for a public workshop. The CU is a living beast and growing fast.  Our larger space, the Boedeker Building, is a 100 year old ice cream factory. Right now our staff offices there (outside of quarantining, that is), and it sometimes serves as a venue for partner events or exhibitions, but a lot of the original ice creamy elements are still in tact for now. We often refer to this space as a sleeping giant, awaiting a utopia of creative energy and studio access.

We’ve talked a bit about the “what” and the “how”, but why is The Cedars Union work so important? Why should the community pay attention?

Dallas wants to position itself as a vibrant art city, but we’ve had difficulties retaining and attracting creative producers. Support structures have to be put in place to make sure artists have the space, resources, and inspiration to feed their practice. The Cedars Union’s mission is focused on providing this support, and in turn the DFW community has more opportunity to experience art that speaks directly to this city and the perspective of its makers. Culture is produced everywhere, but to see it thrive locally it needs advocates and listeners of all kinds. The CU wants to be a torch bearer to make this happen.

The CU was designed to create an opportunity for community building among artists.

One of the most exciting things we’ve noticed is how the CU experiment challenges set expectations of what it looks like to be an artist. Putting together creators with diverse practices and backgrounds means that an academic new media artist learns from a self-taught muralist – two people who wouldn’t likely meet otherwise — then that exchange is reversed. Being exposed to different veins of the art world helps dismantle artistic hierarchy and raises the bar for everyone involved. And this isn’t theory or speculation; we have witnessed these relationships and love to document them on our Instagram feed. Our artists learn so much from each other and it’s beautiful to see what an enormous impact making work in a community context makes.

Well said! Now, if someone wants to learn more about the CU, how should they go about doing that?

While the world is in lockdown, check out our Instagram and our website, where you can find links to the webpages and Instagrams of our studio artists, as well as news for upcoming webinars. As soon as we can we’ll get back to workshops, studio tours, and open houses.

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