The Dallas Arts District gets a lot of love in the press for bringing a diverse art scene to our city, but what most Dallasites do not know is that the city’s hippest art enclave truly resides in the Dallas Design District. About every six weeks, the art galleries of Lower Oak Lawn keep their doors open late on a Saturday evening, welcoming guests to mix, mingle, sip wine, meet artists and browse their latest exhibits.
Socialites and hipsters, art enthusiasts and collectors gather on Dragon Street, abandoning their cars for an evening stroll.
“Things really get hopping on Dragon Street!” explains JD Miller, contemporary artist and co-owner of Samuel Lynne Galleries. “On opening nights, there is an excitement and an energy that is remarkable. The street is full of people walking up and down going from gallery to see all the new exhibits. It reminds me of the experience of walking the length of Canyon Road in Santa Fe.”
With more than 15 galleries to explore, newbies to the Design District art scene might find their first trip overwhelming—so with the help of several LOL art experts, I put together a helpful list of tips and tricks to help you navigate your first gallery night like a pro.
Get Gussied Up
This being Dallas, the first question that always comes up is the ever-important, “What do I wear?” Given the diversity of people in attendance, the attire really runs the gamut. A sort of “smart casual” attire seems to rule the roost, with men sporting dressy jeans and blazers and women donning casual dresses or jeans with nice tops.
Mary Tomas, artist and owner of Mary Tomas Studio Gallery offers some outfit advice: “our guests come from diverse backgrounds and locations and dress up or down according to taste or mood. The atmosphere is fun, casual and lively and all are welcome.”
No matter what garb you opt to own for the evening, it is important to remember to sport comfortable shoes. Many of the galleries are spread out and, though parking is ample, you are sure to spend quite a bit of time on your feet.
Do Your Homework & Make a Plan
For first timers, it’s advised that, before driving down and diving in, you do some research. A comprehensive list of exhibit openings will be posted here on LowerOakLawn.com the week before each event. Also, in the next few weeks the Dragon Street Association will be launching an entirely new DragonStreetDallas.com website, which will host information on what has been recently re-branded as “Dragon.Open.” Patrons will be able to check out the exhibit schedule, as well as find information on the dealers and designers in the district that might be open late on Dragon.Open nights.
“Our goal is to get the word out that everyone is welcome on Dragon Street,” Miller says.
With so many galleries and shops to choose from, it’s almost impossible to hit them all in one evening. Give the list a once over and note any can’t-miss stop. Try to hit these first so you don’t run out of time. Check out LowerOakLawn.com’s Dallas Art Galleries in the Design District page for a map and quick links to information on area galleries.
Get Started Early & Ditch Your Ride
Each gallery maintains their own timing for gallery opening evenings—start times vary from 5 to 6 and last until 8 or 9. To get as many stops in as possible, start early.
Though most of your stops will be concentrated on Dragon Street, there are some great galleries off the beaten path. I like to start at Conduit Gallery on Hi Line before making my way over to Dragon Street, where I can park my car and stay awhile.
I recommend parking at one end of the street and making that your starting point. There are a few main “clusters” of galleries on the street. Some choose to drive between them, but it it’s nice weather and you remember to wear comfy shoes, leaving your car put shouldn’t be a problem.
Whether your plan is to just browse, or you’re on an art-buying mission, it’s good to have a good grasp on the buying basics. Some galleries post information or pricing for each work on a placard, but it’s also common to have a book that provides more details on the artist or piece. There are usually a couple floating around, so if you spot one, pick it up to browse or ask the person who is flipping through to see it when they’re finished.
If you don’t see a book and the information isn’t prominently posted, find a gallery staffer to inquire about any pieces that interest you.
“Every gallery owner is enthusiastic to explain to the viewer about the art they show, to provide information about the artists they represent, or talk about why art is important to collect,” Tomas says.
Meeting artists is another fun perk to attending gallery nights. Many artists attend to attend their own opening receptions, providing patrons the unique opportunity to get to know them.
“Connecting with an artist on a one-on-one basis is an important part of buying one of their pieces or deciding to collect their work,” Robert Wilborn, gallery manager at Galerie Zuger, says. “Many times, art isn’t just about the art, it’s about the relationships. Artists are excited to have their work be a part of their patrons lives and meeting the artist is an important part of the art buying experience.”
Information about which exhibits will have artists in attendance can be found here on the blog or on each gallery’s website. Gallery staffers will be happy to make an introduction for you, so don’t be shy about asking.
Take your Time, but Take Notes
If you come across a gallery, artist or piece that you love, there is no pressure to buy right away. Grab a business card, or make a note in your phone. Call the next day to get more information, or schedule a time to come view the art again.
Also, most galleries have a clipboard up front so you can add yourself to their mailing lists. Leave your information so you can get inside info on upcoming events for gallery patrons.
Throw your Plan out the Window
I know I told you to make a plan, but also be prepared to throw that plan out the window. There have been several times I planned on sweeping quickly through a gallery and instead stayed there all evening, ogling the exhibit and chatting up the artist.
A lot of the fun and excitement in gallery hopping comes from discovering a new artist or meeting a new person. Go with the flow and you’ll have more fun than if you stick to a rigid schedule. Remember, most of the exhibits will be up for a whole month, so there will be plenty of time for a return trip to the district to hit any places you miss.
Don’t Forget to Bring a Friend
Gallery hopping is a fun group outing or date activity. Though everyone might view the art at their own pace, it’s fun to go with friends and compare notes. And the best part of the deal — it’s free! Well, until you fall in love with a piece of art that you just have to have, that is.
Centrally and conveniently located close to Downtown, the Arts District, West Village, Oak Cliff and the Dallas North Tollway, restaurants and bar destinations are not far away. “Make a night of it,” Tomas says. “You’ll be glad you did!”
See more: Evening of Art