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Year in Review: Denton's arts scene adds a lot, subtracts a few

Profile image for Lucinda Breeding
Lucinda Breeding

Denton's creative scene is almost always busy. This year marked a time for growth, innovation and meeting some losses — and lots of challenges — with signature Denton pluck. 

Pressing matters

Hand Drawn Records is a solidly Dallas business. But it has Denton roots. 

Co-founder Dustin Blocker is a University of North Texas alumnus, and his band, Exit 380, was born and bred not far from the road its name references. 

Blocker expanded his label in January with Hand Drawn Pressing, the first record pressing plant in the world to use the WarmTone Press, a technology that uses cutting-edge tech to deliver analog music.

A company based in Toronto, Viryl Technologies, was testing out the WarmTone press. Designed and engineered by technicians who build medical imaging equipment, WarmTone can turn out a 12-inch vinyl record — from melted PVC pellets to finished album — in 33 seconds.

Hand Drawn purchased a press, wheeled it into Stephen Gould Corp. in Addision — the company that prints the record sleeves and album covers for every vinyl record to come off the WarmTone press. 

As of last January, the company hoped to press 2 million records a year for their own label and any other label in the market for limited edition or general vinyl pressings. 

Sharing the love 

Local arts and culture blog The Dentonite gave the city something it's craved for years: an awards ceremony for local music and art — including film. 

The Denton awards borrowed a little from the popular Dallas Observer Music Awards: an online ballot, winner trophies and a formal ceremony and showcase. 

There is no other annual award for local musicians and artists. The second annual awards will be Feb. 16 at the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center. 

Festival scramble

Denton is a festival town. But in 2017, two popular fests faltered.  Though a liaison for 35 Denton's board of investors and board of directors said organizers hoped to bring the festival back in 2018, the festival didn't happen in 2017. (The festival's website doesn't have any information about a 2018 event.)

Oaktopia, a newer festival, moved to Dallas this year. The music festival brought everything from rock to jazz and hip-hop to downtown Denton venues and stages for several years. Co-founder Matt Battaglia explained that investor Jim "Sparky" Pearson left the festival on good terms, and that the core staff migrated to Deep Ellum for new partnerships.

The Denton Comedy Festival, which was started in 2016, is the third festival that went dark in 2017. Members of the staff — many of them seasoned comedians based in Denton and Dallas — staged the North Texas Comedy Festival. The good news: the festival brought in an audience and some proceeds for literacy programming in the area. 

Thin Line, a local documentary film, music and photography festival, made a huge change in 2017: it made admission free for the 10th anniversary. Thin Line has shown steady growth since its inception, and the most recent innovation of a photography festival has boomed since its addition a few years back. 

Look up in the sky

The UNT Sky Theater keeps its calendar busy with programming. In 2017, the planetarium made room in its schedule for "Liquid Floyd,"  a laser light show set to music by Pink Floyd. Ed Hillers, the creator of the program, also performed some music on his electric violin while laser lights and animations danced across the Sky Theater dome. Hillers takes his laser shows all over D-FW under the company name LaZer Ed. 

Ed Hillers practices for his light showWednesday, April 5, 2017, at Sky Theatre in Denton, Texas. . Hillers saw the Denton debut of his laser music show, 'Liquid Floyd' las month at the UNT Sky Theatre. The show - an hour-long concert of music by iconic English rock band Pink Floyd - uses video graphics, animation and laser light beams projected onto the dome ceiling of the UNT planetarium. He also performs a song or two on his electric violin, with animations and lights moving in time with his performance. He presents the show on the third Friday of the month. Reservations are recommended as shows sell out quickly. Tickets cost $20 to $30. Tomas Gonzalez/DRC ORG XMIT: txderDRC
Ed Hillers practices for his light showWednesday, April 5, 2017, at Sky Theatre in Denton, Texas. . Hillers saw the Denton debut of his laser music show, 'Liquid Floyd' las month at the UNT Sky Theatre. The show - an hour-long concert of music by iconic English rock band Pink Floyd - uses video graphics, animation and laser light beams projected onto the dome ceiling of the UNT planetarium. He also performs a song or two on his electric violin, with animations and lights moving in time with his performance. He presents the show on the third Friday of the month. Reservations are recommended as shows sell out quickly. Tickets cost $20 to $30. Tomas Gonzalez/DRC ORG XMIT: txder
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A new opera company is born

A married couple living in Denton took their training at the UNT College of Music and their years of work in America's early music scene and put it all into a new endeavor: the American Baroque Opera Company. 

Eric Smith and Miguel Cantu launched a fundraising campaign in 2017. Their project was one of eight named for funding by the AT&T Performing Arts Center's Elevator Project series, a program that gives funding and resources to smaller and emerging companies and projects. 

In March, American Baroque Opera Company will produce Handel's Alcina 

Local expertise helps pick an international star

Pamela Mia Paul, Regents Professor of Piano at UNT, was among the musicians on the jury of the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which occurs every four years in Fort Worth. 

Screening jurors for the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition are picutred at the Liszt Academy in Budapest. Pictured, from left: Michel Beroff (France), Janina Fialkowska (Canada/Poland), Pamela Mia Paul, Dmitri Alexeev (Russia) and Jamie Parker (Canada). The jurors selected the 30 pianists who vy for a medal during the competition in May through June.The Cliburn/Sandra Doan
Screening jurors for the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition are picutred at the Liszt Academy in Budapest. Pictured, from left: Michel Beroff (France), Janina Fialkowska (Canada/Poland), Pamela Mia Paul, Dmitri Alexeev (Russia) and Jamie Parker (Canada). The jurors selected the 30 pianists who vy for a medal during the competition in May through June.
The Cliburn/Sandra Doan

Paul, whose daily bread is split between developing the art and discipline of emerging classical pianists and performing some of the most demanding literature ever written for the instrument, approached the contest with a keen ear and an open heart.

"The simplest way to describe it is to say that I wanted to fall in love with someone," Paul told the Denton Record-Chronicle last spring.  "I wanted to hear someone, be moved by them and then immediately want to go online to buy tickets to see them in concert."

New spaces for art

Both UNT and the Greater Denton Arts Council had renovations on their priority lists this year. 

UNT College of Visual Arts and Design broke ground on a new addition in late March. 

Corgan, the prime architect on the project in association with Machado Silvetti, designed the 140,000-square-foot project that university officials say should be complete by the spring of 2019. Corgan has a hefty portfolio of schools, and Machado Silvetti has a big portfolio of performing and visual art spaces.

"When we think of the art building, the building that is there now represents a small portion of what the college has going on," said David Zatopek, the vice president of Corgan. "It's spread out over eight buildings on campus, which is unusual for an academic department. Particularly in the arts and creative practices, the opportunity to collaborate with your peers, and for faculty and students to cooperate across disciplines is important. If you're not even in the same building, it can limit those opportunities."

The arts council started renovations on the Patterson-Appleton Visual Arts Center this year, too. The most notable change is the newly-exposed brick walls in Festival Hall, the banquet, meeting and exhibition/performance space between the Meadows and Gough galleries. The council also scoured all the pink paint off of the long-inoperable steam pipes (the building originally served as the city's steam power plant), and commissioned North Texas glass artist Neal Paustian to add a work in glass to it. Paustian, who is preoccupied with the diminishing resource of water, created a rush of glass that pours out of the end of one of the steam pipes. 

The renovated Festival Hall has trendy lighting fixtures and a new lighting system that can be changed — color and intensity — from a tablet computer touchscreen. 

Music venue tango

Denton's music scene shrank a little in 2016 with the shuttering of both Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios and the Ol' Dirty Basement at J&J's Pizza on the Square. 

Christmas came early for Denton's nightlife lovers when the Ol' Dirty Basement opened once more for shows. Owners Jaime and Jesse Ham couldn't be reached for comment for a recent story, but R.J. Avery, a Garland real estate agent who launched the Denton Comedy Festival in 2016, booked the first show since the basement closed. Avery lined up a comedy showcase on Dec. 22.

Denton-based punk band Razorbumps said the band moved its album-release show to the space on Jan. 27 because it's one of the band's favorite places to play. J&J's Pizza is located at 118 W. Oak St. 

Josh Baish, the owner of Rubber Gloves, posted a Facebook poll in November asking if people would like to see the longtime venue reopen. Many fingers are crossed on this one. 

There was good news for those in Denton still reeling from the closures of Hailey's Club, Rubber Gloves and J&J's. The Parker's Plantation — which has spent the last seven years as a haunted house attraction for about six weeks a year — opened as a festival venue for outdoor concerts.

Parker's Plantation and Event Center is fairly no-frills, with two large, lighted parking areas for 650 vehicles. The stage can be expanded or broken down to accommodate big and small acts. It has covered areas, and East said the venue is bringing in portable bathrooms. There is space for five vendors, too. 

Quakertown goes high-tech

UNT media arts professor Carla LynDale Carter-Bishop led film students through a summer session project that puts a physical tour of historic Quakertown in your pocket. 

Sharon Ekpe gives an on-camera interview for a UNT film class. The class developed a series on historic Quakertown using an augmented reality format. Students conducted interviews and did research on the historical black settlement in Denton, which was forcibly relocated to make room for a city park. The project will allow visitors to Quakertown Park to use a smartphone to bring up information and videos about the spot where they are standing.UNT Media Arts
Sharon Ekpe gives an on-camera interview for a UNT film class. The class developed a series on historic Quakertown using an augmented reality format. Students conducted interviews and did research on the historical black settlement in Denton, which was forcibly relocated to make room for a city park. The project will allow visitors to Quakertown Park to use a smartphone to bring up information and videos about the spot where they are standing.
UNT Media Arts

Carter-Bishop and her students took a page from Pokemon Go. They mapped the historical freedman town — a self-sufficient community of free black men, women and children who came to Denton just after the Civil War and emancipation — and used augmented reality to make a walking tour. Augmented reality uses digital technology to add animation and programming into a video gamer's environment. 

Using an app, any smartphone user can walk the old grounds of Freedman Town, where Quakertown Park stands today, and launch videos or read facts about the buildings that used to stand there and the people who inhabited them.  

Practicing self-care

This year, a group of musicians and music lovers decided that the city could use an official support system. The music fans — Andy Folmer, KJ Jones, Nic Bagherpour, Wally Campbell, Andy Knapik and Matt Mars — started a nonprofit and named it the Denton Music and Arts Collaborative.

From left, Andy Folmer, KJ Jones, Nic Bagherpour, Wally Campbell, Andy Knapik and Matt Mars are the officers for the Denton Music and Arts Collaborative, a nonprofit that will help local musicians and artists pay for health care. They're pictured on the back porch at Dan's Silverleaf, which they jokingly refer to as "our office." DRC
From left, Andy Folmer, KJ Jones, Nic Bagherpour, Wally Campbell, Andy Knapik and Matt Mars are the officers for the Denton Music and Arts Collaborative, a nonprofit that will help local musicians and artists pay for health care. They're pictured on the back porch at Dan's Silverleaf, which they jokingly refer to as "our office." 
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The collaborative's mission is a heady one: to promote and preserve the city's "unique and culturally significant musical and artistic heritage." The group's first initiative singles out a specific need for local indie artists: health care assistance. 

The group models itself after Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, a nonprofit in the capital city that plugs working musicians into health care through Affordable Care Act exchanges and a patchwork of assistance programs. The programs help eligible artists access medical, dental and mental health care, as well as vision, audiology and addiction recovery programs.

Citizens of letters

Denton saw a few of its authors climb to new heights in 2017. 

UNT graduate and novelist Kayla Olsen saw the release of the first of her two young adult novels, The Sandcastle Empire, which came out June 6. The novel has been optioned by Paramount Pictures, with Leonardo DiCaprio as one of the producers. Versions have been released in France and Spain, with 13 other translated editions on the way.

Former Denton novelist Merritt Tierce, who earned critical raves for her 2014 book Love Me Back, joined the writing staff of Orange Is the New Black. The Netflix hit series chronicles the lives and experiences of women incarcerated in a Connecticut minimum-security prison. 

Music teacher Randy Schmidt saw his third book released by Chicago Review Press: Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton. The book is an in-depth look at the feisty country and pop musician and the empire she built over the last 50 years. Schmidt published Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter in 2011 and Judy Garland on Judy Garland: Interviews and Encounters (Musicians in Their Own Words) in 2014.

Good things come in large cases

The Denton-based Bradetich Foundation staged the second International Double Bass Solo Competition. 

Begun by Jeff Bradetich, who directs the UNT double bass program, the solo competition is part of Bradetich's campaign to promote an instrument that is normally a reliable part of the string section a solo instrument. 

Dominik Wagner, a 20-year-old Viennese bassist, who charmed both the audience and the jury to win the $30,000 Grand Prix.

From left: Dominik Wagner, Grand Prix winner of the 2017 Bradetich Foundation International Double Bass Solo Competition, and founder Jeff Bradetich.Jack Unzicker
From left: Dominik Wagner, Grand Prix winner of the 2017 Bradetich Foundation International Double Bass Solo Competition, and founder Jeff Bradetich.
Jack Unzicker

Visual arts scene evolves, suffers losses

The local arts scene is never dull, but 2017 brought some changes to Denton. 

Tracy Bays-Boothe (center), the new executive director of the Greater Denton Arts Council, chatted with Nanci Kimmey and Karin Seligmann at the reception held to introduce the new director in 2014.DRC file photo
Tracy Bays-Boothe (center), the new executive director of the Greater Denton Arts Council, chatted with Nanci Kimmey and Karin Seligmann at the reception held to introduce the new director in 2014.
DRC file photo

Tracy Bays-Boothe, the executive director of the Greater Denton Arts Council, oversaw a 2016 capital campaign, the start of the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center and the second year of micro-grants. Then, she announced she would join the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco over the summer.

Georgina Ngozi just took the reins at the arts council as the new executive director over the fall.  

The Greater Denton Arts Council has hired Georgina Ngozi as its new executive director.Greater Denton Arts Council
The Greater Denton Arts Council has hired Georgina Ngozi as its new executive director.
Greater Denton Arts Council

The city's public art committee saw the long-awaited installation of the Sept. 11, 2001, firefighters memorial tower.

The memorial, installed in front of the Central Fire Station in mid-August, is a 30-foot-tall steel tower that now houses Denton's original bronze fire bell, which was purchased in 1884 and which hung in the tower at City Hall West.

Beneath the bell is a wide-bottom flange (commonly referred to as an I-beam) from the World Trade Center, and the number "343" written on the inner walls to remember the number of firefighters who were killed at Ground Zero. The remaining facing planks are stamped with the words "courage," "service" and "dedication."

Locals were alarmed in September when a vandal demolished a stained glass sculpture of beloved Denton blues musician Tom "Pops" Carter. The glass sculpture was encased in safety glass, which is marketed as being bulletproof. It appeared that the vandal used a blunt instrument — a tire iron or a brick — and spent a lot of time pounding on the life-size depiction of Carter. 

The city's public art committee and the arts council agreed that the destroyed sculpture be on permanent display at the arts center. While the investigation hasn't yet discovered the motive for the vandalism, some residents felt the sculpture was targeted because it celebrates a prominent black musician from Denton. Denton artist Christie A. Wood has offered to re-create a new piece to honor Carter. 

At least two more murals were added to downtown Denton: one on the south-facing wall of Lucky Locks Beauty Bar and another on the north-facing wall of Andy's Bar. 

Finally, in the midst of a national debate over the value of confederate monuments in public spaces, local volunteer Paul Meltzer suggested Denton add a new work of art to the Square. 

Meltzer proposed a work of public art that would honor the 594 freed slaves who called Denton home at the end of the Civil War. The public art committee agreed to consider the proposal. 

One last dance

Hares on the Mountain on Main Stage 2 on Saturday during 35 Denton, Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Denton, Texas. David Minton/DRC ORG XMIT: txderDRC
Hares on the Mountain on Main Stage 2 on Saturday during 35 Denton, Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Denton, Texas. David Minton/DRC ORG XMIT: txder
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We've learned not to totally trust Denton musicians when they announce they — or their band — are calling it quits. But fans packed Dan's Silverleaf in July for the last show of the popular local danger folk outfit Hares on the Mountain. They closed their final set with a barn-burning version of "Matty Groves."