100 Dallas Creatives: No. 82 Artistic Tastemakers Elissa and Erin Stafford

Categories: 100 Creatives

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Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Know an artistic mind who deserves a little bit of blog love? Email lauren.smart@dallasobserver.com with the whos and whys.

Running a gallery is not easy. Sisters Elissa and Erin Stafford knew this when their father handed them the keys to Red Arrow Contemporary. Both artists in their own rights - Elissa with a degree in printmaking, Erin in painting - they cut their curatorial teeth at RAC, quickly growing the space into one of the most exciting galleries on Dragon Street.

In its first two years, the Stafford sisters created seasons that reflected their personal artistic taste, which is diverse in media and thematic scope. They are constantly in pursuit of new artistic challenges, both in their separate and shared work. And, perhaps most admirable, they are bent on sharing opportunities with other artists in the city. They encourage, support and show the work of local artists, alongside internationally acclaimed artists like Shepard Fairey. Up next, they're planning a curatorial residency, putting their gallery in the hands of other similarly inclined artists.

These two sisters work in tandem to make Dallas a more art-and-artist-friendly city and in spite of the stresses of running a business together, they make it look effortless. When we spoke via email this week, they even collaborated on their responses. The Stafford sisters are working hard to keep the Dallas art scene alert and lively.

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Blow Up by Ann Ferrer at Red Arrow Contemporary, May 2013

Did you guys always want to work together? What's it like to run a business with your sister?
We have actually always been working together since we were kids, so it feels very natural to be running a space together. Running a business together is like working with your best friend. Communication and ideas flow freely and we have mutual respect for each other opinions. We never planned to work together, it just happened very naturally, but we wouldn't have it any other way.

Who does what for the gallery? Do you share responsibilities at the space equally?
We are pretty good at sharing responsibilities here at RAC. We know what each of our strengths are and we delegate accordingly. But, we do enjoy curating as a team. For example, we both helped put together our exhibition Open Archive, which featured artist working with primary performance and video focused on rituals and culture. It is a very organic and creative process and we enjoy building a show together. It is in a lot of ways a collaborative experience.

The range of work you show in the gallery varies from MFA students to Shepard Fairey, from printmaking to painting - why is this wide scope important to you guys?
As artist ourselves, our preferences in artwork is varied and that translates to the wide scope of artwork in terms of medium and style. Showing a wide variety of artists who are at different stages of their career is important to us because it allows visitors to experience the artistic community as a whole while keeping things fresh. We love our MFA show THE BEST because it allows up-and-coming artists to exhibit their work outside of an educational institution. Our next show will be a solo show Sept. 6 with Gary Sweeney who is a more established artist. Bringing this range together under one roof keeps things fresh.

When last the Observer caught up with y'all, Red Arrow was on its last legs. Is that still true? Or are there new plans to stay put?
RAC is currently undergoing a transitional phase. We are very excited out becoming Dallas' first artist curatorial residency program in the Spring of 2015. Our new mission will be to influence and shape the lives of artists through the gallery and curatorial aspects of the art industry. We want to share the experience we have had running a space with other artists, as well as to provide the opportunity to focus on professional practices. We are still here in the Design District until December and are thrilled about our upcoming shows here on Dragon Street.

Are there other galleries in Dallas whose roster or programming you admire?
We have several galleries here in Dallas that we enjoy attending and supporting. Central Trak is always on our list for insightful exhibitions and programming. We are also inspired by other projects including Deep Ellum Windows, Beefhaus, Ware:wolf:haus and OFG where young creatives are pushing new ideas in the Dallas art scene. Other spaces such as Conduit Gallery, Kirk Hopper Gallery, Barry Whister, The Public Trust, RE Gallery, Circuit 12 and Dallas Contemporary are also spaces we admire and enjoy.


Elissa, you have some pretty interesting artistic pursuits these days. For the Cherry & Dickhead series, you seem interested in the clash of cartoonish imagery with adult topics. Did the project start from a place of whimsy or were you making a statement?
Elissa: The project started from a place of whimsy and grew to something more. When creating a new series I start by building the characters. While making the costumes I start to daydream about their personalities and slowly build a story around them. I am more interested in letting the characters dictate the plot than making a statement. I love working with stories, sometime I am even surprised where they take me. I constantly feel like a voyeur even if I am playing a role. If you didn't get a change to see the show in Ft. Worth, Cherry and Dickhead will make an appearance at Under the Influence party [July 24] hosted by D Magazine and FAN Gallery.


Erin - are you working on any artistic projects at this time?
Erin: Yes, I am currently working on a two-person exhibition entitled Hugs and Kisses with Heyd Fontenot for October 2014 at Mountain View College. A lot of my new work is site-specific, interactive installation, which is mostly inspired by private domestic interior spaces from the 17th and 18th century. Also, Heyd is fantastic and a blast to work with and I can't wait to see it come together. Check out my work at www.erinlouisestafford.com!

100 Creatives:
100. Theater Mastermind Matt Posey
99. Comedy Queen Amanda Austin
98. Deep Ellum Enterpriser Brandon Castillo
97. Humanitarian Artist Willie Baronet
96. Funny Man Paul Varghese
95. Painting Provocateur Art Peña
94. Magic Man Trigg Watson
93. Enigmatic Musician George Quartz
92. Artistic Luminary Joshua King
91. Inventive Director Rene Moreno
90. Color Mavens Marianne Newsom and Sunny Sliger
89. Literary Lion Thea Temple
88. Movie Maestro Eric Steele
87. Storytelling Dynamo Nicole Stewart
86. Collaborative Artist Ryder Richards
85. Party Planning Print maker Raymond Butler
84. Avant-gardist Publisher Javier Valadez
83. Movie Nerd James Wallace



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