For the past 14 years, 500X has been the not-quite-official art incubator of Dallas. It’s an artist-run co-op that nurtures new members by providing moral support and a challenging exhibit space, while its old members have gone on to become some off the most prodigious life forms active in the Dallas art scene.
– Dallas Observer, Best of Dallas, October 29, 1992
In 1975, Will Hipps moved from Massachusetts to teach at The University of Texas at Dallas and, with Richard Childers, purchased the old air conditioning warehouse and tire factory at 500 Exposition Ave in Fair Park. The rest, literally, is history.
Twenty artists filled out the initial roster for the new co-op and the gallery officially incorporated in 1977. Its first show, New Spaces, opened in February of 1978. For the three and a half decades since, through shows like the juried Expo and outside invitationals like X-Select or XXX, to the still-popular Open Show (now aptly called Hot ‘N’ Sweaty as it’s staged in the sweltering summer heat), or the more recently added College Expo and co|action invitational, the members-run space has fostered and encouraged and uplifted and shoved into the Great Big World the next generation of artists. And I should know.
Eager yet unassuming in 2011, fresh off of more life changes than I care to list, I submitted an application to become a member of 500X after making it into the annual juried Expo earlier in the year. At the opening reception, Scott Hilton, 500Xer and fellow photographer, put a small flyer in my hand and said, “You should apply.” I had no idea what I was doing. Thomas Fulmer, 500X member and Director of Educational Programming at Rachofsky House had curated New Texas Talent at Craighead Green that previous Fall, and fortunate to be included in the show, I felt like I knew him well enough to smile and nod if I saw him at a hypothetical grocery store (whether that’s accurate or not, I’m unsure.) But other than these two gentlemen and a few hours spent at an opening reception, I didn’t know 500X. I barely knew which way was up. I was a PhD student trying to make my way toward a relevant dissertation, wanted to make work that people wanted to see, and had nothing to lose. So I jumped right in. 500X felt like the kind of place that could give me somewhere to land.
When the phone rang in May of that year, I felt like I’d been accepted into an elite society. I’d already been in one of those at Baylor in my undergrad years, so the pride and delighted grin was familiar. And it wouldn’t stop. I was giddy with excitement and I didn’t even know all of the whys: the rich history; the traditions; the camaraderie that you hold in perfect tension with the, er, tension; the late nights coming together in true communal fashion to patch and paint walls that once held work by some of your most admired art-heroes; the early mornings patching and painting those same walls because, well, somebody has to do it.
I often talk about how much of an honor it has been to work alongside folks who have become dear friends and art partners and general inspirations. And it’s equally as humbling to note that nearly 40 years later, UT-Dallas still has a strong presence in and commitment to the Dallas art scene through its support of and affiliation with 500X. Several UT-Dallas students have work in this year’s College Expo juried by Susan Roth Romans and Jordan Roth of Ro2 Art, and a myriad have been accepted in years past. Adjunct professor Paul Booker mounted work in the 500X 35th Anniversary Show last December. Francis Bagley, one of the early board members of 500 Exposition, was an Assistant Professor of Art at UTD from 1977-82. Greg Metz, former 500Xer, offices just down the hall from me on the third floor of the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building, which is also home to Joan Davidow’s recently gifted contemporary art collection. In 1992, Davidow juried the first Expo at 500X and her collection includes work by several former 500X members.
Since its inception, 500X has championed the likes of Tom Orr, Susan kae Grant, Nic Nicosia, Vernon Fisher, Vincent Falsetta and others who have gone on to run university art programs, open their own galleries, curate shows that have traveled the country, and simply (fortunately?) make money making art. In 1992, The Dallas Observer named 500X Gallery as the Gallery Most Supportive of Local Artists. Earlier this month, Darryl Radcliff named 500X number 10 in Canvassing, his power rankings of the top 25 non-museum art spaces in Dallas, which is just as much about the art on the walls as the gallery’s firm foundation in the community itself—another longstanding tradition—from DARE (Dallas Artists Research and Exhibition) and the McKinney Avenue Contemporary and Gray Matters and Connemara in its first 20 years to present associations with other groups such as Art Conspiracy, aphophenia underground, Deep Ellum Windows, Hatch Show Print, Homecoming! Committee, Performance SW, The Junior Ward, and Wild Pony Editions. Though in its early years many members came from the University of North Texas, today’s members spread over the entire Metroplex working in the community as educators, coaches, professionals, and mentors involved with institutions such as the Dallas Museum of Art, UNT, UT-Dallas, UT-Arlington, Tarleton State University, Collin College, Dallas Public Library, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Gallery Project in Detroit, and Urban Outfitters. The gallery itself is also neighbors with CentralTrak, UTD’s artist residency on Exposition, and is a member of the Contemporary Art Dealers of Dallas.
No matter the ups and downs and stresses and challenges of maintaining an artist-run space, 500X endures, and the work on display in Love Us for Good shows how far 500X has come while maintaining firm roots in the raw, honest, gritty rafters of 500 Exposition—of those who have come before. From photography, printmaking, textile and painting, to installation, video, performance, and conceptual art, this new roster of 16 artists continues to embody the spirit of 500X and push visual, political, conceptual and even physical boundaries. Though other galleries and alternative exhibition spaces have come and gone, 500X has found a way to sustain art-life and continue to foster new growth. If you loved us then, love us now. If you loved us at one time, love as again—for goodness sake, for the good of art. Love us for good.
Diane Durant, PhD
President, 500X Gallery
Senior Lecturer in Photography, The University of Texas at Dallas