Activating Vacancy Downtown Dallas Recap

For the Activating Vacancy Downtown Dallas, a National Endowment for the Arts-supported project in partnership with Downtown Dallas, Inc., two artist teams worked with community members to create works of public art to activate spaces in Downtown Dallas. Through a call for proposals, artists were tasked with devising a project in response to public space priorities, identified through our Community Audited Public Space (CAPS) process and a Community Advisory Committee. Two series of works were created through a community-engaged process: the WonderPhones and MAY I // a blessing project. Project teams engaged with community members through a variety of workshops and community gathering events, which included project tours and a culmintaing public interview with the artists. 



The WonderPhone is an interactive payphone that connect the people in downtown Dallas to the city and each other. The team combined old and new technology to allow people to listen to content and play and record their stories. Five WonderPhones were created, placed in colorful enclosures in various locations downtown and popping up at events.

The WonderPhone team (Rickey Crum, Gray Garmon, Katie KrummeckEdward Li, and Justin Childress) worked with local high school students, architects, historians, designers, urban planners, musicians and essayists to create and record engaging Dallas- or phone-related content for participants to enjoy. Audio content ranged from personal stories of memories downtown to future imaginings of new possibilities for Downtown, as well both curated and newly created pieces that focus on the history and architecture of downtown Dallas. Interactive prompts ask participants to share reactions to specific questions (and hear responses live) as well as follow instructions to participate in immersive experiences exploring downtown.

The artists said, "We hope that the WonderPhone will inspire participants to listen and think deeply about the lived experiences of the citizens of Downtown Dallas as well as engage participants in activities to help them observe Dallas in a new light and reflect on their own participation in the city."

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MAY I // a blessing project

MAY I // a blessing project is a walkable installation of blessings written by local young women for the Dallas community, manifested large-scale. The artists Ruben Carrazana and Janielle Kastner worked with a group of young women (ages 12-18) who wrote specific declarations of hope for themselves (MAY I), for their community (MAY WE), and for their spaces (MAY THIS SPACE).

The team issued an exhortation to the city: "We believe these young women don’t need us to 'empower' them, they need us to acknowledge they already have the power to speak life into their community. We call these declarations blessings as they begin with the word 'may' - a word that summons into existence that which isn’t here yet. Our work as artists has been taking their words and manifesting them in unexpected places downtown in a bold, surprising, even defiant manner. In a world that asks them to shrink, MAY I radically insists young women take up extraordinary amounts of space. We encourage you to join these young women and manifest your own blessing in your spaces, tagging #mayiblessdallas."

Our partner DDI will continue to use the artworks to activate spaces in downtown Dallas. Check out photos of the artworks and the AVDD events below!

This project was supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). To find out more about the National Endowment for the Arts visit  

To find out more about our project partner Downtown Dallas Inc., visit

Artists Selected for Activating Vacancy Downtown Dallas!

[bc] is excited to announce the selection of two artist teams for Activating Vacancy Downtown Dallas, the duo Janielle Kastner and Ruben Carranzana, and a collective formed by Rickey Crum, Gray Garmon, Katie Krummeck, Edward Li, and Justin Childress. We're excited to spend the next few months working with them and the stakeholders of downtown Dallas to create exciting and fun works of art that challenge current notions of "public space" downtown. Please join us on Saturday, August 19th, 3 pm - 6 pm at 416 S Ervay, for a mini-block party to meet the artists and talk to them about their proposals. If you can't make it this week, we'll be having a presentation and feedback session the following Saturday, August 26th, 1 pm - 3 pm at 416 S Ervay. Read on for more information about the selected artists and their project proposals!

Ophelia Underwater . Features Zoe Kerr, photograph by Carson McCain Gray

Ophelia Underwater. Features Zoe Kerr, photograph by Carson McCain Gray

Janielle Kastner and Ruben Carranzana: Janielle Kastner is a writer, actor and performance deviser, whose social engagement work centers around the role young women play in shaping their communities, and vice versa. She was recently named Best New Playwright 2016 (Dallas Observer), and her plays include OPHELIA UNDERWATER (The Tribe, L.I.P. Service), FEED ME (Stella Adler Theatre/Playworks) and HEAVEN’S GATES, HELL’S FLAMES. Her social engagement work includes: PROJECT: BLESSING, one-on-one performance art, and PROJECT: GIRL, a trans-media installation based on interviews with young women from disparate communities. Additionally, she co-runs Dallas cult classic Shakespeare in the Bar. She holds BAs in Theatre & English from Southern Methodist University.

Shots Fired . Image courtesy of Cry Havoc Theatre

Shots Fired. Image courtesy of Cry Havoc Theatre

Ruben Carrazana is a local actor, director, and teaching artist. He co-directed SHOTS FIRED, a show exploring the Dallas police shootings with local youths. Ruben directs and assistant directs for JESTERS, theatre and film created and performed by adults with special needs. He has performed locally with Second Thought Theatre, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group, Dallas Theater Center, Undermain Theatre, Stage West, and Cara Mia Theatre. His play STACY HAS A THING FOR BLACK GUYS was recommended for the American Theatre Critics Association/Harold and Mimi Steinberg New Play Award, and his play SHE was awarded an Honorable Mention from the Southwest Playwriting Festival. He holds a BFA in Theatre from Southern Methodist University.

Together, Janielle and Ruben are two of the co-founders of performing arts incubator The Tribe, for which they were named 2016 Dallas Masterminds (Dallas Observer).

Project Proposal:
Together, Janielle and Ruben will transform an outdoor space in downtown Dallas, repurposing it with giant, individual, original blessings written by young women in the Dallas community (ages 12-18). First, they will draw upon their devising experience and lead young women through the creative process of writing a “blessing” for their city (a short, powerful, irreligious but specific declaration of hope). Then, they will work with community partners to determine an appropriate outdoor route. Finally, the project will culminate as a walkable installation of 8-10 aesthetically unified pieces, starting and ending with blessings projected onto buildings a few blocks from each other, with transformed “blessed” objects to be found along the way (ie. large text painted on a bench, length of sidewalk, dumpster, etc). Since young women are often taught to take up less space, projecting their words large-scale onto community spaces is a radical, inherently subversive act. Rather than seeking to “empower” young women, these pieces assert that young women already possess the requisite power to speak life into their community. As a result, the installation both realizes local young women’s visions for their city’s future, and designates a walkable space in an otherwise unwalkable city.

Mod Pod

Mod Pod

Rickey Crum, Gray Garmon, Katie Krummeck, Edward Li, and Justin Childress: The artist team is a collective of designers from a variety of backgrounds (architecture, human-centered design, graphic design, engineering, and education) with experience working all over the world on projects of various scales. The diverse backgrounds of the team members allow them to bring an interdisciplinary perspective to design challenges, and the nature of their work has given them the platform to use creative expression and human-centered design methodologies for social impact. The whole team (Rickey Crum, Gray Garmon, Katie Krummeck, Edward Li, and Justin Childress) are all affiliated with the Design and Innovation programs (like this and this) at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX.

Project Proposal:
We propose to create an installation of “redesigned” payphones at various public spaces in downtown Dallas. The payphone, although antiquated, can be digitally altered with new technology and pivot to be a vessel for connecting people with their city. We will work with the downtown community to understand their needs, interests, and stories to help design the payphone interactions. As a passive listener or an active contributor, people will have the ability to choose the way that they want to engage with the installation. Ultimately, this installation aims to inform people about their city, suggest ways to experience their city, inspire deeper connections between people, and encourage them to participate in the future of their city by sharing their voice.

The internal systems of the payphone will be altered with new digital technologies to allow for the keypad to provide a series of audio interactions. When a person interacts with the payphone by picking up the receiver, they will be greeted with a message that prompts the user to engage in different activities. For instance, the user might be prompted to hear the history about a nearby building, or a historical event. An informational option could provide recommendations on local dining or entertainment offerings. They can press a number that asks the user a question about their opinion on a current civic topic and records their response.  There could be an option to leave recorded stories that others can listen to and share then personal experiences.

These projects are part of [bc]'s Activating Vacancy initiative. Activating Vacancy is an art and public interest design initiative where residents work alongside artists and designers to investigate, strengthen, and share a community’s unique history; engage in the development of a physical and social framework for cultural activities; and plan for the renewal and growth of the neighborhood. Collaborations included art installations, performances and other artistic actions that explore the cultural, social, political and economic life of a neighborhood. 

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit

Additional support is provided by Downtown Dallas, Inc.