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Seeing Fort Worth Through Different Goggles

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Most definitely play this song by a local band while you read to enhance your reading experience! \m/

 

You would think that an Oklahoma girl who moved away from her home state as soon as the opportunity arose would stay as far away from a city affectionately named “Cowtown” as possible. Yet here I am, and have been, in good ole Fort Worth, Texas for the past 6 months! I suppose that while I left Small Town, OK, my affinity towards judging things prior to actually engaging with and experiencing them myself have stayed with me. Fort Worth is actually a pretty cool spot to be for this upcoming freelance writer.

Being a writer, I love a good story, and this old town is full of them. Fort Worth has been around since 1849. This was a time when slavery was in full swing, as was the gold rush, y’all. Fort Worth was settled as an army outpost overlooking the Trinity River. The roots of this town are still seen thriving, if you’re looking. Segregation is still alive, as is the concentration of money in certain areas, and you can bet your boots that the Trinity River is one of the main attractions of the city. It is certainly lovely to walk or bike beside the river on a warm fall day. However, everybody here knows to avoid certain areas because of gangs and the crime that lives with extreme poverty. Fort Worth is a city of extremes.

Me personally, I live in a generally nice-ish area and work in a nice one. Being employed at Kona Grill in the West 7th area (we serve American food with an Asian twist; also, a full sushi bar and upstairs patio!), I have the pleasure of talking with long-time Fort Worth residents who come in for sushi and miso-sake sea bass that’s been marinated for 72 hours in miso-sake marinade. YUM! I like to chat about the arts district, since that is what I love most in life, art! Patrons often come in for food after visiting the Kimbell Art Museum (free) or the Botanic Gardens (also FREE!). I tell them I find it quite lovely that all of these artistic attractions are free. It helps keep a girl on a budget (if you can call being as broke as a stepped on stick “a budget”). They tell me that this area, poppin’ with restaurants frequented by TCU students and recent graduates, wasn’t always as nice. No one has yet said the word, but apparently the area used to be pretty ghetto.

"A Hibiscus, tropical but grows well in Texas and Oklahoma and better in Florida, Louisiana."
“A Hibiscus, tropical but grows well in Texas and Oklahoma.” Taken at the Botanic Gardens.

What a transformation! Whoever it was that dumped a ton of money over the past several decades into building some of the most astute and admired museums and gardens and theaters in the country, then decided to keep them free, I sure as heck appreciate it. It helps keep me out of trouble, and there is something telling me that, that’s exactly the point. The area was once rough and sparse, according to my at least decently well-monied patrons, and is now fresh and poppin’ with opportunity and young life. Again, no one has yet said the word, but with the building and rebuilding of businesses that I see going on before my very eyes, it seems like quite a few parts of the city are being gentrified.

The Southside area of Cow Town is another that is full of stories of what used to be and what is now. I had the pleasure of attending the outdoor festival called ArtsGoggle last Saturday, the 8th of October. After taking my exit 12B off of highway 30, I looked to the right and saw trains rusted and stopped in an old train yard, then to my left and saw the buildings of downtown rising higher and higher as I drove near them. It seemed that the day-long festival was square in the middle of these two extremes.

It took quite a while to park, but I did finally, in the parking lot of Paris Coffee Shop. I walked two blocks over to where the festival began. Just as the website promised, there were blocks and blocks full of vendors, all local artists! Much of the art was what you would expect from southern artists, like pictures of lizards painted onto beautifully stained wood. There was a lot of melted glass art; bottles that had been melted down into a hardened pile of glass that could now serve as a decorative piece. One of my favorite booths was of a young woman who is still an art student, but going to be featured in museums, with her oil painting and charcoal drawings of herself, looking very alive in a post-apocalyptic world wearing a gas mask. Very very cool Jamie.

Jamie's business card, is that not so rad?
Jamie’s business card, is that not so rad?

Not only that, there were “50 local bands across 5 stages.” I got to catch a little bit of the Kites and Boomerangs, I had to stop and dance for a moment, they were rockin’ out. I saw my friend from work there also, she said that she got to rock out to The Hendersons. I need to check them out also. My friend wears dark purple lipstick, so I naturally trust her taste in music.

Probably the most meaningful booth to me was the Sleeping Panther Press Publishing Company’s. What caught my eye walking by was the sign that said, “Writer’s Boot Camp.” I spoke with the founder who is also a writer and the editor of their annual compilation of short stories, poems, and screenplays all written by local writers. It’s called Panther City Review. I highly recommend it! The group of writers and critique-rs meet once a month. I am so there! And soso glad that I found somewhere I can go to have my writing read and improved upon that is right near where I live.

After walking around by myself for a bit, I went and found my friend who was there with her daughter and in-laws. My friend and her little one had never been to the festival either, but we agreed that it was a good way to spend a family-friendly Saturday afternoon.

It takes a vibrant community of artists, business owners, and benefactors to be able to sport such a successful event that is free to the public and given life by folks who are actually living in the city. Being at that event, I for the first time questioned why exactly “gentrification” has SUCH a negative connotation.

Forcing people out of their homes because of a more expensive cost of living and higher property taxes is obviously not cool. But after talking with some folks at the Fairmount neighborhood association (ArtsGoggle is in the historic Fairmount neighborhood), I gained some new perspective. There is a mixture of folks living in the Southside area. There are families who have been there for decades, and folks that just moved in months ago. Demographically speaking, the numbers of black and white folks living there are actually closer to even than they are in the state of Texas as a whole, so that doesn’t seem to be an issue. What I see through my own eyes is a thriving arts community full of young people of every color attending one of the several colleges in the city, being supported by an older generation of artists and connoisseurs who want the younger generation to have it all and give it their all.

The mixture of livelihood and poverty is sometimes as easy to see as the division from one block to another. Just about a week ago, my partner and I went to a local bar/restaurant that features mainly local acoustic songwriters and musicians. We sat on the rooftop. I was surprised that I got to enjoy a vegan veggie wrap while he ordered a craft burger. The Live Oak seemed to be in a nice location, but if you go a few blocks down, you get to see some blocks that are a bit seedier. But I still felt safe walking to my car after leaving the venue.

What makes a city great? The people, of course. While I won’t be living in Fort Worth forever, I’m glad I put my prejudices aside to explore what it had to offer. To humbly see the city with different “goggles,” if you will.

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