Art Conspiracy



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Janeil Engelstad, founder of Make Art with Purpose, speaking at TEDX SMU, “Individual Expression to Community Transformation: The Evolution of Public Art”: click here. Photo courtesy of Make Art With Purpose

DALLAS: On November 14, artists, musicians, art lovers and supporters gathered for ArtCon11, Art Conspiracy’s signature fundraiser. It’s a unique event, where this year’s beneficiary, Make Art with Purpose, was honored.

Make Art with Purpose (MAP) is an artist-led non-profit that has been developing and producing inter-disciplinary projects that bring communities together to work for the greater good, all around the globe. Under the guidance of its founder, Janeil Engelstad, MAP is making its mark on Dallas.

Introducing Ms. Engelstad

After graduating from New York University with an MFA in the 1980s, artist, writer and educator Janeil Engelstad took, as she calls, “a big left turn” in her career. Over the next two decades – she immersed herself into the world of social practice (community engaged art). Here’s how it happened.

It began with her volunteering for The Education Project (TEP), teaching photography to youth at a homeless shelter in East New York. It was the dead of winter when she walked through the neighborhood to get to her classroom. What she saw during those chilly walks moved her.

“I saw homeless people trying to keep warm with fires in old oil containers,” Engelstad recalls.

Volunteering after school at the homeless shelter, and other locations that produced programs for at-risk youth, Engelstad experienced the positive impact that art can have on people. “Whether using art as a tool to investigate social concerns, or working directly through arts education. So I took a left turn away from my studio practice where I was producing work for exhibitions and devoted my career and practice to working with communities, and over time that grew.”

Next, she co-created ART WORKS, which attracted some of the most celebrated artists of the 1980’s into the project. A TEP project, ART WORKS was produced in partnership with The Polaroid Corporation and included creative input from Stacy Fischer, the then manager of Polaroid’s 20 x 14 studio in lower Manhattan. The list of participating artists included: Chuck Close, Andreas Serrano, Félix González-Torres, William Wegman, Laurie Simmons, John Reuter, John Divola, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Jean Vong, and Carla Weber.

Arieana R. + Felix Gonzalez Torres, Polaroid 20” x 24”, 1993, for the project Art Works: Teenagers and Artists Collaborate on the Polaroid 20” x 24” Camera, created by Janeil Engelstad with The Education Project, NYC. Photo courtesy of Make Art with Purpose

Arieana R. and Félix González-Torres. Polaroid 20” x 24”, 1993, for the project Art Works: Teenagers and Artists Collaborate on the Polaroid 20” x 24” Camera, created by Janeil Engelstad with The Education Project, NYC. Photo courtesy of Make Art with Purpose

For the project, each artist was paired with a youth from one of The Education Project’s outreach programs. The collaborating teams met in groups and in one-on-one workshops, designed by TEP and the professional artists. Then each team created photographs on the renowned Polaroid 20 x 24 camera, which was hand-made by Edwin Land, the inventor of Polaroid. The photographs were exhibited at museums around the country including New York City’s International Center of Photography, Photographic Resource Center in Boston, Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, and California Museum of Photography. At each location, The Education Project produced a local media arts program for at-risk youth. In New York, The Education Project placed many of the ART WORKS youth into internships at companies such as Sony Music.

As a result, their lives changed. One of the participants, Engelstad reports, was accepted at the prestigious High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. But at first, his mother wasn’t open to the idea.

“Initially his mother was not supportive because she felt that he needed what she thought would be a more structured environment of a parochial school, but by the end of the summer, when she saw the impact the program was having on her son, she agreed that he should go to the High School of Art and Design.”

Next Engelstad moved to Los Angeles where she established the West Coast headquarters of The Education Project and began to produce independent projects. “That was the beginning,” she says.

To accomplish this she has partnered with several organizations over the years. “We’ve created projects that I felt art could respond to, or where I saw the voice of different people missing,” Engelstad says. “For example, creating access to the media for people who often do not have a public voice. In 1999, when the massacre in Columbine happened the media reported on the event, and other school shootings, without asking the students why they thought this was happening and what the impact was on their lives. No one was talking to students. “So, in partnership with New York City based World Studio Foundation, We created a national project where students worked with professional designers to create billboards and bus shelter s in San Francisco, L.A., D.C., New York and Chicago. In each city where the project was produced we worked with local arts organizations and social service non-profits, building local networks as we went.”

After building these coalitions in the U.S. and around the globe, in 2010 she decided to create her own non-profit, and Make Art With Purpose was born.

"Together We Stand, Divided We Fall" MAP mural produced by students at Billy Earl Dade Middle School, Dallas, 2014 as a part of MAP's "Dialogues on Race," a national project that uses art and design to jump start conversations about race. Photograph courtesy of Make Art with Purpose

“Together We Stand, Divided We Fall” MAP mural produced by students at Billy Earl Dade Middle School, Dallas, 2014 as a part of MAP’s “Dialogues on Race,” a national project that uses art and design to jump-start conversations about race. Photograph courtesy of Make Art with Purpose

Many MAP projects have taken flight under Engelstad’s direction. MAP 2013, MAP’s inaugural social practice triennial, was a successful undertaking. MAP activated local artists, schools, museums and galleries to work with people from around the world. Together, the teams produced 30 projects and public programs that investigated environmental and social themes, deep-rooted in art. Other recent projects include Dialogues on Race, a nationwide initiative created to advance racial justice in communities was started in Dallas with the support of the Embrey Family Foundation. Through this project, local artists created billboards and students in South Dallas and Oak Cliff created murals that investigated themes connected to racial and social justice. A community conversation that explored the themes brought about in the work was held at UTD Centraltrak.

One of the Dialogues on Race murals was produced at Billy Earl Dade Middle School. “Dade had gone through so much turmoil in the previous year for various reasons and the students were eager to participate in meaningful work, so it was a rewarding school to work in,” she says. “In the summer of 2014, Hispanic and African-American students created a mural centered on the theme of racial justice, which featured civil rights leaders, including Caesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King, Jr.” Under the guidance of MAP Program Manager, Alpha Thomas, the students studied social justice and civil rights history and learned how the ideas and work of these leaders have lifted up the entire country.

She has dozens of projects in the works and big ideas for North Texas.

“MAP is working with artists, business leaders, foundations, universities and others to create dialogues about what’s going on here [in Dallas] and how can we understand each other better. Together we want to learn ways to make our city a more equitable place to live and work.”


Early this year, Anne Bothwell, director of Art and Seek introduced Engelstad to Art Conspiracy’s Executive Director, Erica Felicella. Art and Seek is a service from KERA providing North Texans a comprehensive guide to the local art scene.

“The work MAP does continues to set them apart, from the students involved to internationally know artists, says Bothwell. “Whether students decide to have a career in art or not, they are learning self-expression and learning to do it authentically, a skill that has to be developed.”

Janeil Engelstad at SKEWED, Art Conspiracy's summer fundraiser. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

Janeil Engelstad at SKEWED, Art Conspiracy’s summer fundraiser. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

To make the cut for Art Conspiracy funding, interviews had to be completed. When the AC team arrived, Engelstad was ready. “It was fun. They came over and we sat and talked,” she says smiling. I believe in what I do and I like to talk about my work because often, it is in the talking to people where I actually hear what it is that I am doing or thinking about and sometimes ideas are worked out in the process. The Art Conspiracy team liked what they saw and heard.

“Looking at MAP’s previous projects, we were impressed by the dialogue they foster, and the issues they face,” says Todd McCaulay, Beneficiary Chair and Art Conspiracy Board Member. “Our choice to award MAP our 2015 beneficiary will allow the organization to not only engage the communities of Dallas and Fort Worth in a dialogue, but also invite volunteers of all ages and local artists to have a hand in creating some truly beautiful, if not thought-provoking art.”

Being the 2015 ArtCon beneficiary is a huge honor Engelstad admits. “Some of the money we received from Art Conspiracy will be directed to a project looking at the Trinity River and climate change. “The river is going to take its natural course. It’s going to expand, flood, and create wetlands, she says. “Questions to be answered: how are we as a society going to help people relocate? Can we turn some of the impacts of climate change, in this case the flooding of a river, into new jobs? Such as creating fish farms in wetlands where there were once houses and other infrastructure.”

How MAP does it

First, Engelstad says, many artists are taking the skills they’ve developed and leaving their studios “They use creative thinking and problem solving skills to move the bar, create community, and positive change.” Second, artists have a knowledge base. “They’re coming out of school with BFAs and MFAs and often they understand social concerns from a place of empathy. They are able to develop ideas that can create productive platforms.”

MAP is a collaboration of many. Associate Director Oto Hudec helps with projects on a global level. He has been with MAP since its founding, designed the organization’s logo and worked with Engelstad to design MAP’s website. Program Associate Matthew Horton helps with everything from social media to the production of Dallas projects. Artists lead the various projects. It can be a project that an artist or teams of artists have conceived of, or one that is initiated by MAP. “And our funders are also a part of our team. We all come together and bring skills and strengths to accomplish things that we could never do alone.”

Janeil Engelstad with MAP Associate Director and artist Oto Hudec in front of installation of MAP megaphone project produced by youth at MAP residency at ARTMill Horažďovice, Czech Republic. Photo credit: Alex Katis

Janeil Engelstad with MAP Associate Director and artist Oto Hudec in front of installation of MAP megaphone project produced by youth at MAP residency at ARTMill Horažďovice, Czech Republic. Photo credit: Alex Katis

Engelstad and her teammates are doing just that. The dedicated individuals who make up Make Art with Purpose are changing the face of North Texas, literally, with amazing artwork that highlight social concerns. By bringing awareness to North Texas, MAP is creating positive change for all of us who live here.

(Click here to read my feature about Art Conspiracy.)







Texas Theater in Dallas, venue of Art Con 2005. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

Texas Theater in Dallas. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

DALLAS: In 2005 when public relations professional Cari Weinberg got a call to help get the word out about an artsy, one-night fundraiser being held in an old, unused theater in Dallas, she was psyched!

“We were excited, but in some ways, we didn’t know what we were doing,” Weinberg says with a chuckle. “We were buying materials and putting them on our own credit cards!”

The idea – Art Conspiracy – crafted by Sarah Jane Semrad and Jason Roberts, was to bring artists, musicians and art patrons together to raise money for some of the children displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

“I was the money runner that night,” Weinberg recalls. “At first I realized that we were actually going to be able to pay ourselves back. But then I could see that there was a huge line of people forming outside the door! It looked like the final scene in the movie Field of Dreams. People just kept coming and coming!”

Weinberg, still a huge fan of Art Conspiracy, was one of the original volunteers who passionately served, including taking on the role of executive director and board president, until 2013.

Off and running

The first Art Conspiracy event raised more than $10,000 and over 800 people joined in. The gathering was held at the historic Texas Theater in Oak Cliff, where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested shortly after President John F. Kennedy was shot. The name Art Conspiracy is meant to show that a conspiracy can also have a positive side.

The non-profit’s second fund-raiser was held in the Longhorn Ballroom near downtown, once owned by Jack Ruby – who murdered Oswald days after the Kennedy assassination.

And so, for ten years, Art Conspiracy has been bringing artists and musicians together to “conspire” for the benefit of Dallas’ local arts community with two fundraisers: SEED and Art Con. These are art events that give attendees the opportunity to buy original artwork at reasonable prices and fundraisers that supports local nonprofit arts programs.

SEED, Art Conspiracy’s smaller summer event, is given an annual theme and raises the “seed money” for the costs of the larger fall event. The year’s beneficiary is also named at this gathering. Then, in November, Art Con invites 150 artists to a warehouse-turned-art studio where they create unique works of art on Art Con’s signature 18 x 18 inch plywood boards. The art is auctioned off live. Local music acts perform and it’s an exciting evening with food, drink and fun.

Art Con. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

Art Con. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

From the inside out

“Art Conspiracy was supposed to be a one time event,” says Art Conspiracy’s Executive Director, Erica Felicella. A photographer and performance artist, she’s worn all the Art Con hats including volunteer and contributing artist, since the very first event in 2005.

“In the early years, we gathered on front porches and wrote on legal pads, to plan things, Felicella says. “Now we have a year round volunteer staff of 35. And, we have our board.”

Originally, it was first come first serve for the artists whose work would be auctioned off. But in no time she says, they were signing up so fast the majority of the art world wasn’t even out of bed yet.

Now it’s an open call lottery. For 24 hours any artist from anywhere can sign up online. Then at the end of the 24 hours and with the click of a button, 150 artists are randomly selected from that list. “Technology has changed us a lot,” she admits.

Erica Felicella. Photo credit: Erica Felicella

Erica Felicella. Photo credit: Erica Felicella

There are many varieties of art created for the events: sculpture, painting, screen-printing, and metal works are just some. All the art is made in the same building on the same day. “It’s very beautiful to see that many artist work together. That experience is sacred to us.”

Felicella says Art Conspiracy has turned in to a beautifully organic community and this is how it works:

“If rule 1 does not work 2 and 3 don’t matter. Rule number 1 is fun and if it does not apply, we have to go back to the drawing board. Then comes believing in what we are doing and being passionate about supporting the arts community.”

But the Art Conspiracy team does much more than produce SEED and Art Con.

“Our team of volunteers goes to every body else’s events. When the musicians who play at Art Con have shows, we all go to all their shows and we go to dinners together. The team is so much more than worker bees – we are our own community.”

And while many think Art Con is a grant, and there is a money aspect, the partnership with the selected beneficiary is much more that.



Art Con 2014 beneficiary: Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

A real partnership

Last fall’s Art Con beneficiary was the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico (ANMBF). In addition to the non-profit receiving a check for $25,000, Art Conspiracy came to their aid when they needed help with the technical side of their 40th anniversary show, ANITA!

“Art Con has become a huge advocate for us,” says ANMBF Executive Director, Lisa Mesa-Rogers. “Clayton Smith and Erica Felicella met with me and my team to help us streamline the process and offered stage consulting that would have cost thousands of dollars. When they say they are street level philanthropists, they are!”

Each year Art Conspiracy invites non-profits who qualify to apply to be Art Con’s beneficiary. After the application deadline, a committee goes on site visits and does interviews. From there the board makes the final selection.

“It’s very cool to be able to sit down with an organization and get to know them,” Felicella says. “If they are not selected, we encourage all of them to come back and reapply.”

The venues

When it comes to deciding where to hold SEED and Art Con, the team does it’s best to use under-utilized areas. Another of Art Con’s goals is to shine a light on areas in Dallas that have gone dark and breathe new life into it.

“We were at the Texas Theater in 2005 when there was no one there,” she says. “Now there are all kinds of activity. We try to push that boundary and get people to go out.”

“Plus, we love buildings where we have to get our elbows in and clean up, but we still leave an edge. We like it that way!”

For Art Con Year 4, the event was held where Trinity Groves is now. “I’m not saying we were a direct cause, but again, we were there prior to the bubble before Mar (The Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge) existed.

“We also believe in accessibility. We’ve never raised our $10 ticket price and don’t intend to because whether you’re 12 or 80, everyone should be able to come.”


SKEWED, Life in Deep Ellum on June 6. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

SKEWED at Life in Deep Ellum on June 6. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy


This year’s summer seed event was named SKEWED and was held at Life in Deep Ellum on June 6. Nearly 700 participants came to support the fund-raiser.

“We take the theme and stretch it across everything. We don’t try to pigeonhole the artists’ creativity.” For artists, one word brings many interpretations of ideas. The music is curated to fit the concept and the theme of the evening as well. It’s exciting.

“The event helps us create a little bit bigger piggy bank for the big one in the fall,” Felicella says.

Both events have a starting bid, no matter who the artist is. Summer is $50. Fall is $20. Where it goes from there is up to the crowd.

“Our patrons have been coming for years. One of my favorite things to watch is couples,” she admits. “They get there early, they walk the room, they pick the pieces they want [two sections are auctioned at the same time] they create their game plan, and they talk about their budget. You see it happening all over the room. Then they divide and concur!”

“I have a friend who’s son saves his money every year so he can purchase some art. He loves the auction. There’s nothing cooler that watching a wee tiny young art collector.”

As an artist whose work has been purchased at previous Art Cons, Felicella knows how the artists feel when their work is on display and being sold.

“It’s fun to watch but it is also awkward to watch. We (the artists) are usually on a very quiet wall, in a very quiet space. You see your work being held up above everyone’s heads with flashlights shining on it, people speaking above the microphones, seeing hands flying through the air, it’s also a lot of fun!”

Photo credit: Google images

Photo credit: Google images

The future is now

Attorney Lacey Lucas currently serves as the president of Art Conspiracy’s board. She joined the board in 2014 but has been a volunteer since Art Con 8. She even volunteered to be a part of Art Con 9 with a separated shoulder and broken ankle. Why? She says it’s all about community.

“Once you experience Art Con from the inside, you can’t shake it off,” confesses Lucas. “The artists, volunteers, patrons, collaborators, beneficiaries, my fellow board members, and, especially – the executive team – are an amazing bunch of people. Their collective talents and enthusiasm are contagious. It gives someone like me, an attorney and not an artist, something to marvel at.”

Lucas is passionate about getting the word out about who Art Conspiracy is and the work that they do.

“I’ve seen people look at us in a variety of ways.  Sometimes, people just don’t get what we do, so they look at us like the illegitimate stepchild.  Some see us as “just an event” because of our beginnings. I love seeing their faces when I explain how we actually operate year-round, and have plenty of opportunities for them to get a fix.”

Lucas also notes that Art Conspiracy, thanks to the tenacity of Felicella, is becoming a bigger conversation in the city of Dallas regarding the arts. “Others are holding space for us at the tables and in the conference rooms where we’ve never been before.”

And she reports that this year the board has approved plans to pilot 8 new programs, 2 of which have already begun.

Says Felicella, “I believe in this city 200%. I believe in what we are doing, our community, what Art Con has to offer, and what direction we are headed in. A large chunk of the people in my life – that I care about – came from the early days. Why wouldn’t you want to stay a part of that?”

There is no doubt that Art Conspiracy’s influence in Dallas is growing. In 2005 they built it and people came. With the continued spirit that this altruistic non-profit is infusing into the city, more is sure to come.

Art Conspiracy is pleased to announce their 2015 Art Con beneficiary: Make Art With Purpose. Art Con 11 is scheduled for November 14, 2015. For more information click here.

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Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of ballet

DALLAS: COME ONE, COME ALL! Watch, as 80 dancers dressed in swirling reds, yellows and greens kick up their heels to the music of ballet folklorico! Marvel, as twirling aerialists perform daring acrobatics on suspended silk ropes!

The show is Anita!, and it honors Anita Martinez, founder of the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico (ANMBF), and former Dallas city council woman. Under the watchful eye of ANMBF’s Executive Director, Lisa Mesa-Rogers, the show celebrates Martinez’s life and accomplishments with dance and performance. The curtain rises at 7:30 pm on Thursday, April 23 at the Winspear Opera House at 2403 Flora Street in Dallas.

Ticket information is available here.


Growing up in Little Mexico ignited an early desire in Martinez to make Dallas “the best city it can be.” A former Mexican-American neighborhood in Dallas, Little Mexico was bordered by Maple Avenue, McKinney Avenue and the MKT Railroad. Being one of six children, she walked to the store because the family had only one bicycle, shared by all six children.

Photo courtesy of Robert Hart/Theater Jones

Anita N. Martinez. Photo courtesy of Robert Hart/Theater Jones

During her walks Martinez often wondered why the street they lived on was so muddy. In no time she discovered that if she could collect enough signatures from nearby residents, the city of Dallas would pave the street. So 14-year-old Martinez went door-to-door collecting signatures. Soon after their street was paved.

“That was a red-letter day for me!” Martinez confesses. From that moment, neighbors turned to her for help.

And with her neighbors’ encouragement and help, in 1969 Martinez became the first woman Hispanic city council member of a major city in the country. She worked hard to bring improvements to her community, and even though she had to deal with discrimination, she got things done. In 1975, when the City of Dallas named a recreation center after her for her exemplary work improving the communities of West Dallas and Little Mexico, Martinez was honored but at the same time troubled by what she saw at the center: Hispanic children shy and withdrawn.


Martinez had an idea about how to unlock their potential, the same approach that had set her free as a child: dancing. Years earlier one of the neighbors had taught her and some of the other girls in the neighborhood some swing steps and some ballet folklorico. She loved it. Sometimes when they were performing, people would peek over the fence and watch. Then they would applaud.

“Dancing made me feel happy and l liked how I felt when they would clap,” Martinez recalls. Dancing gave her a new-found confidence and appreciation for her culture.

She was convinced that by teaching Hispanic youth about the beauty of their culture through the performing arts – Mexican music, dance, and history – they would be proud of their heritage. With improved self-esteem, the children would be motivated to stay in school and set higher goals.

“Kids need a place to help them perform and gain confidence,” Martinez says. So in 1975 the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico was born.

courtesy of ANMFB

graphic courtesy of ANMFB

What started out as a small group of dancers in a community recreation center has been transformed into the most prestigious Folklorico company in North Texas, serving more than 50,000 children each year. And the ANMBF is very proud to be one of five permanent dance companies at the Winspear.

Now 40 years later, supported by public funds, special grants and private donations, the school continues to work towards its mission.


SimoneLazar Credit Lone Star Circus

Simone Lazar. Photo courtesy of Lone Star Circus

Anita! will highlight aspects of Martinez’s life, giving us a 70-minute peak into what has made this woman a legend. The show will feature 80 children from ages 5 to 17, and professional dance artists with the ANMBF Performance Company. Dance segments that highlight aspects of Mrs. Martinez life will include traditional ballet folklorico, representing the regions of Mexico with music and costume.

The show will also feature a modern segment – professional aerialists from Dallas-based Lone Star Circus. Lone Star Circus is the performing arm of Lone Star Arts Center, a non-profit, which promotes circus arts through training, performance and community outreach.


Now in her third year as ANMBF’s Executive Director, Lisa Mesa-Rogers’ role of overseeing the production of Anita! is a labor of love.

Anita! was born during a creative meeting with ANMBF staff and is written by Al J. Martinez, Anita’s son and directed by Frank Latson,” Mesa-Rogers reports. “We have worked with three choreographers and are using video projections, live vocals, aerialists, and African Drummers/Dancers.

There have been surprises as well as challenges in bringing Anita! to life.

“The biggest surprise has been the work of two Art Conspiracy volunteers coming to help out on our technical team,” she shares. “Erica Felicella and Clayton Smith came along and really helped us navigate the new technical components of the show.”

Lisa Mesa-Rogers

Lisa Mesa-Rogers. Photo courtesy of Robert Hart/Theater Jones

Art Conspiracy is a Dallas-based non-profit that brings artists together to raise funds and heighten awareness for regional creative programs and cause. The organization also donated $25,000 to ANMBF last year.

Mesa-Rogers says it was important to include all of our company dancers in the show. “We have dancers that are overcoming incredible odds and the stage has become their equalizer.”

The biggest challenge with the show has been securing the funding needed to complete the project. “We are a very small organization and we were really disappointed that we didn’t get an underwriter for the show,” Mesa-Rogers admits. “But we were also thrilled that Neiman Marcus donated to help us bring more than 1,000 children to the Winspear Opera House.”

And all the while, her adoration for Martinez remains steadfast.

“One thing I have learned is that although we are her namesake, it has never been about her,” she says. “Anita has been the most gracious and grateful person I have ever met. She is tough and determined and she encourages me as I try to widen the impact of our organization.”

Mesa-Rogers says that that although Martinez has seen video excerpts of the show, there are still some surprises lurking. So come see it with her! Join us on April 23 for this very special tribute!

To find out more about the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico or to donate, click here.

To read my full-length feature about Anita’s amazing life (so far), click here.

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