Residents of Vickery Meadow gather for a Trans.lation event: Scott Lumley

Residents of Vickery Meadow gather for a Trans.lation event: Scott Lumley

A familiar conversation has changed: the one about Vickery Meadow, the immigrant-heavy stretch bordering East Dallas, the one that starts with cultural diversity, with a rapid segue into crime and poverty. But what if something else were part of the dialogue, part of the neighborhood’s fabric — something like art?

“We’ve made our mark there,” says Houston artist Rick Lowe. Lowe is one of 10 artists commissioned by the Nasher Sculpture Center to install public art throughout the city for Nasher Xchange, a celebration of the center’s 10th anniversary. Lowe’s project, Trans.lation, takes place in Vickery Meadow, where a large portion of the population is made up of refugees from Burma, Bhutan and Iraq.

“I love sitting around in workshop and hearing people trade language.”

Since February, Lowe has teamed with volunteer artists, educators and Vickery Meadow residents to offer free art workshops, bringing together people of different cultural backgrounds and ages to learn from each other. Word of mouth from the workshops has increased participation there, and also at the monthly pop-up markets along Ridgecrest Road that are another key element of Trans.lation. The Oct. 19 market, held in conjunction with the official opening of Nasher Xchange, featured about 30 vendors, most of them local residents who had taken part in the workshops. The November market was hampered by wet, frigid weather, but still had a strong turnout to what was recast as an Open Studio afternoon, with people opening their homes and sharing hot tea and Iraqi dishes.

All the activities, large and small, involve “finding a place for people to gather and make new friendships and learn from each other, learn about different cultures,” Lowe says, describing how Trans.lation has helped ease the barriers of “self-segregation” commonly found.

“I love sitting around in workshop and hearing people trade language,” says Cynthia Saathoff, an MFA student at University of Texas at Dallas who coordinates multiple workshops each week. Hindi speakers learn greetings in Arabic. Two women share their different approaches to crafting paper flowers, one from Mexico and one from Iraq. Spanish speakers take painting lessons from Iraqi artist Abdul Ameer Alwan, well-known in his native land, who gets his points across despite limited English.

In addition to having great respect for the artistry and craftsmanship she’s seen demonstrated by Trans.lation participants, Saathoff also has developed friendships with many. There have been home visits, shared meals of goat meat, and one trip to the hospital with Um Qutaibah, whose daughter was going into labor.

“I drove them, and when we go to Parkland, I thought how I would not leave my mother in a foreign country in a waiting room,” she says. “I just stayed, and we got to know each other really fast.”

An additional facet of Trans.lation launched at the December market. Three white cube galleries have been built and will serve both as an entrance to the markets and also as freestanding exhibit space. Lowe explains that “we wanted to provide a space and opportunity to show the work in a way that honors the work,” similar to display in a museum or gallery space. Thus, the simple 12-by-12-foot cubes, which put the focus on the art.

Upcoming market dates are Jan. 18 and Feb. 22. The Nasher XChange concludes in February, but this shouldn’t mean the end of Trans.lation. The challenge, Lowe says, is in leveraging the involvement of the arts and cultural community in this neighborhood without relying exclusively upon the Nasher. There is a strong presence of traditional social services and church groups, and artists should have a similar presence.

“We are retooling our efforts as a community effort,” he says. “There is a great team here. The community itself, the project has been about them, about people connecting.” —Pam Harris

Visit the Vickery Meadow Trans.lation page on Facebook for more details and photos, and attend the Jan. 18 or Feb. 22 market from 1-4 p.m. in the 5900 to 6900 blocks of Ridgecrest, near Northwest Highway and Central.