Non-profit attempts to change Dallas’s “City of Hate” reputation

On a Saturday morning, a young girl happily posed with her work of art that is part of a citywide exhibition. Her piece was the first installed by SMU Professor Willie Baronet and his team of volunteers in the looming Bank of America building in downtown Dallas.

The team managed to install 206 18-inch by 18-inch pieces of art made from poster board in four hours.

Those 206 pieces are just some of more than 30,000 pieces that are exhibited, as part of the Dallas LOVE project, at various venues, including SMU, throughout Dallas and along the route President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade took in 1963. The project is sponsored by the non-profit organization 29 Pieces. The pieces, containing a quote from peacemakers, poets, musicians and artists, are tributes to President Kennedy.

The Dallas LOVE project’s objective is to overturn the idea that Dallas is a “City of Hate” through love art. The city was labeled as a “City of Hate” after the JFK assassination on Nov. 22, 1963. Karen Blessen, founder of 29 Pieces, wanted to respond to the label.

“There is a lot of violence in this world and this is a way to stand and push back against the violence with a grassroots expression of unconditional love,” Blessen said.

Chandler Broadrick, a junior majoring in creative advertising, was surprised to hear of Dallas’s negative reputation. “When your city is part of something as horrific as the president being assassinated, I understand that can have a very negative connotation,” Broderick said. “After living here, I can see Dallas is nothing like that.”

Blessen hopes to change the conscience of people from the art and “the great words from wise people.”

The project started formulating in late Feb. 2013. The installation of the art began on Sept. 21, International Peace Day. The organization originally expected 10,000 pieces, but received more than 20,000 from the community and an additional 10,000 pieces from students at DISD.

The citywide project stems from the 29 Pieces’s MasterPeace program. MasterPeace is a series of 14 lessons that uses art to teach conflict resolution, teamwork and problem solving. The lessons are crafted to fit schools schedules in DISD and across the city.

The collective effort of more than 120 community partners, 29 Pieces and volunteers joined people from all walks of life. Refugee children to corporations participated.

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Baronet, a trained presenter and logo designer for the LOVE project, wants participants to be more empathetic, accepting and tolerant. “I hope people realize that Dallas and the country has made progress in terms of tolerance,” Baronet said. “Specifically, I hope people in Dallas realize we still have a long way to go. We can benefit from taking a moment and connecting with our shared humanity.”

Baronet, executive-in-residence at the Temerlin Advertising Institute, brought the project to SMU in his Intro to Creativity class. The students were asked to make love art rather than weird hats for the first project of the semester. He liked the fact there was a social aspect to it. “It’s not just making art for the sake of making some thing pretty or clever,” Baronet said. “It adds a purpose.”

Broderick created a piece for Baronet’s class. Her piece was featured in the preview of exhibit in the Design District. “I was very excited to be part of the something that could help change the reputation of Dallas to be more positive and that this city is a city of love.” Broadrick said.

Broderick’s piece features a quote from E.E. Cummings and is centered on jumping silhouettes. Sophomore Mackenzie Cimola’s art was also exhibited in the preview.

The pieces ranged in skill and style. One of Baronet’s favorite pieces is by a 4-or-5- year-old child. A huge tree trunk consumes most of the poster and a tiny green ball at the top of the trunk serves as leaves. “That drawing of the tree made me so happy,” Baronet said. “Only a kid could draw that tree.”

SMU Professor Rick Halperin, part of the Emery Human Rights department, will also have his class participate in the Dallas LOVE project.

The art will continue to be installed over the next few weeks and will be on display through Nov. 30. At certain venues, the art will be displayed through the holidays.

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