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Fort Worth’s ever-changing art scene celebrated, on display during Gallery Night

Since a handful of galleries along and near Camp Bowie Boulevard opened for one night in September 40 years ago following an August recess, much has changed in the city’s cultural landscape.

Venues have opened and closed. Artists, collectors and organizers have died and moved. The footprint for their annual night has widened somewhat.

But the one constant for the now biannual Gallery Night organized by the Fort Worth Art Dealers Association?

Glasses of free, often endless, wine.

Fall Gallery Night, which takes place from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday is a chance for gallerists, artists, shop owners and socialites to get together, show off and maybe buy something too. People have more than 40 venues to visit across the county, though the largest chunk is primarily clustered on Fort Worth’s west side.

“Gallery Night is one of the more valuable ways to engage the community,” said Shay-Patterson Young, the dealers association executive director and manager of the University of North Texas Health Science Center’s corporate and public art collection, as well as its Atrium Gallery.

This year’s programming is no different from others, with longtime artists and venerable institutions joining newer galleries along with popups promoting unrepresented artists and, in one case, what may be the last time to see art in a venue.

What started as the beginning of gallery season in the city “turned into something special, with galleries having different approaches to exhibiting,” said Atlee Phillips, a Fort Worth native whose parents J.O. “Dutch” and Mary Phillips ran the Dutch Phillips Gallery in Dallas and Fort Worth.

Lauren Saba is the founder of Fort Works Art, a contemporary gallery, and the nonprofit Gallery of Dreams, which opened in 2014. The gallery is presenting its second showing of Rachel English, who paints nearly heavenly skies and the Dang Good Candy group show.

The scene is so much different now, Saba said, than when she lived here, or even started. There are more opportunities, especially for younger and emerging artists and the support from the community remains steady.

But like Artspace 111, another mainstay, she rents hers out for events and has other tenants. The nonprofit component allows for donations and tax exemptions.

“And it allows for risks,” said Jay Wilkinson, FWA’s gallery manager. For the past two years he ran the Dang Good Candy gallery in Sundance Square as part of a quasi-artist residency. With funding not an issue as part of the residency, he built a gallery where he could afford to take risks and display emerging artists.

That gallery is closed, “for now,” he said. But in the mean time Dang Good Candy will now be represented at FWA, with a group show featuring Aubree Dale, Michelle Cortez Gonzalez and Fernando Rojas, also opening Saturday.

Gallery Night also inadvertently reveals the vulnerabilities facing the arts community. Despite civic support for the arts, many venues lack the foundation and funding of other venues.

Fort Worth is better known for art museums and galleries. You can thank their large endowments. The Kimbell’s, for instance, is one of the largest in the country.

“There’s so much time and resources put into the museums,” Phillips said, referring to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Kimbell Art Museum and Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, all Fort Worth Art Dealers Association members. (Likewise, members like the Art Galleries at TCU, Gallery at UTA and Tarrant County College’s Trinity River East Fork Gallery all have at least nominal institutional backing and are key resources for experimental art.)

Arts Fort Worth’s Community Arts Center is an ironic yet prime example of the opposite problem. Ironic given it is in the Cultural District and the Modern’s former home, also designed by internationally known architects. The building — with multiple galleries, studio spaces, residencies and the rare small and midsize performance venues — may close due to civic neglect.

Yet Robert Long, the Exhibitions Manager at Arts Fort Worth, is still pumped up for Gallery Night, which includes seven new exhibitions opening.

He’s especially excited about Further Fringes, a performance art festival and exhibition also taking place alongside concurrent with the Fort Worth Fringe Festival. Performances will take place throughout the complex, something uncommon during a traditionally strictly visual arts event.

Young said Fort Worth Art Dealers Association and Gallery Night stick out because it also has a nontraditional membership of commercial, university and nonprofit galleries, as well as stores such as Carter Bowden Antique as well as popups.