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FOREST THEATER CULTURE Research and Findings by: Kiran Lakhian, Ginnie Roark, Cole Suttle, and Keya Tollossa

The Forest Theater sign and marquis Photo by: Elshaday Aredo


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Context: Factors, Actors, and Issues

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Insights & Design Principles

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WE STOOD ON SHOULDERS OF GIANTS Works Cited, Acknowledgments, and Endnotes

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In the Master of Arts in Design and Innovation (MADI) program and Southern Methodist University (SMU), students are required to take two semester-long, project-based Studio classes. Each semester’s studio class is assigned a client whom the students work alongside as they apply methodologies of Human-Centered Design to better understand a real-life problem. By the end of the semester, students are expected to deliver design recommendations. The Spring 2019 MADI Studio client was CitySquare, a non-profit with plans to rebuild the Forest Theater in South Dallas. The students set out to answer the question: “How might we make the Forest Theater an asset to the community and to the city of Dallas?” Throughout the 16week semester, students carefully and intentionally immersed themselves in the field to gain a better understanding of the project and the potential guests and stakeholders of the Forest Theater. This document details their process and findings.


The Forest Theater from I-45 Photo by: Elshaday Aredo

The Forest Theater as a landmark along MLK Blvd. Photo by: Elshaday Aredo


The topic of our research was largely centered on how to revitalize a historic landmark at the heart of a community. The Forest Theater sits in the 75215 zip code of Dallas, Texas, and is the physical center of Martin Luther King Boulevard, a neighborhood entrenched in a history of racism and intentional redlining1. While this project is about the revitalization of the Forest Theater and the adjacent retail strip, it is also about creating a physical space that honors a history of a community and about creating equity for a community who faces a potential loss of ownership in the future. It is our hope that our work provided sustainable recommendations which accomplishes both. Creating a development that is valued, owned, and fully embraced by the community requires a Human-Centered approach. It requires a listening ear, a sense of curiosity, and substantial learning before a plan can be created. By maintaining a focus on the people central to the project, we have a compass to guide our work amidst the complexities of the social, economic, racial, and political factors. 1

The Forest Theater Photo by: Elshaday Aredo



While Human-Centered Design places a significant emphasis on getting in the field to learn directly from people, it is first important to conduct secondary research. As Human-Centered designers, a thorough understanding of the secondary research surrounding this project empowered us with a solid foundation that informed the direction of our next steps in field research. Additionally, by building context and being more informed before stepping into the field, we strove to build our credibility. This credibility created more authentic and honest dialogue between the people we were designing for, resulting in more meaningful data collection and inspired design recommendations. In order to build this context, our secondary research was centered on history and background (factors), people and neighboring organizations involved (actors), and emotional, political, and relational hurdles that could make this project challenging (issues). This research was critical to not only understanding relevant history surrounding the theater but also key stakeholders in the neighborhoods and relationships and networks they operated under. 3

FOREST THEATER CULTURE A History of South Dallas and the Forest Theater In our initial wave of secondary research, we began as broad as possible, which meant building a better understanding of the history of both South Dallas and the Forest Theater. While there are unique elements to both the history of the theater and South Dallas, the theater has stood as an anchor within the community. Therefore, to fully understand the theater, the history of South Dallas is key. The histories of each is described as interwoven below.

The Forest Theater first opened its doors in the heart of a stable, upper-middleclass, Jewish community in 1930. The plush theater was originally built to be the entertainment centerpiece for the community that had grown around Temple Emanu-El, then located on South Blvd. By the 1950s, the 1500-seat Forest Theater had served as a cinema, club, concert hall, and even a temporary synagogue. The retail area included Siegel’s Drug Store, Ruskin Five & Dime, Blatt’s Bakery and Delicatessen, and Arbieter Ring Shule.41

Temple Emanu-El (Photo by: Dallas Jewish Historical Society)

By the mid-1950s the Temple and most congregants had migrated North. This drastic shift was caused largely by Dallas’s housing policies, segregation, and a new federal highway project that literally split the neighborhood in half.42 Racial tensions were at an all-time high and “white-flight” was in full effect during this period.43

Highway construction next to Forest Theater (Photo by: Flashback Dallas)


Context By 1956, the Forest Theater had been designated a “Negro theater” by the Interstate Theater Circuit, which ran many of Dallas’s movie houses.44 In 1965, due to the highway construction, vacant lots, reduced show-times and dwindling attendance, the Forest Theater was forced to close its doors. The theater, however, did not stay closed for long.

Opening night at the Forest Theater (Photo by: R. C. Hickman)

South Dallas Pop Festival (Photo by: KERA South Dallas Pop)

Erykah Badu inside the Black Forest Theater (Photo by: Tom Fox)

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, new residents of South Dallas embraced the theater and enlivened it in many ways. The theater hosted live performances by music legends like Ike and Tina Turner and Gladys Knight. Simultaneously, the adjacent retail space housed the Green Parrot Jazz Club and a recording studio. In June 1970, the Forest Theater was the setting of the legendary South Dallas Pop Festival. Following the recession in the early 1990s, the theater was scarcely used and was, again, forced to close its doors.45

In the early 2000s, R&B star and South Dallas native Erykah Badu rented the space with the hope of offering afterschool programs for youth in the neighborhood and reviving the theater’s role in the community. She renamed it the Black Forest Theater and brought in a number of nationally recognized names like Russell Simmons and Dave Chappelle. Despite her best efforts, the theater was again forced to close its doors in 2008 due to financial strains. The Forest Theater has remained dormant since.46


South/Park Boulevard houses and community (Photo by: Ginnie Roark)



After getting a general understanding for the history of the Forest Theater and the surrounding neighborhood, we felt more equipped to better understand people and parties involved in this project. We began with a current snapshot of demographics of residents in the immediate neighborhood, 75215. The zipcode of 75215 sits just South of downtown Dallas and encompasses the Forest Theater. It is a neighborhood within a larger area known as South Dallas. 75215 Demographics According to data aggregated by, the population of 75215 is comprised of about 15,000 residents, a significant decline in population size in comparison to 2000 when the population was about 19,000 residents. Though 75215 is typically thought of as an all-Black community, the Black community comprises about 78% of the residents in the zip code. The remaining 22% are predominantly Latinx (14%), White (6%), and Asian American and Native Hawaiian (2%). In the midst of a city that is considered quite young (Dallas’ median age is 30), 75215 shows signs of aging with a median age of 40.6. Home values still carry a legacy of redlining and segregation. As of 2016, the homes in 75215 were valued at $65,263 on average, compared to the state average of $161,5002. In addition to low home prices, there is a surplus of vacant land. According to local resident Ken Smith, some estimates put this as high 7



Context as 40%3. The average adjusted gross income for this community as of 2012 was $27,382 in comparison to the state’s average $65,384. In 2012, businesses in the area reported a net gain of $4,854 in comparison to the state average of $13,732 representing an economy that lags compared to the state as a whole. Schools There is a disproportionately high number of Dallas Independent School District (DISD) schools surrounding the Forest Theater. This high density of schools is both a remnant of segregation and the high amount of vacant land. Historically, the community of 75215 sat at the geographical border of segregation.4 Just across the highway from the theater sits Billy Earl Dade Middle School, which serves as the middle school for the neighborhood’s feeder pattern (including MLK, Oran Roberts, Dunbar, Charles Rice, and Rhoads elementary campuses). The neighborhood high school is Madison High School, historically designated as a white-only school. In all, these feeder pattern schools serve nearly 5,000 students. In addition to the feeder pattern, there are two additional magnet schools in the immediate vicinity of the theater. Lincoln High School now serves as a magnet school. It was historically designated for Black and Spanish-speaking students, and was built in response to overcrowding at Booker T. Washington High School. There is also an all-girls magnet school, Irma Lerma Rangel, adjacent to Fair Park at the eastern edge of the community. Our team discovered that the Black population in DISD fell by approximately one third, or 20,000 students, from 2000 to 2010. This left the Black population in Dallas ISD schools at the lowest it has been since segregation. This change was concentrated

specifically in South Dallas. A Dallas Morning News article identified a list of reasons contributing to this exodus, including “race, class, perception of South Dallas, and home ownership in nearby suburbs,” and families in search of better schools for their children. This exodus, known as “Black Flight”,5 led families away from South Dallas into suburbs like Garland, Forney, Grand Prairie, and other nearby cities like DeSoto where people of color make up the majority of residents are often referred to as majority-minority cities.6 As of the 2018-19 school year, Dallas ISD reported that their feeder patterns near the theater serve 64% Black and 34% Latinx students, and nearly 95% come from lowincome homes.7 Churches Our research identified over 20 churches in the 75215 zip code alone. Churches were a vital part of the civil-rights movement, provided a place for the community to come together, served as shelter, and allowed congregants to be spiritually fed. For instance, the historical Mount Olive Lutheran Church, located on Martin Luther King Boulevard less than a mile from the Forest Theater, served as headquarters for

Above: Map of Churches (Map by: Google) Opposite: Madison High School. (Photo by: Ginnie Roark)


FOREST THEATER CULTURE civil rights leaders and neighbors during the renegotiation of Fair Park’s expansion through imminent domain.8 The decision ultimately displaced thousands of Black homeowners. While churches have evolved since the civil rights movement, their important role in the Black community has not changed.9 According to a 2014 survey from Pew research, 79% of the Black community identified as Christian.10 In addition to residents, churches, and schools, our team identified community organizations with significant influence


in the community. We focused specifically on Black-centric spaces given the history of South Dallas and the aspiration of the client. For us, this meant organizations for the Black community operated primarily by members of the Black community. St. Philip’s School and Community Center St. Philip’s School and Community Center began as a Black Episcopal church in the late 1940s. By 1967, the church congregation had slowly begun to wane and the church evolved into a school and community center. Since then, it has grown to become a pillar

Context of the neighborhood for over 50 years. As the oldest running organization in South Dallas, St. Philip’s has a history of serving the community throughout a multitude of transitions. In addition to educating children from pre-K through 6th grade, the community center is home to a plethora of services including, but not limited to, programs for senior citizens, a food pantry, clothing for the homeless, after-school care for youth, and transportation services for seniors. In addition to partnering with the Forest Theater on the catalyst project, St. Philip’s is also working on several future developments of its own including a Design Thinking lab, a new performing arts center, expanding its school to include 7th & 8th grades, and more.11 Cornerstone Baptist Church and Community Development Inc. Cornerstone Baptist Church is across the street from the Forest Theater. The church serves more than 500, mostly Black, congregants from across the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The medium-sized church, led by pastor Chris Simmons, is a force for development within the community. Under Pastor Simmons’ leadership, the church has served the community through two umbrellas: the Cornerstone Baptist Church and the Cornerstone Community Development Inc. Through both affiliates, Cornerstone offers a variety of services including a shower facility for the homeless, a food pantry, and prison re-entry programs. Cornerstone is also targeting future development in services aimed at transportation, affordable housing, job training, youth development programs, and economic development.12

Above: Cornerstone Pastor, Chris Simmons Opposite: Faith-based community art on a curb (Photos by: Elshaday Aredo)

TREC CATALYST PROJECT In early 2017, The Real Estate Council Foundation introduced a new fundraising model called the Dallas Catalyst Project to focus its philanthropic resources toward a specific Dallas neighborhood. TREC Foundation has partnered with Cornerstone Baptist Church, St. Philip’s School & Community Center and CitySquare to achieve the community’s vision for revitalization. The inaugural Dallas Catalyst Project includes an initial three-year, $1 million TREC Foundation investment as well as professional services from our members and their companies to help renovate 12,000-plus square feet of retail space along Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, restore the Forest Theater’s façade and construct a communal canopy space beneath the I-45 bridge.47

Knowing the scope of work being done by community organizations including 11


Black Academy of Arts & Letters


Art Classes



Spoken Word


Summer Programs



Other (Comedy, Film, Rodeo, Self-Defense)

Map of Black Arts Programming (Base map, Google. Illustration, Ginnie Roark)


The mission of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters (TBAAL) is to “create and enhance an awareness and understanding of artistic, cultural, and aesthetic differences utilizing the framework of African, African American, and Caribbean Arts and Letters”. Now in its 42nd season of programming, TBAAL is a highly publicized and visible organization which has won several awards for its programming, including two Emmy Awards for the television special “Black Music and the Civil Rights Movement”. Music and education make up the bulk of TBAAL’s programming.48


African American Museum

South Dallas Cultural Center

Forest Theater

AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSEUM The mission of the museum is to “raise awareness of the African-American educational experience in Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex County; to preserve archives; recognize outstanding individuals; and support students and young educators”. Founded in 1974, the museum is known for containing one of the largest African American folk art collections in the U.S. The bulk of their programming focuses on education in the form of curriculum modules and multimedia exhibits, book fairs, scholarship programs, and speaker events. The museum also offers an extensive list of exhibits including folk and decorative art and the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame.49

SOUTH DALLAS CULTURAL CENTER The mission of the South Dallas Cultural Center (SDCC) is to “provide instruction and enrichment in the performing, literary, media, and visual arts with emphasis on the African contribution to the world culture”. The cultural center was created through efforts of artists in the community and funded through a city bond program. It now exists under the Division of the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs. The majority of programs offered focus on performance and music. Aimed at an intergenerational audience, SDCC hires local artists to lead additional programming such as dance, exhibits, and self-defense classes.50 13


Photo captions should always include the photo credit and brief explanation of why this photo helps enhance your story. They should also align Right or Left depending on what page they are on. Caption boxes can adjust sizes depending on the spread but should line up with the grid. Forest Theater for Sale in the early 2000s (Photo by: Michael Cagle)

Cornerstone and St. Philip’s helped us better understand the needs of the community. However, this information also illuminated needs already being met as well as potential gaps in services that the Forest Theater could fill. CitySquare & the Forest Theater In addition to understanding the actors surrounding the Forest Theater, it was equally important to understand our client, CitySquare. CitySquare is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization originally founded in 1990 as the Central Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex Food Pantry. CitySquare has since grown into a broad community development organization offering a comprehensive array of social services that address hunger, health, housing, and hope in the city of Dallas. CitySquare’s mission “is to fight the causes and effects of poverty through 14

service, advocacy, and friendship.” Previous initiatives from CitySquare include a food pantry, community clinic for the uninsured in South Dallas, integrated health and housing programs, community garden, jobtraining program, support services for at-risk youth, and more.13 In 2017, CitySquare was given the Forest Theater by Jon and Linda Halbert. Dallasbased philanthropists, the Halberts became supporters of CitySquare after hearing Larry James (CEO of CitySquare) preach at the Richardson East Church of Christ.14 The Halberts, Larry James, and Dr. John Siburt (President of CitySquare), went on a visit to the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music. The mission of the Marsalis Center resonated with the Halberts, whose dyslexic son struggled in school until discovering a passion for the arts. The couple decided

Rationale they wanted to support a similar institution opening in Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. On May 5th, 2017, the Halberts covered the full asking price for the Forest Theater in hopes of creating a similar art center for the neighborhood of 75215.15 Following the acquisition, Elizabeth Wattley (Director of Strategic Initiatives at CitySquare), was assigned to lead the Forest Theater project. A current South Dallas resident, Elizabeth grew up around the theater with its towering neon sign stamped in her childhood memories. For years, she stood in its shadow as her father shopped at a clothing store in the strip next door. Wattley’s father bragged that it was there that he saw the 1959 Hollywood classic Imitation of Life. In this project, Elizabeth Wattley served as the client and the team’s direct point of contact.

From top: The Ellis Marsalis facilities (Photo by: Ellis Marsalis Center for Music); Harry Connick Jr. and Wynton Marsalis, board members for Ellis Marsalis Center for Music (Photo by: Louisiana Weekly)

The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music opened in 2012 as an after school program to teach students fine arts. After running for five years, the center was found to have had a quantifiable impact on students’ learning as measured through reading score growth and access to their arts. The Ellis Marsalis Center owns a comprehensive performing arts space including recording studios, learning spaces, and a music hall. It is funded through a combination of private gifts from their board of directors, which features bigname musicians with national name recognition like Harry Connick Jr. and Wynton Marsalis, and a grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ arts innovation and management program.51


Interior of the Forest Theater (Photo by: Ginnie Roark)



Once we were grounded with a fundamental understanding of the factors and actors at play, we wanted to cover our bases and make sure we were aware of any issues that could be at play in this project. Complementary, Not Competitive In our first meeting with our client, Elizabeth Wattley expressed a sentiment that we heard throughout our process; whatever the Forest Theater becomes, it needs to be “complementary and not competitive.”16 Our team intentionally completed an inventory of the programming, services, and target demographics of the organizations identified above through web search, browsing marketing brochures, and visiting the centers directly. From our inventory, we were able to create a heat map of programming categories in all three Black-centric organizations as well as analyze need-based programming from both St. Philip’s and Cornerstone Baptist Church. Gentrification One of the most challenging dilemmas in this project is gentrification. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines gentrification as, “the process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses.”17 What is unaccounted for in the aforementioned definition is the potential negative impact on current residents, including high land prices, closing businesses, and 17

FOREST THEATER CULTURE to ideas from others’ work throughout the United States. This research included case studies of similar organizations, an investigation of models for a Black Main Street, and research into key concepts to help us better understand the needs of those we spoke with.

Historic stoop leads to vacant land (Photo by: Ginnie Roark)

potential displacement. The re-development of the Forest Theater may play a role in rising land prices for the community. In our first meeting with Elizabeth, she told our team an anecdotal story about developers purchasing land adjacent to theater only a week after news of the Forest Theater purchase went public. Soon after, the land was advertised online to be sold for $13 per square foot in a zip code where the typical price of land fluctuates between $4-7 per square foot. It is important to note that gentrification can bring positive changes to an area, such as the rehabilitation of neglected neighborhoods, increased property values for current homeowners, improved city services, and greater economic opportunities. However, our team acknowledged the importance of noting the potential of community displacement that could occur if a project or development does not strategically establish community buy-in and account for equity in the distribution of opportunity. In addition to the work we did to understand the ideas and geographical context of the city, we also conducted secondary research to understand how this project might relate 18

Black Main Street There are few modern examples of Black Main Street, where Black culture and communities are thriving in racially diverse communities like Dallas. Though there is a lot of be learned from cities with much larger Black communities like Atlanta or St. Louis, we wanted an example that was unapologetically Black, but in a more diverse city. Through our research, we found the Kansas City neighborhood of 18th and Vine. Located just east of downtown Kansas City, the neighborhood was the historic hub of the Black community. Now, it serves as home to jazz clubs, museums celebrating the Black community and history of this city, and a vibrant social community18. Alice Cooper’s Rock Teen Center Alice Cooper’s Rock Teen Center is a faithbased, non-profit organization whose primary mission is to make “an everlasting difference in the lives of teens by helping them meet the spiritual, economical, physical, and social needs of teens in the community by offering a safe, engaging environment during non-school hours.” The Rock Teen Center was established in 1955 and is still serving today. Currently, the Center offers programming to youth ages 12-20, and averages roughly 100 students per day. Art classes are largely run by guest artists who guide students through activities such as painting, drawing, illustration, watercolor, crafts, jewelry

Context making, and more. A variety of dance lessons are offered for students based on varying skill levels and interests. Classes in audio production are run in a recording studio where industry professionals teach interested students the art and science of audio recording through hands-on recording lessons. The Rock Teen Center also hosts a video internship production program, where students learn about video production through hands-on use of equipment and technology. Other programming includes vocational training in sound, recording, lighting, and staging.19 Social Infrastructure In his book, Palaces for the People, Eric Klinenberg defines social infrastructure as a set of physical places and organizations that shape the way people interact. “When social infrastructure is robust, it fosters all kinds of social interactions, helps build relationships, and turns community from a vague, fuzzy concept into a lived experience. When social infrastructure is degraded and neglected, it makes it far more likely that we will grow isolated and be left to fend for ourselves.”20 Social infrastructure should be thought of as being just as real as the infrastructure for transit, energy, food, and water. It is the connective tissue that supports social life. The idea is that the social life people experience doesn’t exist in a vacuum; there’s a context for it. It can be supported or undermined by the places where people spend their time. When people live in a place where casual interactions with their community from near and far are a feature of everyday life, all sorts of positive side-effects occur. While social infrastructure alone isn’t enough to unite a dispersed population, without it, that’s nearly impossible.21

Intergenerational Relationships Ellis Cose, journalist and author, researched this Black generational gap in his article, “The Roots”. Ellis Cose collected over 500 survey questions among younger and older generations of African Americans and 200 interview transcriptions. Through his survey, he identified a strong difference between the civil rights “fighter” generation and the “believer generation”, born between 19701995.22 As the name suggests, there is a mindset divide between these generations: where the fighter generation is unwilling to trust the American dream because of their history of conflict, and the believer generation is more open to embracing it. The “believing generation” is more likely to believe in the progress of the country, in their ability to overcome prejudice through hard work, and willing to push boundaries of their self limit. The Kinder Houston Area Survey conducted from 1989-2018 also echoed this change in belief and mindset. “Black people in the U.S. are still a long way from having the same chance in life that White people have,” but the survey findings show that the prospects may be improving.”23

Local teachers visit the Forest Theater together (Photo by: Elshaday Aredo)


The Forest Theater on a backdrop of downtown Dallas (Photo by: Elshaday Aredo)


How might we make the Forest Theater an asset to the community and city of Dallas at large? The question above is broad and may be interpreted in a number of different ways. Given the ambiguity that exists within the HumanCentered Design process itself, our team knew it was critical to narrow our focus for the sake of clarity as well as to honor context and our client’s needs. Following a deep dive into secondary research and after building greater context for this project, we broke down the question into two key components: Asset and Community. Webster dictionary describes the word “asset” as an item of value that is owned. In order for the Forest Theater to be an asset, it required a listening ear, a sense of curiosity, and a lot of learning before a plan is ever created. This approach is especially pertinent in a community that has seen the flight of residents for better school systems, systematic oppression of racism perpetuated through housing policy, and a community of people who are weary of outsiders making “broken promises”. We met with our client to deepen our understanding of these terms and additional context we should consider as we built out a scope for our project.



Photo captions should always include the photo credit and brief explanation of why this photo helps enhance your story. They should also align Right or Left depending on what page they are on. Caption boxes can adjust sizes depending on the spread but should line up with the grid.

Elizabeth Wattley shares ideas for Forest Theater marketing (Photo by: Cole Suttle)

When we asked Elizabeth about the existing assets, she began listing off “the history, the people, the African-American community, SDCC, St. Philip’s, Cornerstone Baptist Church, and Fraternity and Sorority houses”. In further conversations, she specifically highlighted the community itself as an asset for the project. This highlighted our client’s desire to focus on working collaboratively with existing community organizations as well as the desire to celebrate the Black people, history, and community. When asked to define community, Elizabeth said “Geographically, I think of the MLK spine end to end,” it is also “people…[because] if there are not people who are invested in their community, it would not be a community.” This again highlighted the importance of the people and helped us delineate community into two sub-sections: the geographic 22

75215 community and the broader Black community of Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Finally, given what we knew about the changing community currently grappling with gentrification, we knew it was essential to consider the sustainability of the project so that the Forest Theater could last through whatever changes might come. Given these factors and the secondary research we did, we delimited the scope of our research question. How might we make the Forest Theater a sustainable asset to the 75215 neighborhood and to the larger Black community in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex?




FOREST THEATER CULTURE final design for the Forest Theater is not yet set in stone. Our hope is that our work will inform the implementation phase24.

(Diagram by IDEO, 201552)

Our Approach to Problem Solving As previously mentioned, our team utilized Human-Centered Design as a foundation for how we conducted this project. HumanCentered Design is a creative problemsolving method which places people and communities as the subject matter experts in every step of the process. IDEO, a nationally recognized expert in the design process, breaks down the process into three phases: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. It is important to note that the process is nonlinear; and at any point in our work, we may be working in multiple, overlapping phases. In the Inspiration Phase, the focus is on learning all about the people and as much as we can about their experiences through secondary and primary research. This learning inspires the next phase, ideation. In the ideation phase, the focus is on making sense of the research, identifying opportunities for design, and brainstorm possible solutions or prototypes to test ideas. Last but not least, during the Implementation Phase, the focus is on truly bringing the solution to life. Fortunately, the 24

Scope of Limitations Since the project existed within the context of a class in the MADI program, our team was constrained to 16 weeks. Thus, we acknowledged the scope of limitations below to ensure the project was manageable in a short timeline. In delimitting, we took the liberty to circumvent what we determined to be gravity problems. Gravity problems, by definition,25 are problems that exist outside of our control. We determined that our team would not be able to address or resolve a few of the key issues below in the given 16 weeks. Funding One of the biggest limitations for our team was funding needed for all of the Forest Theater project. Given the length of our class, we steered clear of reviewing the funding limitations of this project and conducted our work with the assumption that funding will be available in the future. At the completion of this studio course, the Forest Theater was still shy $15 million+ to begin development. Resolving History and Gentrification The project geographically exists within a community who has experienced significant hardship in the form of systematic racism. It also exists within the context of a changing community with land purchases that may signal the dangers of gentrification. Our team wrestled for some time about where we might focus our design recommendations: on being conscientious of future dangers or acknowledging past and current inequalities. Rather than focusing solely on the history or the future, our team embraced the philosophy of “yes, and...� and designed at the intersection of both26.

Question Physical Building The entire space is about 30,000 square feet and includes the main theater, a grand entrance, upstairs bar and balcony, the ticket counter, several smaller rooms upstairs that historically included a small apartment, and a strip of retail space on the west of the theater. Many historic features still exist in the theater like the neon lighting details, suspended “clouds”, tile, and murals. However, these features and the basic elements of the building, like plumbing and electrical wiring will require an investment to be fully functional again. Therefore, though the physical space is an essential part of the work to be done as a whole, it is beyond what our team would be able to accomplish in the given 16 weeks and with our skill-set. This work is being done by the architectural firm, HKS. Instead, our team focused this project on crafting a plan for programming and the vision for the theater and what it could become. Clockwise from top left: historic tile, Forest Theater stage, Main entrance with “clouds”, peeling detail paint. (Photos of tile & paint by: Ginnie Roark Photos of stage & entrance by: Elshday Aredo)


Team members engage in immersion through oral histories at the African American Museum (Photo by: Ginnie Roark)


One of the key benefits of Human-Centered Design is the rich set of creative information-gathering methods researchers can use to elicit different or deepened thoughts and conversations. The goal of these methods is to get to the core of what a client or participant is truly thinking or feeling in a way that may not be obvious. Throughout this project, our team used in-depth interviews, map-drawing, card-sorts, a five senses journey exercise, immersion, analogous inspiration, and surveys to gather primary data. In order to make sense of this data and synthesize key insights, we used parallel clustering, diagramming, and metadata jam. In this section, we further detail these methods. Field Immersions A large part of the Human-Centered Design process is building appropriate context for the people and the places we are designing for. Context building can be done through a multitude of activities including field immersions. Field immersion involves attending community events and local organizations to build an understanding of where and how the community works and lives27. Our team approached field immersion by attending local events hosted by nearby organizations, eating at local restaurants, working in the community library, and even attending church at Cornerstone Baptist Church. 27


Clockwise from top: team members eating lunch at Elaine’s, exploring oral histories, viewing art at African American Museum, and attending a play at SDCC. (Photos of museum: Kiran Lakhian Photos from lunch & play: Cole Suttle)


Methods Immersion through Food Our team spent several Friday lunches over the semester in South Dallas’s bustling restaurants including Elaine’s, a Caribbean restaurant, and Black Jack Pizza, a hamburger joint and pizzeria. Aside from the delicious food, one of the most interesting patterns we identified about the local restaurants were their hours of operation. Before 10:00 am, the only space to meet or work near Martin Luther King Boulevard is McDonald’s. After this time, the public library is open and offers free WiFi and other amenities, but is often quite crowded. This observation helped us identify an opportunity for the Forest Theater to fill a need of providing public gathering space during morning hours. Immersion through Existing Programming In addition to identifying the Black-centric art organizations in the neighborhood, our team also attended events at each organization. At the African American Museum, we were able to experience the exhibits, listen to the history of folk art and the city of Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and observe the stage where spoken word and performances take place. At the South Dallas Cultural Center, our team was fortunate to watch a powerful play, Bourbon at the Border, view their fashion exhibits, as well as tour their printmaking workshop and photography studio. At the Black Academy of Arts & Letters, our team had the chance to meet Curtis King (founder of TBAAL), and attend their annual dance festival, as well as a Greek alumni step show. Immersing ourselves in each of these three centers allowed our team to gain an appreciation for the vast array of existing programs within the community and consider how the Forest Theater would be complementary and not competitive.

Immersion through Church Our immersion at Cornerstone helped us to better understand the critical role of the church first-hand. In addition to affirming our secondary research, the time spent at both services allowed us to reframe the role of faith in the neighborhood. In this community, faith is interwoven not only through Sunday services but through programs which address equity and social needs. Churches in the 75215 community, including but not limited to Cornerstone, often meet the basic needs of their neighbors and are a source of support. Furthermore, the church also functions as a platform for communication about upcoming events, volunteer opportunities, and new programs. After the sermon and music, community members get time to invite congregants to events and other local institutions. In this regard, the church serves as a point of connection between congregants and opportunities in the community. Analogous Inspiration Analogous inspiration is a method in which designers immerse themselves in a context outside of the project to get a fresh perspective on research and potential solutions. It may seem counterintuitive to spend time in a different community and context than the one we are designing for, but an analogous setting can help isolate elements of an experience and spark new ideas that can then be applied to the project at hand.28 Trap Yoga Our team spent a Saturday morning at Trap Yoga, where yoga is accompanied by Trap music, to gain inspiration for Blackcentric creative experiences. Trap Yoga is a weekly event held on Saturday mornings at Friendship West Baptist Church just north 29

FOREST THEATER CULTURE of DeSoto. We learned this is a partnership event hosted by the church and run by a non-profit, Yoga N Da Hood. Yoga N Da Hood has an unapologetic focus on women of color and has more than 12,000 followers on Instagram. Urban League Event Our team attended an event hosted by the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of Urban League to better understand how to engage young black working professionals. Urban League is one of the largest and oldest communitybased movements working to empower the Black community to enter the economic and social mainstream. The young professionals auxiliary within Urban League’s is specifically focused on Black working professionals ages 21-40. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex chapter engages 320+ active members of this demographic. Cafe Models To help envision what a morning-focused business at the Forest Theater might look like, we visited a number of different examples around Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for inspiration. This included Mudsmith, Mokah Coffee and Tea, Civil Pour, and La La Land

Team at LaLaLand Kind Cafe (photo by: Cole Suttle) 30

Kind Cafe. La La Land Kind Cafe stuck out to us because it is a cafe with a purpose to help youth who have recently aged out of the foster care system with job training, and is an existing partner of CitySquare. Mokah is also unique for several reasons. The patrons of the coffee shop highly diverse compared to other coffee shops we visited. Secondly, Mokah is attached to a flexible space used a gallery, church, and event space; which better mirrors what might happen at the Forest Theater than other cafe models. TREC We attended a conference hosted by The Real Estate Council (TREC) on equitable community development. TREC’s mission is to “cultivate relationships in the commercial real estate industry to catalyze community investment, influence policy, propel careers, and develop the leaders of tomorrow.”29 They are also the aforementioned organization responsible for Catalyst Grants. We learned from other communities who are in the process of developing about ways to guard against the negative impacts of gentrification, like displacing long-time residents or driving out businesses. There are options that include ear-marking jobs for local residents, writing restrictions into the contracts, and establishing community boards. Surveys A survey is a great tool for exploring needs, thoughts, and attitudes across a sample of a target population. As a means of discovery, a survey is an advantageous method when there is a need for high-volume data in a short period of time. Our team utilized a two pronged approach to collecting survey data: digital and analogue.

Methods After narrowing in on Black young professionals as a potential demographic, we encountered a secondary research gap. We were unable to identify a large enough body of secondary research to help us better understand the wants and needs of Black young professionals. To account for this gap, our team created and distributed a digital survey through Urban League, the network of individuals we had interviewed for the project, and our own personal networks. The survey included questions about how much money Black young professionals were willing to spend on a night out; where they lived, worked, and currently spent time; and barriers or challenges to their social and professional lives.30 We also utilized analog surveys to capture information during our prototype. We asked customers to take a short five question survey to better understand the demographics of our participants, their preferred methods of communication, their connection to the theater, and their knowledge of the history of South Dallas and the theater. In-depth Interviews An in-depth interview is a method to gather rich information in a one-on-one setting. For each interview our team began with an interview guide informed by the context we knew about the interviewee and how they were introduced. The questions in our interview guide helped drive the topics of discussion. Each interview was conducted at the time and location of the interviewees choice to create a more comfortable environment for the interviewee as well as provided us with a rich source of artifacts to spark genuine and insightful conversation.

Our in depth interviews typically lasted just under two hours. Each interview was conducted with two or more members of the team with one team member working to capture notes while the other engaged the interviewee. The interview itself began with a warm-up where we ask a few general questions to ease nerves, set the pace and tone of the conversation, and build rapport. From there, we dove deeper into our question guide or into the flow of conversation. Once conversation naturally ended, we wrapped up our time. In each interview, we ended by asking who else we should talk to, which allowed us to tap into our interviewees’ networks, and was critical to ensuring we connected with additional community members. In line with keeping the people as the center of our work, we followed-up with each of our interviewees, invited them to the pop-up, and welcomed them to our final presentation. Within our in-depth interviews, we utilized Human-Centered Design methodologies to delve deeper into ideas including mapdrawing, card-sorting, and a five senses journey. We conducted dozens of interviews over the 16 weeks. Of the in-depth interviews we completed, the following six were pivotal in how we thought about the prototype and design recommendations. What follows is information about each interview, context about interview methods utilized to go deeper into conversation topics, and lessons learned from our interactions.



ELIZABETH WATTLEY A visionary leader, Elizabeth is not new to development projects. Prior to her role at CitySquare, she worked with Paul Quinn College, a historically black college in Dallas-Fort Worth, to convert their football stadium into a community garden and a source of fresh food in a food desert. Just as she utilized community engagement to bring about her success at Paul Quinn, she used a community-centered approach to developing the Forest Theater from the beginning. Elizabeth took measures to ensure the voice of the community was heard through two different approaches. 32

The first visible approach, which garnered a lot of media attention, was a chalkboard outside the walls of the theater. Elizabeth put up a chalkboard that read “Fill in the blank, I want to change…” in front of the historic entrance to the space. The blank spaces produced imaginative ideas of what the theater could be including a space that resembled the essence of the Apollo Theater, a space for learning how to cook, a bookstore, and more. The chalkboard allowed Elizabeth to gather information from community members willing to give their input about what the theater could be.31

Methods The second approach brought local artists and residents together in two group meetings to brainstorm the future for the theater. In the meeting, the community discussed their hopes, goals, and fears about the new development. Their insights proved to be valuable in helping Elizabeth craft the story of the Forest Theater. In more ways than one, our team’s work was an extension of what our client started. We initially met with Elizabeth at the Forest Theater to experience the space, hear the history of the theater, and learn about her vision for the project. In a follow-up conversation, she helped us align our focus with her values. She shared, “it is ultimately about bringing equity.” We asked her to compare her vision for the Forest District with other cultural hubs like Jefferson Avenue, the Latinx Main Street in Oak Cliff. “They did a great job of bringing all of those people that represent the culture. That is what gives them roots and grounding. This is going to be difficult because of the highways, the divestment, and the lack of investment, [but] I think it has structure to be a Black Main Street.”

Through using the card sort, we were able to learn more about the spirit of the community and the transitions it has gone though. This included stories like residents gathering pecans from the neighborhood’s trees and the warm hospitality of a tight-knit community. From this, we realized that when Elizabeth considered the many assets of the neighborhood, the people were among them. When we asked her to envision the future, she selected a card that surprised us. The card had colorful gnomes on it. As an explanation, she said that they represented something a little quirky and fun that did not quite fit. Her vision for opening night includes fancy chicken dinner, swag-surfing, and champagne. In addition to becoming the Black Main Street, Elizabeth imagines the Forest Theater to be a lively place that would be full of people at all hours of the day enjoying everything from lectures to rooftop movies to an early morning coffee stop. Elizabeth connected us with Vicki Meek because she was involved in a number of the Forest Theater community feedback sessions that occurred before our team began our project.


Card-sorting is another artifact-based method, where interviews are facilitated through concrete, visual reference points. Because this is an abstract form of sense-making, it has the ability to surface ideas and sentiments that wouldn’t necessarily be communicated if asked about directly. The use of visuals can also source inspiration or spark thoughts and ideas. Card sorting is a good tool for eliciting deeper information on challenging subjects. Elizabeth engages in card sort during an interview (photo by Cole Suttle) and Opposite: Elizabeth talks to a community member (photo by Elshaday Aredo) 33


VICKI MEEK Interview with Vicki Meek (Photo By: Cole Suttle)

Vicki has been closely involved with the South Dallas arts scene for a long time as an artist, teacher, advocate, and former director of the SDCC. She shared her thoughts about the theater both at community meetings and through her blog. Not one to bite her tongue, she tells it like she sees it. For example, in describing the history of South Dallas, she said “People do not want to believe [structural racism] is intentional. It ain’t no mystery. We’ve made it mysterious so we can blame the victim.” Her openness helped us to gain a better appreciation of the importance of changes, challenges, and the struggle experienced in South Dallas.

the value by being a team player.” She stressed that there are already assets in the community, but the need was “connecting the dots...there are lots of organizations in Dallas, but [community members] don’t know where all of the resources are.”

She also shared the importance of preserving South Dallas history. Vicki has been using art to teach Black history to youth because “if you don’t know your history, who are you?...I dare you to find a child who spirals that knows their history.”


Specific to the project, Vicki highlighted the importance for CitySquare to be a real team player when it comes to deciding what to do with the Forest Theater. True collaboration says “this community has value already. We, [the project partners], are going to enhance 34

Vicki also gave us a few introductions to other important members of the neighborhood, including Marilyn Clark and Brittney Russell.32

The Five-Senses Exercise is a method where the interviewee is cued to close his/her eyes and imagine an experience or memory. Once the interviewee is ready, we then ask them to talk us through the experience through each of the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. The goal of this method is to create a more meditative environment for the interviewee to truly depict experience with rich details, inspired by all senses.




MARILYN CLARK Library at SDCC (Photo by: Ginnie Roark)

A fount of knowledge, Marilyn shared with us her long personal account of working at the center and living in the 75215 community. Her experience, both as a resident and employee, has allowed her to identify two elements to help a community withstand transitions: history and people. We met Marilyn just before opening at the South Dallas Cultural Center. We were greeted warmly and brought into the robust community library filled with texts about Black history, culture, and art; her favorite place at the center. The library represents her work to protect against potential loss of history. She spoke at length about the value of the community’s history forged through years of struggle because, “everything comes out of struggle that’s important and meaningful.”33 For Marilyn, “History is critical.” In more ways than one, she viewed history as the foundation for building identity, and “Identity is essential to move forward. Confusion is the enemy...What is the richness of your own community? of South Dallas? Who were the African people that got there? How did they survive in the 36

Caribbean?” She also expressed her concern over losing the richness of this history and identity because of a lack of documentation. “All history of South Dallas has to be of the things we need to reclaim is the Black Power Legacy of Dallas.” From the beginning of her organizing in South Dallas with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, she has been committed to preserving history and spaces that are unapologetically Black. She clearly articulated the need for spaces like SDCC because, “it is Black, Black, Black, Black, Black. We need it to be Black until we can’t have any more.” In addition to the important role history plays in the community, Marilyn also highlighted people. She viewed people like former SDCC director Vicki Meek, Diane Ragdale, and middle-class families who choose to invest in South Dallas as critical components of the community. “There are middle-class Black people who choose to be here and stay here. The people and all their complexities. They’ve stayed here through the storm. Through the lack of support.” Our conversation emphasized the importance of the Forest Theater being Black-centric.




BECKY MADOLE & DONALD WESSON Following the advice of Elizabeth Wattley and Vicki Meek, our team met with Becky Madole, the Senior Community Development Advisor at St. Philip’s, and Donald Wesson, the Programming Director at Cornerstone Baptist Church. St. Philip’s and Cornerstone represent two of the largest community organizations operating in 75215. This conversation was essential to ensure our design recommendations were collaborative and not competitive. We asked them to list current and future programming to ensure we did not duplicate existing work. We also learned about how organizations in the community partner together. We were surprised to learn the two organizations had never formally worked with each other until the TREC Catalyst Project. Donald expressed “it is rare for non-profit organizations 38

to come...and work together. We all have our sources of support and direction, it is just working in different silos. The [TREC Catalyst] project has opened conversations of, ‘what if you guys worked together.’”34 However, both organizations strive to elevate existing community projects and ideas through their programs rather than reinventing the wheel. As long-standing institutions in the community, they were also able to highlight existing needs. A current need they both see missing in the community is a gathering space. Donald said, “Right now the best social gathering place is the alleyway behind the liquor store. There is no coffee shop and there is no other place to meet your neighbor.” Interview with Becky Madole & Donald Wesson (Photo by: Keya Tollossa)


BRITTANY RUSSELL Brittany was born and raised in South Dallas. Her grandmother, a community elder, still lives across the street from Fair Park. She grew up attending South Dallas schools and is a current teacher at St. Anthony’s, a charter school in South Dallas near the theater. She was intentional about dispelling negative stereotypes of the community and described her school experience as overwhelmingly positive. Some of her teachers worked for the local tech sector and brought higher-order thinking into the classroom and Academic Decathlon, a rigorous nation-wide academic competition for high school students. Teachers arranged internships, students participated in clubs that traveled abroad, and thought critically and expansively about new knowledge and information. In short, she summarized, “We were limited in funding, but had incredible teachers who were creative and gave us amazing experiences.”35 As a teacher, Brittany brings this same approach to her own classroom through the International Baccalaureate program. She sees youth as a powerful opportunity,

and shared her belief that “it’s so much easier to build kids up than to fix people later.” When we talked about South Dallas more holistically, she spoke with the same conviction and optimism. She notices that the generational divide manifests through local businesses and community preferences like food options and clothing styles, “our generation really wants to embrace who we are.” The openmindedness of the young professionals is different than community elders. She believes that the older community has been slower to embrace change because of the struggle they encountered. Similar to other conversations, Brittany highlighted the people in the community as assets through her own experience. However, Brittany was the first to offer insight into young professionals and illuminated potential sources of intergenerational differences.

Interview with Brittany Russell (Photo by: Ginnie Roark) 39


FELECEIA BENTON Feleceia Benton is a native of DeSoto and currently serves as a marketing consultant and contractor with serveral departments in the City of DeSoto. DeSoto is a suburb of Dallas and is 69% Black and 15% Latinx. As the marketing director, we wanted to learn how she portrays the story of a predominantly Black community to residents and visitors. According to Feleceia, the DeSoto community is “nice, simple as that. It is a place full of good people who are invested in their community.”However the city is deeply grappling with their identity as a minority-majority city without reference points of what successful minority-majority cities look like. The not knowing is as much external as it is internal. Externally, people outside the community grapple with understanding the context of a community that is predominantly Black “when you consider Negros, you think, it is not a safe space.” Internally, people in the community struggle with a cognitive dissonance caught between the need for diversity and the beauty of “a sea of Black.”36


Feleceia also experiences the intergenerational conflict we heard about in other interviews. She told us a story about a younger nominee running for office and the stir it caused with an older incumbent, “younger people have been seen as a threat.” She wishes people would be more understanding of the internal community challenges that Black young professionals are experiencing to understand their identity, “we’re trying with everything we know and don’t know...we’re trying to shift the narrative.”

(above) Feleceia interacts with community member, and fills out a survey (Photos by: Elshaday Aredo)




Team organizes information about secondary research (Photo by: Ginnie Roark) 42



Engaging in design research can generate a large amount of sometimes disparate thoughts and ideas. Sense-making occurs throughout the project and helps “steer the ship” as more and more data is collected. As we collected data through our primary and secondary research, interviews, site visits, books and articles; we laid out all of our data on boards with Post-its. With the facts on the board, we analyzed the data to find insights, which are “ perspectives, patterns of behavior, and relationships; [an insight] generates ideas; and leads to more evolved questions.”37 Sense-making occurs multiple times throughout the process to ensure that new learning is being incorporated. Just as we used different methodologies for research, we also used different methodologies for synthesis. Parallel Clustering Each team member individually identified what they believed to be the most important insights from the data that had been gathered. The group comes back together to discuss their selections and rationale. Before the discussion, one person is designated as recorder, and that person creates a visual map of all insights discussed while remaining as objective as possible. Based on the discussion, important themes and questions are identified and used to shape further research. Our team used parallel clustering throughout the design process to identify the most important data from our interviews and site-visits. In this way, the questions we asked in each interview were shaped by the data from the previous interview. This iterative process allowed us to constantly refine our work in an intentional way and incorporate the perspectives of team members who thought about information in unique ways.38 43


Diagramming When there is an overwhelming amount of data, visual diagrams can be a useful method to organize information. Diagramming provided structure to make finding patterns and themes underlying the dense data much simpler. It was also a great way to visualize and communicate information. Our team used different diagrams throughout our research. For example, we used a diagram to help us understand our focus on Black young professionals, their importance in the community, and how we could engage them in our prototype. 44

Metadata Jam Throughout the project, we took pictures of all our work in the field. Pictures are essential because they contain multiple forms of metadata. For example, timestamps on pictures allow information to be organized in a linear way. Pictures also capture more subtle information from the setting like facial expressions, artifacts, or even environmental factors like the weather or terrain that may have been overlooked during immersion. We used our pictures alongside qualitative data to map our own journey of understanding.39


Far Left: team members organize qualitative data (Photo by: Cole Suttle) Clock-wise from top: organized information about the physical theater, diagrams to visualize relationships between ideas, team members compare interpretations (Photos by: Cole Suttle), parallel clustering to combine team member ideas (Photo by: Ginnie Roark)


Community room at African American Museum (Photo by: Ginnie Roark)


A key insight is a way to communicate themes or central ideas from both secondary and primary research. The process of overlaying meaning onto our research became more robust as we collected additional data. Through all of our work, we were able to gather large amounts of facts, stories, and context. Our team took these facts and searched for meaning between points of evidence to create key insights. Through our research, our team discovered three main insights. 1. The community is changing and will continue to change, but cultural institutions have not yet accounted for this change. 2. Amplifying existing assets creates opportunity to be complementary not competitive. 3. The Black community is widely dispersed throughout Dallas-Fort Worth and has a need for an informal social gathering space. 47


Photo captions should always include the photo credit and brief explanation of why this photo helps enhance your story. They should also align Right or Left depending on what page they are on. Caption boxes can adjust sizes depending on the spread but should line up with the grid. Elizabeth Wattley and Black young professionals at the Forest Theater (Photo by: Elshaday Aredo) 48



As noted earlier, there is evidence of changes like land prices, shifts in schools, and Black Flight within the community. In addition to these noticeable changes, there is also a shift in mindset among Black young professionals which could be contributing to intergenerational tension. Throughout our interviews, we heard that community elders focus on the struggle of the community and cultural roots in Africa. In contrast, we heard Black young professionals are more open, embracing of their diverse cultures, and more interested in self-investment through ideas and ventures that are “for the culture,

by the culture.” Black young professionals are also mindful of the narrative of both the historically Black geographic neighborhoods like 75215 and the larger Black community of Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex as a whole. Furthermore, they want to play an active role in changing the narrative, while still respecting history. The Forest Theater has an opportunity to meet the demand created by this shift in mindset by catering to and meeting the needs of an untapped demographic, Black young professionals (ages 20-39). The existing organizations and businesses in the area currently do not engage this demographic, but based on our research there are many potential economic benefits of this focus. Relationally, we believe Black young professionals have the unique power to bridge elders’ desire for successors as well as serving youth as mentors and inspiration.

View from upstairs of Forest Theater of downtown Dallas and local liquor store. (Photo by: Ginnie Roark)




There are myriad services offered in the 75215 neighborhood including access to basic needs, summer youth programs, and Black-centric arts. The heart of being complementary not competitive requires being aware of existing programmatic offerings in order to prevent replicating existing work. While we found there was room for improvement in regards to collaboration between existing organizations, we noted the unique way institutions work in partnership with members of the


community. Organizations like Cornerstone, St. Philip’s, TBAAL, and SDCC seek existing assets (people and organizations) in the community and give them a platform and investment. This empowers neighboring organizations to avoid reinventing the wheel for programming and content. To become complementary rather than competitive, the Forest Theater has an opportunity to amplify existing assets in the neighborhood by operating through a partnership model.

Left: Pastor Simmons gets coffee at the pop-up (Photo by: Elshaday Aredo) & Right: Artifacts at TBAAL (Photo by: Ginnie Roark)



Our research uncovered that Black young professionals live and work across the Metroplex through a series of interviews and the digital survey of Black young professionals. What they lack is connection. The social gathering space requested in many of our interviews led us to the work of sociologist Eric Klinenberg and social infrastructure. As previously noted, social infrastructure is “a set of physical places and organizations that shape the way people interact.”

Given the central location of the Forest Theater and the Black community’s strong sense of pride when it comes to South Dallas and the theater, the Forest Theater has a unique opportunity to serve as a central hub of social infrastructure for the broader Black community.

Community members and Elizabeth connect and grab coffee at the pop-up (Photos by Elshaday Aredo)


Professionals work at the pop-up cafe (Photo by: Elshaday Aredo)


Within the ideation phase, after creating insights, we generated ideas that could be tested. These ideas are referred to as design principles. They guide the prototype and can be thought of as hunches or hypotheses; they are tested in order to understand what works in the context of the project and what could be helpful to the client in the implementation phase. A prototype is a test that allows you to collect a large amount of information quickly about how people might respond to or interact with an idea. From our research, we wanted to test a flexible space, various methods of communication, and Black young professionals’ engagement. Secondly, given the extensive assets of South Dallas, it was important for us to test something that was not duplicative to local businesses and utilized existing models rather than starting from scratch. Finally, we wanted to understand if people would travel to the Forest Theater and whether these people would demographically reflect the neighborhood. All of these goals, insights, and guidelines led us to the idea of hosting a popup cafe. The cafe allowed us to test an early morning space that was a unique business model to the neighborhood, test different forms of 53

FOREST THEATER CULTURE communication, and allowed us to work with existing models. In order to amplify existing assets we worked with two organizations that could literally bring their business model to the space: Union Coffee and The Better Block Foundation. Union Coffee has a food truck, which allowed us to avoid restrictions of working with an incomplete building. Better Block Foundation has easy to move furniture designed for outdoor use.


“Better Block Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that educates, equips, and empowers communities and their leaders to reshape and reactivate built environments to promote the growth of healthy and vibrant neighborhoods.” Among their priorities is supporting “rapid prototyping in the service of creative placemaking and support of public life.”53


“Union cultivates the divine spark in our neighbors for the good of the city and the world it inspires through outstanding coffee, robust community and engaging causes.” Local to Dallas, Union currently owns and operates a full-service coffee and food truck. Better Block furniture and the Union Coffee Truck (Photo by: Elshaday Aredo)


We were open from 7:00 am - 11:00 am on April 11th and 12th, a Thursday and Friday. Our pop-up coincided with great weather and STAAR testing (the Texas high-stakes assessment for students in 3rd-12th grade), which we thought may attract more teachers. Over the two days, we had more than 100 guests and grew our turn-out over the two days to nearly 70 guests despite much colder weather. The cafe was a significant success at a high-level. We also saw even more strategic wins in terms of partnering with existing organizations and in how people utilized the space, based on the intentional planning prior to the pop-up. To test generational differences in communication and ways to engage young professionals, we tested three communication strategies. Given how we saw Cornerstone Baptist Church play a role in connecting people to events, our analog communication strategies included an announcement at a Sunday service. Through immersion, we saw a prevalence of flyers throughout the community. Therefore, we distributed flyers in local businesses, every teacher mailbox in nearby schools, and public spaces like libraries and city offices. In all, we distributed over 700 flyers.

Prototype The second communication strategy we tested was a digital communication approach. People already posted and tagged the Forest Theater on Instagram, and Instagram was used by other Black young professional communities like Urban League. We launched a digital campaign that focused on sharing information about the theater, artifacts, artists in South Dallas, and information about the pop-up. Our direct engagement with those who had previously tagged the theater and strategic posts resulted in 80 new followers in just under one week.

Guest Motivation for Turnout

Even though both of these methods were successful, when we surveyed participants in the pop-up, most people came because they drove past the site or because someone at the pop-up told them about it. Combined, being present at the theater and word of mouth communication drove 60% of participants.

Clockwise from top: Motivation for turn-out (made using, Forest Theater Instagram Grid (curated by: Ginnie Roark), Flyers in the community (Photo by: Kiran Lakhian), team members advertise the pop-up (Photo by: Elshaday Aledo)



The second thing we tested was engaging participants in a Black-centric, South Dallas space through Elizabeth’s idea to use “Forest Theater Culture” as a nod to For The Culture, a phrase used to describe Black culture. We asked participants to write out ideas of what they hoped the theater would become by completing the sentence stem “For The ____.” What we saw was that people were excited to share their ideas for the theater, contribute thoughts, and ties to the physical place were significant. Over 60% came because they had ties to the theater. More than two dozen participants created a “For The ___” statement, where they shared ideas echoed in other places about a desire for entertainment, spaces to gather, and a way to preserve the history of the community for future generations. Several others shared their own reflections about being in the space in person and through Instagram. Finally, to bring all the pieces together, we chose to prototype a cafe specifically because cafes are flexible spaces for the people who use them. Though patrons often purchase food and drinks, it is common for people to use cafes for a variety of reasons.


What we found is that people absolutely used the cafe flexibly. We had young professionals on the way to work, teachers grabbing coffee mid-morning, city workers on service routes, homeless residents stopped to sit for a while, and people came and met with each other. On our second day, we collected detailed data about how the nearly 70 visitors spent their time. By the numbers, we saw that the average person stayed for just under 20 minutes, much longer than was required to actually get a cup of coffee. Our longest staying guest was with us for 99 minutes, there was incredible variation in how long people were staying. Beyond space usage, because we were especially concerned about the sustainability of any model and the theater as a whole, it’s important to note that the pop-up did generate sales. Notably, we grew sales over the two days and people spent money on a variety of products, from cups of black coffee to more significant purchases like the breakfast combo of sandwich and coffee or prepared espresso beverages. Mike Baughman, the Community Curator and Founding Pastor for Union, shared

Prototype that this placement was more profitable than other locations the truck has visited like Thanksgiving Square or Dallas High School, both located in the business districts of downtown Dallas. In addition to the success of the prototype, data collected from Black young professionals in DallasFort Worth gives an even more optimistic outlook of sustainability. Of the Black young professionals we surveyed (over 30 respondents), they were willing to spend an average of $50 on a night out. Finally, given our desire for the model to maintain a Black-centric focus, we were interested in the demographics of participants. Overall, the population largely reflected the neighborhood. Participants were over 75% Black compared to the neighborhood’s 78%, and white participants had ties to the neighborhood like working at a local non-profit or school. From all of this, we learned incredible things. Most importantly, we learned three key lessons that could inform the future of the Forest Theater. Clockwise from left: Elizabeth reads “for the __” statements, team interviews participant, local artist shares experience with theater, community stops by mid-morning (Photos by: Elshaday Aledo)




Prototype Prototype Participant: Jason Brown We met Jason Brown, a 75215 resident and a developer, on the first day of the prototype. Jason openly told us he hadn’t hear about the pop-up and, “...was a little frustrated. How are you supposed to get buy-in from the community if they don’t know? I’ve got neighbors in the community and I know they don’t know. ”54 What followed was a series of texts and group messages on the Next Door app, to inform additional neighborhood members about the pop-up. He then grabbed coffee and remained at the space, chatting with local community members and other developers for over 90 minutes. On day two, among the earliest customers were Jason’s wife and his neighbor.

This series of conversations represented a pattern we noticed in conversations with other prototype participants about existing investment in the theater itself as well as how another developers might think about balancing the potential of the space and desires of the community.

Clockwise from left: Jason talks with Feleceia Benton, Jason admires views from the upstairs of the Forest Theater, Jason and Scottie talk to WFAA reporter (Photos by: Elshaday Aredo)

Given Jason’s engagement at the pop-up, we had a follow-up conversation with him to learn more about him and his experience with the prototype. Jason is a managing partner of a local development firm was already familiar with the plans for the Forest Theater before he talked to our team. Through active engagement with TREC, community meetings, and community emails from Ken Smith;55 he stays abreast of events in the community. This active engagement was one of the primary reasons he stopped by the cafe, stating “you were doing something in my hood. I wanted to know who you were.” He named the lack of cafes “on our side of the track” was a pain point. He also noted the importance of recruiting a local “homegrown” business to meet this need rather than a national chain, because a “national chain makes it like every other suburb in America.” 59

View of the marquis from workspace at the pop-up (Photo by: Ginnie Roark)


The aforementioned insights, design principles, and learnings are all critical in creating tangible solutions at the intersection of desirability based on the demand, viability of the business model, and feasibility given the resources required to be successful. The following proposed solutions are a direct result of the lessons learned from our prototype.

FOCUS ON UNMET NEEDS Target Black Young Professionals Given the dual benefit of tapping into this demographic, there is an opportunity to partner with organizations like Urban League to create programming and content that will draw Black young professionals to the Forest Theater. One of the ideas we heard from interviews was hosting a workshop on creating wealth or a networking happy hour. Early Operating Hours The community needs a physical space that could provide services during early morning hours. By opening its doors early in the morning, the Forest Theater can capitalize on its current location at the center of Martin Luther King Boulevard to grab incoming traffic from local 61




By focusing on unmet needs — a cafe, a place open before 10 AM, a flexible space — we were able to engage partners, which is key in collaboration and the long-term sustainability of the Forest Theater.


2 3 62

People want and use social infrastructure. They’re invested in places to gather, to use for events, to host work gatherings. Because the cafe was flexible, people came and stayed for a variety of reasons. Additional flexibility can ensure profitability and sustainability over time.

VISIBILITY DRIVES ENGAGEMENT Visibility is key. People want amazing things for the Forest Theater and are eager to be a part of it. That natural curiosity and investment is an easy entry point for engagement.

Future Recommendations schools, people commuting to work, and early-rising community members. Youth Technical Art Training Programs In inventorying all existing art programs, our team identified a gap for technical arts training for youth. In an increasingly digital world, it is imperative to merge artistic training with digital and technical knowledge. The Forest Theater could meet this need by training youth on technical skills like projection design, audio engineering, editing, or digital rendering.40

FLEXIBILITY FOSTERS SUSTAINABILITY Partnership with Existing Businesses The prototype cafe was created in partnership with two organizations. The willingness of both organizations to work with us and the success of the cafe sales, are an indicator of the viability of such a partnership. Furthermore, by partnering with existing successful businesses, the Forest Theater can benefit from other businesses established customer bases. For example, a few of our customers drove to visit because they were patrons of Union Coffee.

VISIBILITY DRIVES ENGAGEMENT Engagement with the Physical Space In addition to the chalkboard in front, the Forest Theater could hang up signs with a rendering of the Forest Theater plans. The community is eager to see and better understand the new development. The theater can also continue hosting informal and recurring events like the pop-up cafe and an outdoor movie night or music. This would allow the community to continuously engage with the theater long before the construction is complete. Engagement Digitally “For The ___� is a potential low-touch Instagram campaign that can continue running to engage the neighborhood and the Black young professionals. From left: Community members enjoying the pop-up alone and with colleagues, a team member advertises, Forest Theater Instagram (Photos by: Elshaday Aredo)

Event Center An event center is inherently flexible as it fluctuates based on needs of users. The Forest Theater has the opportunity to provide an event space to engage local artists. As with the business partnership, local artist also bring along an established following without the added cost of marketing.



Historic sign of Forest Theater (Photo by: Elshaday Aredo)


Future Recommendations


The Forest Theater has a unique opportunity to be a catalyst for revitalization in a neighborhood undergoing many changes. The complexities involved in tackling a social impact project, such as this one, are challenging to say the least; but by maintaining a focus on the people who we were designing for, we were inspired to learn as much as we could and translate our learnings into tangible recommendations that could inform the design and potential use of the future Forest Theater. Imagine the Forest Theater embraced by its community, creating economic opportunities for the neighborhood, bringing together people from all over the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to celebrate Black culture, inspiring youth, supporting a network of Black young professionals, memorializing and celebrating the rich history of South Dallas. Imagine a Forest Theater that is never again forced to close its doors.

Main Entrance of Forest Theater, temporarily boarded up (Photo by: Elshaday Aredo)



Top: Team at the Pop-up (Photo by: Elshaday Aredo) Bottom: Team at final presentation at the Forest Theater (Photo by: Devon Skerritt)


Kiran Lakhian

Kiran is a senior MADI student graduating in May 2019. She holds a BA in Human Biology from Stanford University. Upon graduation, Kiran hopes to use the power of Human-Centered Design to innovate and re-design the healthcare system and work to mitigate health inequities, both locally and globally. Outside of the classroom, Kiran played college basketball for Stanford and SMU and enjoys using basketball as a tool to empower and inspire the youth.

Ginnie Roark

Ginnie began her career in education, first as a special education teacher and then in strategy and design. Her career focus has been on learning experience design for adult learners, and she is currently the Managing Director of Teacher Leadership Development for Teach For America where she is responsible for managing the design and implementation of training for 250 teachers across DFW. She also holds a BA in International Studies from Baylor University and an MA in Special Education from Arizona State University.

Cole Suttle

A philosopher in the Luxury Hospitality Industry for the past 9 years, Cole joined the MADI Program from The Ritz-Carlton to expand his design thinking skill sets and develop his metaphysics of customer engagement. An avid reader, Cole is also the founder of the “Helping Friendly Foundation� to help elevate the public conversation and connect people through books in convivial ways.

Keya Tollossa

Keya is a senior MADI student graduating in May 2019. She holds a BBA degree from Cox School of Business for Business Management with a focus in Entrepreneurship. She is part methodical and part serendipitous as evidenced by her ever changing Myers Briggs test from J to P and P to J. Her hobbies include making friends out of strangers, studying and observing human behavior, and storytelling. Her favorite color is yellow.


1 Schutze, Jim. The Accommodation: The Politics of Race in an American City. Secaucus, N.J: Citadel Press, 1986. 2 “75215 Zipcode Statistics.”


3 Ken Smith. Interviewed by Ginnie Roark, TREC Event, February 2, 2019. 4 Schutze. The Accommodation. 5 Hacker, Holly, and Tawnell Hobbs. “’Black Flight’ Changing the Makeup of Dallas Schools.” Dallas News. June 09, 2010. https://www.dallasnews. com/news/education/2010/06/09/black-flight_changing-the-makeup-ofdallas-schools. 6 Martin, Michel. Dallas Schools See Black Flight. Anonymous National Public Radio, Tell Me More. (Radio). 7 Dallas ISD School Report Cards. 8 Loury, Glenn C., and Linda Datcher Loury. “Not by Bread Alone: The Role of the African-American Church in Inner-city Development.” Brookings. July 28, 2016. Accessed May 04, 2019. articles/not-by-bread-alone-the-role-of-the-african-american-churchin-inner-city-development/. 9 Chiquillo, Julieta, and Vernon Bryant. “A Mile on MLK.” Why the Boulevard Isn’t Just Another Example of South Dallas’ Decline. April 03, 2018. Accessed May 04, 2019. mlk-blvd/. 10 Media, and David Masci. “5 Facts about Blacks and Religion in America.” Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 2018. 11 St. Philip’s School and Community Center - Dallas, Texas (TX) Independent Elementary School.” St. Philip’s School and Community Center - Dallas, Texas (TX) - Independent Elementary School. Accessed May 04, 2019. 12 “About Us.” Cornerstone Baptist Church: Who We Are. Accessed May 04, 2019. 13 “About Us.” CitySquare. 14 Fernandez, Demond. “Citysquare Buys South Dallas’ Forest Theater.” WFAA. May 13, 2017. 15 “Can Citysquare Turn South Dallas’ Forest Theater into a Vibrant City Center Again?” Dallas News. May 12, 2017. https://www.dallasnews. com/news/southern-dallas/2017/05/12/south-dallas-iconic-foresttheater-restored-help-address-poverty.

Endnotes 16 Elizabeth Wattley, Strategic Director Forest Theater. Interviewed by SMU MADI Spring 2019 Students at Forest Theater. January 31, 2019. 17 “Gentrification.” Merriam-Webster. 18 Kansas City Star Editorial Board. “New Plan Would Invest $10 Million in 18th & Vine District. But Where’s the Citizen Input?” Kansascity. October 10, 2018. article219750685.html. 19 “About us.” Alice Cooper Teen Rock Center. 20 Florida, Richard. “Why ‘Social Infrastructure’ Is the Key to Renewing Civil Society.” CityLab. September 11, 2018. 21 Klinenberg, Eric. Palaces for the People. New York: Crown Publishing, 2018. 22 “Generational Differences among African Americans in Their Perceptions of Economic Opportunity.” The Kinder Institute for Urban Research. July, 4, 2018. 23 Cose, Ellis. “The Black Generation Gap.” The Root. January 12, 2017. 24 The Field Guide to Human-centered Design. San Francisco, Calif: IDEO, 2015. 25 Burnett, William (Consulting professor of design), and David J. 1953- Evans. Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-lived, Joyful Life. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. 26 Schutze, Jim. “Shocked, Shocked to Find Segregation Going on in Dallas, of All Places!” Dallas Observer. December 14, 2018. 27 Chipchase, Jan. The Field Study Handbook. San Francisco: Field Institute, 2017. pg. 265 28 Chipchase. The Field Study Handbook. pg. 53 29 TREC Staff. “Forest Theater Project Named Inaugural Dallas Catalyst Project Recipient”. TREC Wire. November 30, 2017. 30 “For the Culture”. Digital Survey. 31 Dallas Innovates and Nicholas Sakelaris. TREC Commits $1M to Revive Forest Theater, MLK Blvd » Dallas Innovates. Dallas Innovates. 2017. 32 Vicki Meek, Former SDCC Director. Interviewed by Cole Suttle and Keya Tollossa at The Heights, Dallas, TX. February 16, 2019. 33 Marilyn Clark. Interviewed by Ginnie Roark and Kiran Lakihan at SDCC, Dallas, TX. March 8, 2019 34 Donald Wesson. Interviewed by Cole Suttle and Keya Tollossa at MLK Library, Dallas TX. March 8, 2019 69

35 Brittany Russell. Interviewed by Ginnie Roark and Keya Tollossa at Perot Museum. March 23, 2019. 36 Feleceia Benton, DeStoto Marketing Director. Interviewed by Ginnie Roark and Keya Tollossa at Davis Street Espresso. March 29, 2019. 37 Chipchase, Jan. The Field Study Handbook. San Francisco: Field Institute, 2017. pg. 375 38 Kolko, Jon, and Beth Johnson. Exposing the Magic of Design: A Practitioners Guide to the Methods and Theory of Synthesis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. 39 Chipchase, Jan. The Field Study Handbook. San Francisco: Field Institute, 2017. pg. 376 40 Lawler, Mike. “New Stage Technology Changes the Game Behind the Scenes, and in the Classroom.” AMERICAN THEATRE. January 05, 2017. 41 “Forest Theater.” Dallas Jewish Historical Society. 42 Simek, Peter. “Reclaiming the Forest Theater.” D Magazine. October 2017. publications/d-magazine/2017/october/forest-theater-south-dallas/. 43 Bosse, Paula. South Central Expressway Under Construction — 1955. Flashback : Dallas. 2016. 44 Lewis, Don. “Forest Theatre.” Cinema Treasures. 45 “South Dallas Pop | KERA Specials.” KERA Video. July 9, 2009. 46 Wilonsky, Robert. “Erykah Badu’s Out of the Black Forest, But the Theater’s Owners Swear a Rebirth by Summer.” Dallas Observer. January 4, 2009. 47 TREC Staff. “Forest Theater Project Named Inaugural Dallas Catalyst Project Recipient.” The Real Estate Council. November 30, 2017. 48 “About Us.” The Black Academy of Arts and Letters. 49 “About Us.” African American Museum of Dallas - Official Site. Accessed May 04, 2019. http://www. 50 “South Dallas Cultural Center.” South Dallas Cultural Center. 51 “The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music.” 2017 Year in Review. default/files/uploads/MusiciansVillageAnnualFinal.pdf. 52 The Field Guide to Human-centered Design. San Francisco, Calif: IDEO, 2015. 53 “About us.” Better Block Foundation. 54 Jason Brown, Developer. Interviewed by Keya Tollossa at Forest Theater Pop-up Cafe, April 11, 2019. 70

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The Hidden History of Tulsa OK. (Black Wall Street) 1921. Youtube. Directed by InformationisKey. 2017. https:// Joshua Rashaad McFadden. “A Better Place to be Black? These Georgia Counties Excel in Community Health.” Accessed Feb 3, 2019. Kotkin, Joel. “The Cities Where African-Americans Are Doing The Best Economically 2018.” Forbes. January 15, 2018. “Marilyn Clark Named Education & Outreach Coordinator for South Dallas Cultural Center.” https://www. Meek, Vicki. “South Dallas Cultural Center Reborn | SoulOfAmerica | Dallas.” Soul Of America. https://www. Meek, Vicki. “TheaterJones | Into the Forest.” July 26, 2017. ntx/features/20170628143353/2017-07-26/Into-the-Forest. Nicholson, Eric. “In Dallas, White Flight Never Ends;” Dallas Observer, May 3, 2016a. https://www. ———. “Mapping Race, Poverty and a Half Century of Change in Dallas.” Dallas Observer. April 02, 2016. https:// Palaces for the People. Mars, Roman and Eric Klinenberg. 2019. 99% Invisible. (Podcast). Parmar, Neil. “6 Stunning Art Projects That Are Making Cities Healthier.” NationSwell. July 06, 2018. http:// “The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. Perry, Andre M. Recognizing Majority-Black Cities, when their Existence is being Questioned. Brookings. 2017. Pickens, Josie. “Black Wall Street and the Destruction of an Institution.” Ebony Magazine, May 31, 2013. https:// XQX7kjv1Y9xQ_X6lFo82pEF3jyXgcM-AJRTg. Price-Mitchell, Marilyn. Storytelling is a Conduit for Intergenerational Learning, 2016. https://www. Revitalize South Dallas Coalition. “Revitalize South Dallas Coalition.” Stone, Rachel. Arts Mission Oak Cliff Story East Dallas’ Lotts are the Patron Saints of Arts in Oak Cliff. Lakewood/East Dallas. 2017. “Roots of Justice.” 72

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Profile for keyatollossa

Forest Theater Culture  

How might we make the Forest Theater a sustainable asset to the 75215 neighborhood and to the larger Black community in the Dallas-Fort Wort...

Forest Theater Culture  

How might we make the Forest Theater a sustainable asset to the 75215 neighborhood and to the larger Black community in the Dallas-Fort Wort...