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Gossypion Investments Wants to Build More Diverse Art Communities

Installation view of "Shifting the Gaze," in Dallas, 2020. Courtesy of Headington Companies.

For many, launching a company—especially one that deals in the arts—during a pandemic might sound like a bad idea. The Dallas-based co-founders of Gossypion Investments, artist and poet Darryl Ratcliff and Maya Crawford, an artist and advocate with a background in project management and database administration, would argue otherwise. When your company's main goal is to disrupt the cultural ecosystem, a period of historic disruption seems like as fitting a time as any.

Gossypion ("Gossy" for short) is the Latin word for cotton, which is "a nod to both of our shared heritage of being descendants of slaves from the South," said Ratcliff. The company is intent on improving the lives of artists, culture makers, and communities through consulting and curatorial advising, real estate, artist management, and PR and branding. Gossy wants to make the art world more inclusive and equitable through its commerce-driven approach.

Portrait of Maya Crawford and Darryl Ratcliff at The Other Art Fair, Dallas, 2019. Courtesy of Gossypion Investments.

Though it might not get the recognition New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago do, the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area is a major player in the art world. Not only is it home to the largest contiguous arts district in the United States, but the gallery scene, world-class museums, and Dallas Arts Fair have brought in an international assortment of art, artists, and collectors. Like in many art communities, DFW's art institutions have not always focused on diversity, whether through representing diverse artists or providing exhibitions and programming for the city's diverse communities. For instance, it was only in 2019 that the Dallas Museum of Art appointed its first curator of Latin American Art—which is surprising considering the city's population is 40 percent Latino.

In the past few years, local artists like David-Jeremiah and Molly Sydnor, cultural instructors and leaders like Morgana Wilborn and Sanderia Faye, small art spaces like WAAS Gallery and Ash Studios, and various groups like the Muse Collective and De Colores Collective have led initiatives and discussions about diversity in the arts. This has resulted in two distinct art worlds in the region: powerful art institutions and commercial entities; and smaller, socially-conscious art initiatives. Gossy seeks to meld the two, in Dallas and beyond.

The Gossy story began when Ratcliff and Crawford met at Ash Studios, a space Ratcliff opened with artist Fred Villanueva in South Dallas in 2012.

"I'm all about making Dallas a more livable place for artists," Crawford said. This sentiment, and Crawford's love for advocacy, sealed her friendship and business partnership with Ratcliff. For his part, he's long been an advocate in the Dallas arts community—as the owner of an art space, an arts writer, and through his leadership on projects like Creating Our Future, which he said has awarded grants to artists totaling over $3.2 million dollars.

In 2017, Ratcliff worked on a project called "Decolonize Dallas" with Michelada Think Tank, a group of artists focused on issues people of color face. Through this project, he realized: "We need our own money. We can't always ask the institution, ask the rich white person for their money to do the radical things that we want to do to reshape our world."

The idea that artists of color need their own money and equity led Ratcliff and Crawford to create Gossypion Investments.

"With Gossy, we wanted to try to address…how can we own the cultural ecosystem? We talk about equity, but very rarely does any Black or brown person own any of the venues, the publications, the actual infrastructure," said Ratcliff. "People of color, Black people have been innovators and excellent for hundreds of years—forever, but often haven't been able to own their content, own the structures in which it's presented."

Since launching in April, Gossy has grown quickly. With eight employees, it's now an international company with clients as far as Boston, New York, and Cairo, Ratcliff said, and plans to open a West Coast office in October. And just as their clients span many cities and cultural scenes, Gossy's work includes a startling range of activities.

For its curatorial advising and consulting initiatives, Gossy has projects in the works with Headington Companies, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and the City of Dallas's Parks Department. One of the most ambitious initiatives they've been involved with to date is a cultural consortium led by the Dallas Contemporary that also includes some of the biggest museums in DFW. Together, the consortium is organizing Resist COVID Take 6!, a public art project by launching August 17th.

The consulting aspect of Gossy's business has received a lot of interest from companies that are trying to be more mindful about diversity and inclusivity. Ratcliff said: "I think the [Black Lives Matter] cause and unrest is causing lots of people to reassess and re-evaluate what's important…how they want to move forward and show up in the world."

Gossy has seen this firsthand. "There's been a fair share of interest around the Black Lives Matter movement," Crawford said, "and people wanting to focus more on people of color and artists of color and integrate that into their current and ongoing programming."

Installation view of "Shifting the Gaze: Kayla Faye," Commerce Street Windows, Dallas, 2020. Courtesy of Headington Companies.

To help historically underserved communities achieve cultural ownership, Gossy has created GREG, or the Gossy Real Estate Group. The company will lead real estate development projects that allow Black and brown communities to invest directly in cultural offerings in their communities.

To explain how GREG will work in practice, Ratcliff and Crawford offered a hypothetical. When someone visits a bar to see a live music show, it might seem as though the owners of the bar are the ones to profit the most from hosting the live music event. Sure, they have to pay the musical artist, sound technician, and alcohol distributor, but to consumers, the bar owners are at the top of the profit chain. But most bars—or any other space that serves as a cultural venue—don't own the buildings in which they're located. They're paying tenants, and it's the owner of the building who has the true power.

GREG wants to own the building and the land, and they want to build the larger development in which the building is located. They want to offer local communities of color where their developments will be located a chance to own parts of them—because when you have equity, you have power.

"We spent quite a few months trying to figure out a strategic plan for allowing people who live within those communities, those lower-income communities, to invest in properties in their communities," said Crawford. Under GREG's plan, if the property increases in value and is eventually sold, the people who have enjoyed the benefits of cultural businesses in their community will be the same ones to financially profit from the sale.

In addition to building cultural spaces and helping local communities invest in those properties, GREG will seek to create affordable studios and gallery spaces in their developments. They'll also invite culturally-driven businesses to rent space in developments so that communities of color that may not have easy access to arts resources and facilities will have that all in one space. To top it off, Ratcliff and Crawford are researching housing models that could be integrated into the areas around such developments.

If GREG sounds very ambitious and slightly confusing, that's understandable. They're attempting something that has seldom been done by real estate developers before: helping communities of color access and gain ownership of cultural spaces, thus obtaining power and a voice in what's built in their communities—and what artistic stories are told about them.

View of Seasons & Rhythm / Estaciones y Ritmo, Sylvan-Interstate 30 underpass, Dallas, 2020. Photo by Raul Rodriguez. Courtesy of Gossypion Investments.

Gossy's artist management agency focuses primarily on representation in visual art, music, and performing arts (with plans to expand), and currently represents Ash Studios, the space Ratcliff and Villanueva founded; David-Jeremiah, a Black artist who addresses racism and police brutality through mixed media and performance art; , a Boston-based artist whose work straddles sports, social issues, and spirituality; and Marwa Benhalim, a Libyan-Egyptian artist who focuses on power, memory, and identity.

The group's management system operates on a financial model similar to a gallery's, with a commission system of sorts. "Gossy artist managers receive a percentage of the client's total income," Ratcliff said. "So if there is no income being generated, the manager and our company do not get paid."

In addition to setting up art shows and paid projects, Gossy hopes to demonstrate how necessary artists can be to business.

"We're really excited to be at the forefront of…pushing our clients on either side, whether they're artists or businesses—to really think about the unexpected ways they can work together," said Ratcliff. For instance, "if we're working on brand consulting and PR, we're working with artists to create that content whether it's visual images or music or poetry," Crawford explains.

Beyond the artists they formally represent, Gossy will be helping other cultural makers succeed via the GRACE (Gossy Reallocating Assets to Create Equity) Fund, which launched on Monday.

Artists of all disciplines can apply for a GRACE investment of $100 to $1,000 per project. Applications will be reviewed weekly, and Gossy will choose those who have specific and clear ideas, project timelines, and business plans. The fund aims to maximize returns on its investments, so prospective applicants should consider how their projects might turn a profit before they apply. Those who do receive funding will also benefit from some of Gossy's services to help get their projects off the ground.

If the deals and projects they're currently working on are any indication, Gossypion Investments stands to have a sizable impact on the cultural ecosystem in Dallas and beyond. Their success will mean artists and communities of color gain equity in the business of culture.

As Ratcliff said: "We're really interested in trying to build a new paradigm, and what I know, which I believe is historically true, is when you build it for Black people and when you build it for people of color, everyone else benefits."

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