Northeast Tarrant

How a nonprofit for the arts has breathed new life into a North Texas shopping center

Central Arts of Bedford is bringing art to Bedford one vacant store front at a time

Josh Santillan formed the nonprofit Central Arts of Bedford in a once-vacant shopping center. The art group offers classes, special events, concerts, and puts art pieces in vacant storefronts in effort to bring other businesses to the area.
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Josh Santillan formed the nonprofit Central Arts of Bedford in a once-vacant shopping center. The art group offers classes, special events, concerts, and puts art pieces in vacant storefronts in effort to bring other businesses to the area.

A once-vacant storefront next to a Dollar General is now a thriving hub of activity where children come for summer art camps and area film makers get to show their creations.

Josh Santillan and his friend Sergio Santos are expanding their nonprofit, Central Arts of Bedford, to south Hurst, an area targeted by the city for revitalization.

In April, they set up shop in a vacant space next to the Dollar General, and art is becoming the focal point at the Bellaire Shopping Center on East Pipeline Road. The center is also home to the Artisan Community Theater, which is also helping to rejuvenate the center.

“This (expanding in to Hurst) is a result of everything we did in Bedford. Hurst saw what we were doing and gave us a space to play in,” Santos said.

When Central Arts opened its doors, most of the Bedford Meadows center was vacant. Now, there is one empty storefront left, Santillan said.

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Josh Santillan, left, and Sergio Santos are the directors of Central Arts. Courtesy Central Arts

Hurst officials saw what was happening in Bedford, and found the space at the Bellaire shopping center, and offered it to Central Arts for five years.

Steve Bowden, Hurst’s executive director of economic development, said some of the funds to bring Central Arts to the city came from the hotel occupancy tax.

Bowden said the city created a task force, and residents took a survey about what they wanted to see in their city.

“We heard over and over from our businesses and citizens how important the Artisan Theater was and how art was also important, and the council followed through. This is money well spent; we support the arts in Hurst,” Bowden said.

Since opening its Hurst location in April, Central Arts has featured local artists in a show called The Best of HEB, and currently has a show called The Tale of Two Houses which features Shakespeare-inspired art.

Santillan and Santos wanted to teach children about painting and drawing,and they started the summer art camps. During the week around 40 children crowd into the storefront where they get a free, nutritious lunch before unleashing their creativity.

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Mohammed Sahil, a volunteer with the nonprofit Equal Hearts, stands in front of student work. Josh Santillan Courtesy

Central Arts is working with Equal Hearts, a nonprofit in Dallas which provides the lunches to the children and the Welman Project based in Fort Worth where they get materials for their classes.

Santos said the classes are $6 per day or $30 for the week. Parents heard about the summer camps on Facebook, and Santillan said he also recruited families who shopped at the Dollar General.

Children’s art camps are also offered at the Bedford location.

Santos recalled that when he was growing up in his Houston neighborhood, there wasn’t much to do during the summer. He signed up for a $5 art class and was hooked.

“Art shouldn’t be limited to someone’s financial ability to pay for it,” Santos said.

Santos said he “upcycles” materials and uses canvas people give along with recycled paper. “You don’t need much to make art; you need imagination, you don’t need much in materials.”

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With my guide dog Barbara, I keep tabs on growth, economic development and other issues in Northeast Tarrant cities and other communities near Fort Worth. I’ve been a reporter at the Star-Telegram for 34 years.
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