When Josh Hailey temporarily moved a studio and his non-profit, heARTalot, into the former Castle House Antiques last month, he noticed something.
It seemed to him that the row of buildings that line the west side of State Street — commonly known as The Strip — had a visibility issue.
So he created a Facebook event, West Side Fondren is Amazing, to give recognition to a diverse array of tenants who call The Strip home.
This, Hailey says, is a part of heARTalot: to build community and go talk to and cooperate with your neighbors. “I took it upon myself because I didn’t know,” he explains. I said, ‘If ya’ll don’t mind, I’ll run a promo, I’ll put links up.'”
Hailey, who once lived and worked in what some see as the hub of the neighborhood, Fondren Corner, says he didn’t frequent the businesses in The Strip before. “And that’s sad,” he regrets. “I didn’t know how awesome these people were (until now).”
Hailey says his neighbors, SE Lock and Key, changed his locks, Seabrook has donated paint and Cindy at Wells Cleaners is washing his clothes. Hailey’s girlfriend, Brittany Schall, an artist and partner in heARTalot, will be having a show at the Patterson Blaylock studio. “It’s super diverse and everything’s so different. I love that.”
Dreamworks filmed parts of The Help in Fondren in 2010 and The Strip got a much-needed facade improvement. “That helped,” he says, noting the recent interest for the nostalgic set of buildings, some dating back to 1939.
But it’s another movie, once cartoon, that Hailey cites when explaining how Fondren works: “It’s like a Transformer,” he says, dangling his appendages for effect. “(The Strip) is an arm, Rainbow is an arm, Fondren Village is an arm, Duling is. One arm, two, three, four, center hub, leadership: you’ve got a community that just works so well and supports each other.”
Over the last couple of years, in his travels with his storytelling project, Photamerica, Hailey says he’s figured out what’s wrong with the country. “There’s not enough communication or cooperation,” he posits. “To build a bigger and better whole, we have to start with our neighbors. Things have changed. Let’s restructure, reorganize and commit to helping each other.”