Photo by Fredrik Broden
by Meaghen Stark
The contemporary art scene in Dallas is booming. Believe it or not, for many connoisseurs, Dallas is among the obligatory domestic art stops along with Miami, New York and Marfa, Texas. The city’s affluent residents, many of whom are big time collectors, have a significant expendable income for art purchases. The Dallas Biennial, amfAR’s Two X Two and the Dallas Art Fair garner attention from locals, celebrities and tourists. Add in world class museums like the Dallas Museum of Art, Nasher Sculpture Center and the Dallas Contemporary, and it’s easy to see why Dallas is a thriving arts destination.
Enter our Power Couple, Jason and Nancy Koen, strong supporters of the Dallas arts community, who are betting big on The Box Company, a warehouse turned multi-functional arts space in South Dallas.
The Koens are not your typical southern couple. They don’t watch football. They are not Republicans, nor are they religious. They are ‘early adopters’ by any marketer’s definition. Nancy wears little to no makeup — her snowy visage doesn’t need it. Jason has never owned an article of ‘seersucker’ clothing. Their boys, Jason, 13, and Zion, 15, both clever and stylish, look more like teen actors from a Judd Apatow family satire than schoolboys in central Dallas.
Their passion project The Box Company opened in October 2016, and is unique for myriad reasons. Firstly being its intersection of Jason’s family’s biography and the neighborhood’s history.
The Box Company was originally Murray Company’s bustling cotton depot during the 1930s, conveniently located behind the Santa Fe Railroad. After World War II, Jason’s grandfather, Gabriel Camacho, a famous or infamous (depending on who you ask) Mexican businessman opened the Camacho Box Company. From age 12 onwards, Jason spent afternoons working alongside his grandfather in the warehouse. When he wasn’t driving forklifts or delivery trucks, he was skateboarding in the building after hours.
Skateboarding turned out to be the catalyst for his future career in the arts. It was also via skateboarding that Jason would take his first entrepreneurial leap, partnering with fellow skater Danny Sandoval to open a retail skate shop called Chrome in Expo Park.
Though the skate shop eventually folded, it was here that he met Angstrom Gallery owner David Quadrini, who helped him land his first arts job with the prestigious Goss-Michael Foundation. His first foray into the contemporary art world would be followed by five years as one of the most in-demand Arts Services and Exhibition contractors in Dallas. (In layman’s terms this means he would handle the complete installation of art at museums and galleries.) Jason was specifically involved in the Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst exhibitions at Goss-Michael before working with area institutions such as the Dallas Contemporary and Dallas Museum of Art.
Meanwhile, The Camacho Box Company was forced to shut down in the late 90s. The family business could no longer compete with the likes of Georgia Pacific and International Paper Company. Jason’s parents tried unsuccessfully to find a use for the building, but our couple du jour saw beyond the ancient machinery camouflaged by 20 years of dust.
What they saw was the future of Dallas’ art landscape: 14,000+-square-feet of alternative space perfectly suited for exhibits and performances by artists and musicians. The location is also of note. South Dallas, a historically Jewish neighborhood, set between Cedars and Fair Park, had been neglected for decades until the Billy Earl Dade Middle School opened in 2013. The Koens believe The Box Company will bring even more value and interest to the area, part of the larger ongoing ‘restore and rebuild’ trend mobilizing Dallas’ forgotten neighborhoods.
I was curious as to how the couple, married for 6 years, ‘make it work,’ both running a business and raising a family together. My first thought is this pair is in fact two equally confident and discerning individuals.
“We support each other in every decision,” Jason says. “Nancy and I are both practical in our decision making process, and this makes it easier.”
When asked what traits he values most in his other half, Jason replies, “Nancy is loyal to a fault, extremely intelligent and pragmatic. She’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. She is the most giving and kind person I’ve ever encountered. She’s also perfect.” He laughs here, but is completely sincere. I believe every word, and why not? His adoration for her is palpable.
Nancy and I met fifteen years ago via mutual friends while both attending USM. We became fast friends thanks to our shared affinity for designer handbags and vintage fashion. Little did I know, Nancy’s mother, Mrs. Nancy Martin Guice, was a bona-fide style icon. Over the years, Mrs. Nancy had accumulated a closet full of exceptional vintage fashion, which she slowly gifted to her daughter over the years. It was pure fashion bliss to peruse the closets of her downtown Laurel home.
With a B.S. in Fashion Merchandising from USM, Nancy’s next stop was the ‘Big D.’ From there, she set off on a successful trajectory in fashion, leading sales and brand-building strategies for Valentino, James Perse and PUMA. In 2013, she co-founded B.Stellar, an insanely hip jewelry line, with designer Misty Incontrera — all this while receiving accolades for her sartorial ‘slaying,’ including being named Dallas Morning News’ Stylemaker and most recently CultureMap’s Dallas 2015 StyleMaker.
I asked Nancy what makes Jason both an ideal husband and business partner.
“Not only is he the sweetest, funniest and most handsome person on the planet, he’s a jack of all trades. There’s literally not one thing this guy can’t do,” She replies. “He amazes me every single day with his attention to detail and his persistence in carrying everything through to the end. Working together is a dream come true because I get to be with my very favorite person all the time.”
So far, The Box Company has hosted two well received shows. The inaugural show featured artist Francisco Moreno’s new scribble paintings, a favorite among Dallas art patrons, in the ‘larger box’ gallery.
“Francisco‘s paintings were exactly the vibe we wanted for our first show,” Nancy says.
Recent University of North Texas graduate and artist Paul Winker premiered his works in the ‘small box’ at the same time.
There is no shortage of creativity from Dallas’ robust local scene. The second show at The Box Company was part of the larger Dallas Biennial held last December. Local artists Teresa Margolles and Hermann Nitsch, both equally established and equally controversial showed new works. Up next is a collaborative effort with Barry Whistler Gallery and artist Luke Harnden opening this month.
I’m blessed to call the Koens close friends and eternal members of my tribe. This project is the realization of a power couple: two people with a shared love for contemporary art, the gall to fight Dallas City Hall and thousands of sweaty “family hours” (kids included) dedicated to the initial cleanup and renovation of The Box Company. Nancy, who wears couture just as easily as a pair of cut-off shorts, is quick to add, “I was sportin’ daisy dukes and a sports bra for the entirety of Summer ‘16.” You can take the girl out of Laurel…
To learn more about The Box Company, visit theboxco.co. To see Nancy’s jewelry line B.Stellar, head to bstellar.co.