How an Oak Cliff pop-up shop became an asset to the Dallas arts community

The idea came from a weekend-long pop-up shop called Rock, Paper, Scissors that offered art classes to children, during the first Better Block in 2011.

It was so successful that Kayli House Cusick and Shannon Driscoll pooled $5,000 and opened a fulltime business of the same vein, Oil and Cotton.

The shop, which offers art, music and crafts classes, plus art supplies and gifts, is now 5 years old; its legacy as a shepherd of the arts continues to blossom.

It has a magnetic quality. Many early Oil and Cotton volunteers and students have returned as teachers and interns.

The first scholarship student, Madeline Dean, was a student at Rosemont Elementary School back then. Now she is a freshman at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

The shop’s first volunteer, Rachel Rushing, has since completed a master of fine arts degree and now teaches at Mountain View College as well as Oil and Cotton.

“It was amazing to see two women who were bosses in every sense of the word,” Rushing says. “And they’re so passionate.”

The shop gives art school students a place to land when they graduate. They may not make their rent by teaching workshops there, but it’s a place among like-minded people where they can take a moment to find the next step in their artistic careers.

That happened to Emily Riggert. As an undergraduate in 2011, she wandered into Oil and Cotton. Cusick needed an on-site babysitter for her daughter who was about 2 years old at the time, so that’s where Riggert started. Cusick and Driscoll encouraged her to teach toddler classes, always in high demand at O and C. She balked at first but then she got into it, co-writing curriculum with Cusick.

Riggert recently moved back to Dallas after finishing her degree in Austin. She took a job in the education department at the Crow Collection of Asian Art, and she also teaches toddler and kindergarten-first grade classes at Oil and Cotton.

Aside from that, Oil and Cotton presents art to the community in a way that is unpretentious and approachable.

When they had a workshop inside the Dallas Museum of Art a couple of years ago, every security guard came over to participate.

“Here they are constantly surrounded by all of this amazing art,” Cusick says. “But this caught their attention in a different way.”

The shop also offers classes once a month at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, the Latino Cultural Center and the Kessler School. They would like to expand that part of their business, offering workshops to schools, clubs and museums as well as birthday parties, corporate events and the like.

Oil and Cotton moved into a space next door to Davis Street Espresso near West Davis and Tyler this summer. The new space is nearly half the size of the old shop on Tyler at Seventh, but it is just right, they say.

Starting from the back door, tables and chairs graduate in size based on whom they serve: toddlers, 4 and 5 year olds, elementary age and then big kids and adults.

A music room with a piano and comfy sofa is between the classroom and the shop counter.

In the old space, they took advantage of an old-timey department store window to showcase art installations. Here, they’re using the front patio. That adds the challenge of creating public art that will stand up to the weather.

Oil and Cotton has never taken out a loan, and the owners still don’t have a business credit card.

“We live within our means,” Driscoll says.

Early on, they tried to pay themselves at least a little something. They had a landlord who let them do whatever they wanted to the space. They’ve adapted to demand, and they stay relevant by allowing volunteers, interns and employees to take a sense of ownership.

Cusick and Driscoll are still their own janitors. It’s all do-it-yourself, but after five years, they’ve hit a stride.

“We just took this little thing and kept it growing,” Cusick says. “Now we have payroll.”