Culture / Entertainment

How Dallas Women Do It — Jencey Keeton is Changing the Game for Local Artists

The Sweet Tooth Hotel Co-Founder on Dallas Gems and Taking Risks

BY Susannah Hutcheson // 09.17.21

Jencey Keeton has always had a penchant for the creative world, from live music and art installations to digital marketing and everything in between. When she noticed that Dallas was missing a unique spot for artists to showcase and gather, she dreamed up Sweet Tooth Hotel, an immersive art venue dedicated to spotlighting unique creatives and giving Dallasites a place to experience local art.

Keeton caught up with PaperCity to talk about everything from the construction office that inspired Sweet Tooth Hotel to creating a space for artists to evolve, grow, and push boundaries.

 

What’s your Dallas-area coffee order?
Jencey Keeton: I love to go to Hatchways down in Victory Park. They make a really awesome matcha latte, and they’ll put cinnamon on it. So good.

What’s the best Dallas meal you’ve ever eaten?
To me, Dallas is dinner and breakfast. When I first moved to Dallas I started eating at All Good Cafe, and I think no one can beat their pancakes and eggs. The best dinner I’ve had was at Bullion — it’s absolutely amazing.

What is your favorite Dallas wellness spot?
I’m a ClassPasser and like to hop around, and I love Class Studios’ hot sculpt class. Jasmine’s classes are amazing, and so are Paige’s. They really connect the mind and body, so you not only get a good workout but feel really happy when you leave. I’ve also been on a Pilates kick, and really love BEYOND on Lovers.

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Guests check out the Sweet Tooth Hotel's "bathroom"
Assembling the Sweet Tooth Hotel’s original “bathroom” in 2018.

What is your favorite Dallas hidden gem?
I have a music background, and I feel like a lot of the spots I’ve really loved have been bulldozed by developers. People always talk about the tunnel going into Deep Ellum, and that was really one of my favorite spots in Dallas. People who were here in the early 2000s and the ’90s kinda remember going through that tunnel, there was a lot of art graffiti. I feel like that has really moved over to Fabrication Yard in Trinity Groves. For people who haven’t been over there, that’s a really cool spot you can go and see.

Trinity Groves commissions artists to paint murals, but if you go out there on any given day or weekend there’s a bunch of metal warehouses where you’ll find up-and-coming graffiti artists and seasoned muralists, all just kind of out there creating work on the buildings. A lot of the time they’ll paint over other work and collaborate, and that’s kind of an untouched spot. It’s always cool to see what’s going on over there.

How did you get involved in the creative space?
I went to school for business and fine arts so I really got into music, and had a lot of creative friends my entire life. For a lot of my career, I was working in events, working with creatives, and then got into digital marketing. I was at Fossil, and I started running their digital marketing and influencer programs. As a brand, we went into the first 29Rooms in Brooklyn and did pop-ups at South by Southwest with Refinery29, and I saw the very beginning of these experiential places who were really collaborating with artists and creatives.

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Sweet Tooth Hotel creator Jencey Keeton (photo by TA Visuals)

How did you start and grow Sweet Tooth Hotel?
I had transitioned from Fossil into a real estate company, and I noticed this crazy little space that this construction company was using for their office in Victory Park. I thought, wow — it would be so cool if we had one of these art pop-ups here. We know so many creatives. So my husband Cole and I talked about [what would eventually become] the concept for Sweet Tooth Hotel and who we would want to work with and showcase, and it was really this goal for us to create a platform for artists in Dallas.

On the art side, it wasn’t a world I knew as well, but I did know that a lot of our friends said it was really hard to get gallery shows here in Dallas and really hard to make a living, because a lot of the times people will bring artists from out of the city to do these big projects and big murals. The idea for Sweet Tooth Hotel came from that construction office, which had this wall with a rectangle in it that reminded me of a hotel check-in window, where you’d check in and get a key. We ended up building all of these rooms, but instead of hotel rooms you’re discovering all of these art installations. It really just took off, and Dallas was so hungry for something like this.

We really want to serve as an outlet for all creatives, so you’ll find models, cosplayers, videographers, photographers — we’ve really tried to work with every single medium, from fiber artists to new media. This is such a new experience, with this fusion of understanding social media and creative perspectives, and a lot of the time you have these things you want to do, but not the resources or the spaces. So, we ask these creatives, “what’s your big idea that you haven’t had the resources or space for? Let’s do it.” We try not to put a lot of rules on it, so people can have a true sense of expression. It’s been really fun to see it evolve.

Jencey Keeton, founder of Sweet Tooth Hotel, plays cat and mouse in Hannah Busekrus’ installation. (Photo by Timothy Alsbrooks)
Jencey Keeton, founder of Sweet Tooth Hotel, plays cat and mouse in Hannah Busekrus’ installation. (Photo by Timothy Alsbrooks)

How do you prioritize your own mental and physical health as a creative and start-up founder?
Jencey: Everybody really has to kind of find their own routine and what works for them, and I think for me it’s been a combination of routine and also surrounding myself with amazing people. Exercise and food have been something I’ve really been prioritizing.

My husband is an amazing collaborator and partner, and our Sweet Tooth Hotel team, too. Our core team has been there for three years, which is crazy. Everybody’s learned so many skills, and for me, I’m so appreciative, because we’ve all learned from one another. They know when I might be struggling or when I need help but I’m not asking for it — that’s been one thing that’s kind of changed everything.

What advice would you give to Dallas women who want to do something out-of-the-box?
Jencey: This is advice I heard when I was looking into jumping out of the corporate world, and I thought it couldn’t possibly be true (but it is): do the work that you want to be doing. Sometimes it might be hard for you to pursue that work because you need a day job or you need to make money a different way, but it’s finding the time to do that work.

Once you really commit yourself to producing and putting that into the world, it’s going to come back. That’s what people are going to ask for from you, and so whatever it is, just start working on it and putting it out there. Don’t wait for it to be perfect, because it’s never going to be perfect, and you’ll figure it out along the way.

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