Up Close: Ethan Dangerwing, the Arts Garage’s Director of Dopeness

Ethan Dangerwing (Photo by Aaron Bristol)

Inside a photographer’s journey from a fraught road trip to Arts Garage’s director of “dopeness”

In 2015, after about 10 years working a colorless corporate job, Ethan Dangerwing had an epiphany. “Something hit me,” he recalls. “I was like, let me see the world.”

So the Delray Beach resident quit his job and bought a Ford conversion van, which he adapted into a camper. With $20,000 saved up between them, he and his girlfriend embarked on a yearlong cross-country road trip.

Dangerwing is a fine-art photographer, and the goal for the trip was to shoot a model in every state. It didn’t quite work out that way, and the couple encountered “hiccups” along the route. Dangerwing was cousin to the late Corey Jones, whose fatal shooting—which Dangerwing is still processing—occurred during his journey, prompting a flight back to Florida for the funeral.

Then there was the time in Flagstaff, Arizona, when one of the camper’s tires, following a shoddy repair job, burst into flames on a mountain road. The conflagration quickly spread to the rest of the van. As he scrambled out the door, his first thought was to grab his backpack, which contained his laptop and camera. His second thought?

“As my van is engulfed in flames and exploding, I’m like, ‘This is cool shit,’” he recalls, pantomiming a clicking camera with his hands. “I do a have a photograph of that.”

Dangerwing and his now-fiancée eventually completed the trip—with $10,000 to spare. “The main place we slept was Walmart parking lots,” he says, adding that “van life,” which has become a way of life, and even a career, for some industrious hash-taggers, wasn’t always as charmed as it sounds. “I was posting pictures the whole time; people were like, ‘your life’s so awesome, I wish I could be there.’ A lot of times I’m sitting in a Walmart parking lot, behind the steering wheel, wishing I had a friend’s house to go to, or a couch to chill.”

As for the resulting photographs, Dangerwing is hesitant to call his work “edgy,” but it’s certainly not safe for work. He shoots his models nude, and in sometimes-surreal positions—levitating vulnerably in a cloud of mist; rising phoenix-like from a forest pond; positioned as the Joker against a graffitied wall, with chalky face paint and stringy green hair.

“[Nudity is] the thing that inspired me the most,” says Dangerwing, 30. “Obviously it’s sexual, because we’re talking about a woman’s body. But I don’t see it that way when I’m shooting. I see it as a beautiful piece of art that I want to capture in a certain way. … Everyone has a body. And I like to shoot all kinds of bodies. I don’t understand why it’s a taboo thing.”

Arts Garage President and CEO Marjorie Waldo, who hired Dangerwing in 2016, agrees. “They’re real women, and they’re shown in ways that accentuate their beauty, their sexuality, their power. His shots don’t make the women appear submissive. They are free and expressive, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

Following his road trip, Dangerwing went looking for a job that would inspire his many creative pursuits. In addition to his photography, Dangerwing is an accomplished musician and rapper who, for years, fronted the local hip-hop band Hello Elevator.

Waldo had just taken over the reins at Arts Garage and was looking to staff up. A mutual friend recommended Dangerwing, whose credentials fit with Arts Garage’s goals to diversify.

“He’s young, he’s creative in so many ways, he’s passionate and driven and all the things I needed to help turn this around,” Waldo says. “He has been instrumental in creating the change we needed to create.”

Arts Garage’s talent bookings had always been eclectic, but they traditionally skewed older. By introducing four monthly programs—an All Arts Open Mic night, a Poetry Open Mic, a Jam Session and the Arts Meets Music gathering, where local crafters vend in the lobby while emerging bands perform in the theater—Dangerwing has brought in youthful audiences and more people of color. A quarterly program, Hip-Hop Revolution, brought in rappers, breakdancers and street artists into the Garage for the first time last year.

Though he was brought into the fold as a box office manager, Dangerwing has graduated to a more bespoke title: director of dopeness.

“The director of dopeness didn’t come from a way of coming up with a word that sounded catchy for millennials,” he says. “It’s how I live my life, and that’s what I was brought here to do—make the place dope!”

This story comes from the summer 2019 issue of Delray magazine. Read more stories like this in our archives.