The Dallas Observer 2011 MasterMind Awards

The winners of our second annual art awards delve into the past and personal loss to bring new visions to Dallas

Mostly forgotten, the spirit of La Reunion was revived in 2006 by founders Catherine Cuellar and 2010 MasterMind finalist Sarah Jane Semrad, who hoped to improve upon the original model of love, justice and art by enlisting sophisticated economic managers, such as interim Executive Director Catherine Horsey. A geologist, conservationist and financial ace, Horsey has a long record of nonprofit management and was even honored with an official "Catherine Horsey Day" in 2000 by former Mayor Ron Kirk for her contributions to the city. While Horsey does play left-handed mandolin and right-handed banjo, she considers her role at La Reunion to be that of regeneration, reinforcing La Reunion's vision from a practical, fiscally solid perspective. Today, La Reunion is an artists' residency in the making that aims to foster creative development both for the artists there and in the community at large while maintaining fiscal and ecological sustainability. It is a tall order, but if anyone can do it, Horsey can.

The past five years have seen great strides in realizing Cuellar and Semrad's vision of La Reunion's revival, though much of that time has been spent sorting out legal issues regarding ownership of the bucolic 35 acres that will someday be home to artists. The battle was recently resolved with the signing of a 50-year lease, and the community is finally ready to begin accumulating capital, some of which will restore a two-bedroom house and studio space and prepare them for residents. Horsey says this refurbishing will require very little money and, because the organization has already been successful with leveraging expenses for community programming — for instance, UNT recently paid for lunches for school children who were taking part in a workshop — she believes the biggest future expense La Reunion will face will be the artists' stipends.

Chosen by a jury, these artists will come from a variety of backgrounds and will work in diverse fields, from studio painting to dance or poetry. They will remain at La Reunion for a specified period of time, "whether two weeks or two years," based on individual needs and tailor-made residencies. As part of their contract, the artists in residency will take part in community programming, further enriching current projects such as Art Chicas, a 5-year-old program that allows female Dallas artists to mentor high-school girls. Horsey projects that La Reunion will be ready to host its first artists in residency next fall. She hopes for a mix of local artists and implants who can bring the city an outsider's perspective.

Sarah Jane Semrad and Catherine Horsey aim to create a new utopia at La Reunion.
Sarah Jane Semrad and Catherine Horsey aim to create a new utopia at La Reunion.

While La Reunion awaits the day when it can house artists, the organization has already begun cultivating the space with installations, some of which consist of ephemeral, decomposing eco-art. Horsey tells us of one exhibition in which the artist reworked thin pieces of lumber, sharpening the ends to a point and drilling a hole in the middle before inserting colored PVC pipe to create the effect of a multitude of massive colored pencils. The installation was interspersed around trails to greet visitors as they tour the property. Such large-scale, natural pieces are, in fact, one of the unique advantages of a private art haven — the land itself becomes a canvas. Predominantly black-land prairie and, according to Horsey, one of the most endangered eco-systems in North America, La Reunion contains rolling hills, old trees and springs that run all summer. Because of its vulnerable nature, La Reunion requests that all visitors call ahead for tours and be accompanied by members of the development staff to ensure preservation of the land as a historical treasure. If the land itself isn't culturally significant enough, it boasts one particularly fascinating permanent "installation," an iconic, 45-foot concrete trestle, a ghostly remnant from the Interurban Railway, now celebrated as a monument to "where we are," memorializing the pastoral life outside the city limits and untouched further by industrialization.

Until now, the bulk of La Reunion's capital has been spent to ensure the land's rightful ownership. As La Reunion moves to this next phase, Horsey, a consultant on resource-efficient buildings, says that a MasterMinds grant will make huge strides in rehabbing the property's house, and she believes there will be remaining funds to begin building future residents' stipends. Dedicated to the enrichment of both individual artists, the larger arts community and the city at large, La Reunion sits eagerly on the cusp of a new beginning.


Meet the artists and celebrate their work with food, fashion and music at Dallas Contemporary, 161 Glass St., 8 to 11 p.m. this Saturday.

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La Reunion. This is very interesting. When I was a boy we would play on the railroad tracks that are east of the property. I hope the City of Dallas builds the Chalk Hill Trail through there so that the folks on the South Side of the Trinity can have a place to enjoy bike rides and the outdoors.

Bill Holston
Bill Holston

great idea, great choices. La Reunion is really a special place, well worth checking out.