Panels Provide Prescriptions, But Ultimately Is the Artist Responsible for Personal Health?

There were actually butts in the seats last night, which was exciting.
There were actually butts in the seats last night, which was exciting.

By Monica Hinman

Last night at the Dallas Museum of Art, KERA's Art and Seek kicked off their sixth season of State of the Arts, which brings together leaders in the local art world to engage in a dialogue about developments and trends in art and culture. Last night's panel included Fort Worth artist Devon Nowlin, Dallas painter Arthur Peña, and Dallas writer Darryl Ratcliff, moderated by KERA's Jeff Whittington. The artists on the panel were upbeat in their assessment of the opportunities they have found for producing art in the area, each sharing details of their studio and living arrangements and a few of their upcoming projects.

Whittington kicked off the discussion by asking the panelists what they would change about the Dallas arts, both Peña and Ratcliff revealed a bit about their philosophy. Ratcliff cites examples of other cities, such as Houston whose Art Alliance offers grants each year for art projects.

Ratcliff feels that Dallas should invest more dollars in its artists, so that they can live off of their creativity. He suggested providing funds for affordable housing and workspace, investing money in individual artistic projects,creating an "international residency program" to bring in curators from other cities who could promote Dallas artists.

In responding to the same question, Peña said that when money is involved there is always the question of who decides who gets the money, and throughout the evening Peña mentioned personal responsibility, artists getting their own support, hard work, and cites his mantra for producing a series of works which he calls "Attempts" as "no failure or success. Just do." The Dallas painter also offered another interesting prescriptive; suggesting that all art venues should overlay the visual arts with music pointing out the success of the DMA's jazz concerts.

Nowlin, the Fort Worth representative felt that the vibe in Dallas was different and that while she is committed to Fort Worth and feels that its institutions are strong, it lacks a little of the energy she sees in Dallas. She responded to the question of what needed change in her city by citing a need for critical conversation, stating there were 'no critical voices in Fort Worth' which resulted in art not getting the attention that would allow it to thrive. The other panelists chimed with side notes regarding the importance of critical voices to boost the arts. Peña feels that criticism could be useful if it were to bring attention to what is happening in the local art community as relates to other cities, while Ratcliff again pointed to money as the big issue, saying that the lack of compensation is why there are so few critical voices.

While these prescriptions for improving the arts in the Dallas/ Fort Worth metroplex are useful, it is difficult to prescribe the correct medication when you have only a partial diagnosis. An audience member described one symptom missed by the panel; a middle-aged woman wondered how she would hear about art events in Dallas such as those at Peña's Ware:wolf:haus, which he was forced to close due to nominal expenses.

He responded that she wouldn't have, by design. Why not? When Peña was initially asked about working in Dallas, he explained that his return to his hometown coincided with a "redefinition of the underground arts scene'. Is it his intention to keep a segment of the arts scene hidden from a certain demographic?

Walking away from the Thursday night's panel, one has to question the value of keeping elements of the art world an insider's club, with no interest in allowing access to a wider audience (are we edging out about people over 40? Or people with more conservative values?). Don't we want to make the arts more accessible? Are artists only producing art for other members of their elite circle?

Therin lies the diagnosis: Artist heal thyself.

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