The Problem with "Support Local"
Our city deserves more than cheerleaders.
"How does anyone even get to Dallas?"
It wasn't a question my friend was asking over dinner. It came across more like a statement. It doesn't feel transient here to me, but as I start to mentally take inventory of my social circle, I realize how many are from California, or Florida, or Nevada or Houston.
As someone who has dwelled in these North Texas plains for most of my time on earth, I forget that so many of you came for work or love or for a supposedly growing economy. The latter, especially, makes our city a unique melting pot of the very practical. Many of us are employees of companies who can afford to move staff across the country and wanderers who find reasonable rent appealing. Big fishes who hope to make splashes in our growing pond.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the cultural temperature of this city and those who make it up both because I have been given the opportunity to comment on it and because I am a near constant consumer of the music, the art, the party being produced at any given moment. But lately a new chant has been getting under my skin, and it's time to wrestle with it a bit.
I see it on posters, in hashtags and in social media bios glaring at me. Support Local. Support Local Music. Support Local something else or another thing that is local. Local. Local. Local. It feels so easy to accept that "local" is somehow inherently valuable. Why? Because there are no shipping charges? Valuable because it must be sourced from surrounding stimulus or because it may help define a city cursed with transience? But local isn't noble all on its own, not if it isn't also compelling.
Let me be clear: I am an admitted Dallas apologist. And if you aren't cooking with Brandt, Texas' Vital Farms eggs, then you aren't cooking. So I get the enormous potential of local.
But what if we changed the rally cry? What if in Dallas there wasn't this push to support local first? What if our hashtags united us to call for excellence instead? #SUPPORTINGENUITY #SUPPORTIMAGINATION #SUPPORTCONTROVERSY #SUPPORTSOMETHINGTRULYSTRANGE
That might raise the standard. Perhaps we could make Dallas a place where any great artist could come to North Texas and thrive, making ours a creative destination, instead of a stop on the way out for our friends leaving for LA and New York and even Austin. I know the entire health of a creative community isn't wrapped up in a two-word phrase, but its implication still irritates me.
When I admitted to a Dallas-based editor and visual artist that I get uncomfortable about this idea, HER/HIS response was thoughtful: "I have realized that the only way to make our local arts culture better is by opening up a dialogue with the great arts and music cultures all over the world, so that artists can not only be considered great according to a Dallas standard, but compared to artists both nationally and internationally. "We live in a global world, so if we want to be taken seriously, we should strive to contend with global standards of excellence in both life and art."
If it seems like I am taking the "scene" a little too seriously, guilty as charged. Our ability to both say, "Yes!" to the good stuff and "No!" to the mediocre is an essential part of helping the cream rise to the top. And while I am not interested in pointing out what is "good" or "bad," I am interested in Dallas having a reputation for creatives and audiences of taste who want to cultivate compelling entertainment experiences from within our city and attract those who exist outside of it.
Talking to a local concert promoter, I ask if the phrase is just a way to pressure people to support their friend's crappy band. And we all have those friends who seem to keep signing up for crappy band after crappy band, making more and more "local" music. We laugh but he agrees and goes on, "The real problem is what is local? What is Dallas? Bands are exponentially better here right now than they seemed five years ago but if they make it, they leave Dallas."
This issue of transience came up again. Are these artists, these cultural soothsayers sweeping in, only to duck back out for hipper pastures once they have gained some success? And is there truly better opportunity out there? There might be more A&R guys in LA, I guess, but with all this talk of the music industry crumbling it seem like it might be our cue to build something new in cities like Dallas.
That thesis certainly makes sense of the shrines we have built for those who maintain their North Texas mailing address though. Temples for Erykah Badu and Tim Delaughter, Dallas' musical parents who never abandoned us, and who also happen to make divisive and very persuasive art.
"How does anyone even get to Dallas?" I pondered my friend's question longer. It suddenly seems important because how you got here might be entirely wrapped up in how or why you stay. And this Dallas "local" is first and foremost made of people. I want impressive contributions to come from this place. I want this place to be able to sustain the lives of the people singing, and painting and cooking and building. But not for the sake of it.
"Just support good music," my promoter friend concludes. Support what's good. It's a simple solution but it does require the audience to consider a little discrimination and the creators to continue to raise the standards of our expectations. I don't want Dallas artists to compete with each other; I want them to compete with the world. So people will buy your music and overcrowd your galleries and wonder just what the fuck is going on in this town.
I realize I am not discussing the cure for cancer, although plenty of exciting work in that department is happening over at UT Southwestern. This is just music, or just art, or just food, or just parties. But is that not every component of how you spend your free time and disposable income? For some of you, it's your life's work and it's important, to both your quality of life and our quality of art.
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