Eight Ways to Improve The Arts in Dallas

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If you're looking for a panel discussion on the current eco-balance of the arts in Dallas, no problem: Art panels are like AA meetings, another one starts somewhere in about 15 minutes.

Unlike AA meetings, nobody chain smokes or reaches a grand realization at an arts panel. Implementable ideas are deemed highly dangerous.

Screw that. Here's eight ideas for improving things. Go ahead, take 'em. It's the holidays.

1. Make Programming the Omni A Paying Gig, Hire a Local Talent It's easy to forget that the Omni Dallas Hotels's programming is handled by a part-time volunteer. While I'm impressed that Pat Anderson's taken it upon himself to keep those screens from fully polluting our skyline and believe he's done a great job, I also think it's time to consider the purpose of those light-up walls, and their potential.

The Omni supports local art, evidenced by the interior collection Jeff West and Jack Matthews helped build. It should extend that mission further and hire a local video artist to create programs for, and control the content of, its massive screens. We're all viewers -- like it or not -- and that giant canvas should be curated. Currently it's both an underused asset and an overused billboard.

Just imagine if programming the OmnI was a full-time job put into talented hands. The walls would tell stories, play off their surrounding architecture and do more than just be a big screen saver. It would anchor our skyline with tech-rich art. (h/t Bart Weiss)

2. Shake Down Dallas' Cultural Affairs Commission to Financially Support Individual Art Projects We're in a boom. Art is being produced and consumed here at an unprecedented rate, and one thing everyone seems to agree on is that many of our artists would like to stick around and follow this stride forward. We should incentivize that. Some of the most effective communal and public art is also the least commercial, meaning it needs a funding source. The CAC should consider proposals from individuals and collectives as well as the nonprofits it already works with.

This idea isn't mine, it's one that artists Sara Mokuria, Danielle Georgiou, Jessica Martinez and Darryl Ratcliff took to the CAC earlier this year. They were denied and told to look into Kickstarter and other crowd-sourcing tools. I think that's a mistake. Sure, it would require restructuring legal contracts -- and possibly also the board and the pace it operates at, but I think those would be positive changes.

You know what really kills a vibrant public art idea? Putting it through the meat grinder of a City Council-appointed arts board, then taffy-tugging it though the red tape of the nonprofit sector. Congratulations. You're living in a beige and concrete city.

3. Punch Museum Tower in the Super Shiny Nuts Museum Tower has become the comical movie villain of commercial real estate -- twirling its mustache while throwing tantrums and assuming false commenter identities to spread propaganda -- all while slowly poisoning a beloved local museum through its reflective radiation. Worst of all, we're allowing them to pout while art withers.

The financial mistakes leading up to this junction were made. Now, it's time to fix what is fixable: the tower's menacing laser beams. I also think the solution is cheaper and easier than everyone's making it out to be. I vote we call up Oak Cliff's best auto shops and have 'em slap a tint on that glass. $64.95. Boom. Done.

4. Replace Courtney Loves Dallas with Anderson/Rawlings Buddy Comedy It took an ice storm for me to tune in, now I can never unwatch it. Courtney Loves Dallas amplifies our city's most vapid stereotypes, in which single, 30-something women sob into glowing shot glasses, hoping their night ends with impregnation. Entire episodes arch in the thrill of finding a new, turquoise necklace. Friends hate each other; clothing is "life"; and a woman's self-esteem is only as strong as her high-waisted spandex leggings. You get what I'm saying here: It's a shit show, and it makes us all look bad.

I think we can fix that.

I'd like to see an Odd Couple meets Perfect Strangers meets Frasier buddy comedy staring the DMA's Maxwell Anderson and Mayor Mike Rawlings. They're natural "gets," having already made that Downton Abbey-inspired short together for Art Ball 2013.

But what if they were also... roomies?!?

In Artsy Fartsy, Anderson plays the poised culture maven, yinging the yang of slapstick sidekick and unlikely best friend Mayor Mike Rawlings. Dirty socks on floors! Fancy dinner disasters! Scowls that become ... smiles? They show off Dallas' fun side and we tune in to watch the similarities unfold. Someone's going to learn the value of being themselves.

5. Fewer Conflicts of Interest If Dallas wants to be the art hub it could be, we need more transparency in our arts reporting. Do you work for the museum you're reviewing? You shouldn't be writing about it. Is your spouse part of the show you're covering? Throw in a disclaimer. How closely do you work with that gallery, organization, festival, non-profit, etc.? Do you party with that artist on the reg? Are you an artist who's hoping to show at the gallery you're reviewing? And does that affect how critically you approach it?

It's tough terrain to navigate, especially considering what Dallas arts writing and reporting is up against: The narrow swath of people who attend enough events to competently write reviews; the length of time it takes to fairly critique the arts, time that's never commensurable to the pay given; and the inevitable incestuousness of any group that passionately pines over a shared obsession.

The overlapping nature of writing, art making, arts administration and the like isn't going to go away, nor should it, but we need honesty about our roles and connections in that delivery or all praise and criticism that's generated becomes meaningless.

6. Commission New Performance Art Pieces This is going to sound obvious, but I think it's worth saying: Performance art is also art. It's tougher to hang on your wall than a painting, but that doesn't mean less work was used to create it. We need to support the people putting in that work, and not just using them as party favors at events. Performances should be commissioned. They should be paid for by the museum, organization or business that's offering them whenever possible. Exposure is great. Affording groceries is better.

7. Legal Assistance for Local Artists Arts Counsel Texas made strides in 2013, rallying the support of Dallas lawyers interested in providing pro bono or reduced-fee consultation for area creatives. It was a needed step. TALA (Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts) relocated to Austin, leaving a noticeable North Texas vacancy. (It's still active, but it ain't really workin' for the city, if you know what I mean.)

We rooted for ACT, with its goals of educating artists in copyright law, gallery contracts, insurance coverage and other legal issues that tend to screw-over the creative have-nots. It will be interesting to see what happens with ACT in 2014. They recently lost their energizing executive director (she'll still serve on the board), which hopefully isn't a sign of slowing momentum. The group itself is composed of seriously bad ass lawyers who are passionate about the arts, and that's a very hopeful thing. They could make a big difference in Dallas culture if ACT stays on track.

8. Art Collective Underground Tunnel Takeover Yes, I know this will never happen. The tunnels are a blight. The city hates them. Let's not point out the artistic possibilities of the things or people will like them even more. Blah, blah blah. But we have a true subterranean web in Dallas (for now, anyway), and that's insane.

I would love to see an art collective take the things over. It could be digitally, rather than physically. Could we turn them into a video game? A scavenger hunt? A performance piece based on a dystopian future mole man world? I support all of that. Let's use what we have until we don't have it anymore. Once they dump 'em full of cement the creative options get much more limited. (h/t Jordan Roth)

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