The panel begins and immediately the question of diversity arises. Mayor Mike Rawlings poses the question, what's exciting in Dallas and what needs improvements?
Anne Bothwell, director of KERA's Art & Seek, answers first. The arts here, she says, reflects the spirit of Dallas. Artists are independently creating really ambitious projects. She points to Make Art With Purpose and Dallas Biennial as two such projects. What's missing? Inclusion and diversity. We ignore race and racial issues, she says, and we need to address this. Letitia Huckaby replies next noting that Dallas has a supportive arts community that lacks real opportunities for minority artists.
Last night, Mayor Mike Rawlings gathered seven Dallas artists for his #DallasArtsWeek panel to discuss huge ambitions and 10-year visions for the city. He wanted to talk about the disparity between "elite" arts and more grassroots efforts, how women perceive the male-dominated scene, and what's missing in the city. But when you put a group of artists in front of a powerful city politician, you can bet your backside they're going to bring up two of the biggest issues for working Dallas artists: diversity and the lack of funding.
The panel included a mixture of Dallas veterans and up-and-coming women, Anne Bothwell, Linnea Glatt, Sally Glass, Morehshin Allahyari, Katherine Owens, and Letitia Huckaby. Plus, the last minute addition of Giovanni Valderes. Rawlings admitted to hosting this panel for sheer enjoyment. He really loves the arts. So much so he made his love for the arts a mandated, but mostly meaningless week-long "event." Criticism aside, hosting these conversations is on point, because change can start with open dialogue.
But something about last night felt disjointed. Maybe there were too many people onstage to have a full conversation about anything specifically. Maybe Mayor Rawlings derailed the conversation too often by saying, "Oh, I know" or making odd, almost cutesy jokes about the trouble he's in with the HUD, to which Sally Glass playfully replied, "we're all in trouble." Regardless, last night the panelists each had a token issue and the only topic repeated was the lack of money. Here are a few highlights from each artist:
Linnea Glatt made an eloquent point about the lack of funding for public art in this city. The backstory is that in 2009, the city of Dallas cut $250,000 from the budget previously allotted for maintaining public art. She pointed to the White Rock Water Theater controversy as a thing she hopes will not continue for the next 10 years.
"I don't want Dallas to be like that in 10 years. I don't want Dallas to be like that now," Glatt says. "If you're not working to maintain that heritage, then what we're doing now has no meaning."
Sally Glass, a young artist and publisher of semi.gloss, pointed to arts education as a root of the problem. "Reinvestment and revitalization of arts education in our schools needs to be a priority in our city."
Katherine Owens, co-artistic director of Undermain Theatre, which recently celebrated 30 years in Dallas, was the night's most tempered guest. She didn't complain about the lack of funding or women in the arts. Instead, she imagined a more sustainable theater model that worked on green initiatives and recycling efforts. The problem as she sees it? Growing a base of young art attendees. "We don't quite have an audience here in Dallas."
Poor, Giovanni Valderes. Not only did he take on the role of the only male on the panel, he also sits on the Mayor's Cultural Affairs Commission. From time to time, the Mayor would ask him if the commission had discussed a certain topic. Yes, he'd say, but money. When Mayor Rawlings asked him what they as men could do to be more supportive of female artists, Valderes gave the brilliant reply, "Listen." Valderes' big idea of the evening: Give artists space to create and exhibit in all the beautiful (empty) buildings throughout the city.
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Letitia Huckaby made this point about the divide between men and women artists. "I'm very aware of that because I'm married to a male artist," she says. "I look at how people respond to him and then turn around and treat me differently." The problem, as she sees it, runs deeper than just numbers.
Anne Bothwell pointed to the numbers as an important thing to be aware of. She brought up an article in Glasstire that said it wasn't a gender problem in Dallas, as much as it is a race problem.
Morehshin Allahyari had the most damning and perhaps most insightful point of the evening. As a new media artist who creates art with video and modern technologies, she sees a lack of truly modern practices in Dallas. "To me the scene is about 20 years behind."
Well, that's what you missed last night. At the end of the evening, Mayor Rawlings bestowed a special honor on Anita Martinez for her long career in dance in Dallas. At which point, it struck me that the performing arts were strangely lacking on last night's panel. Owens represented theater, but there were no dance artists or musicians. Odd. Oh, well. Happy #DallasArtsWeek!