It's a Big Moment for Dallas Arts, Says Leslie Moody Castro

In this series of articles, Leslie Moody Castro takes on the role of journalist or interlocutor to explore the inequity in the creation, curation and exhibition of art. Read more here.

By Leslie Moody Castro I have learned a lot in my time in Dallas. This is a beautiful and welcoming city populated with genuinely interesting and smart people who are even more generous about making a newcomer feel welcome. Dallas is a city full of potential and resources. It is a city with a beautiful urban center, pretty great public transportation, phenomenal and world class museum institutions, and multiple generations of youth excited about building a city that is a top destination. This is a city on the verge of something, and the time is ripe to leverage all these things to mobilize and create an arts ecosystem flourishing with collaboration and common goals.

In the previous weeks we have worked together with CentralTrak to flush out the problems contributing to the lack of value in culture in Dallas. With that we have identified exactly the things we want from an arts ecosystem, and last week we began brainstorming potential solutions to make real and tangible changes happen. We have also talked about our biggest hindrance, which has been the city of Dallas itself.

This city has a long and prescient history of wiping out the past then building over it. People come and go, artists bide their time then move onto bigger places, discussions happen and are forgotten, then the Dallas cycle starts all over again as the next phase is built. It's no wonder that any type of ecosystem-building that has momentum behind it can't exactly gain a footing. Throughout our sessions at CentralTrak we have learned that many have tried to organize, mobilize, spawn activism and generally create change in the arts community, but movements tend to fizzle out and die. It's a legitimate concern that even our sessions at CentralTrak run the risk of falling into the same pattern.

Over the course of the past five weeks I have witnessed people come together to participate in each of the sessions. There have been a number of repeated faces, and others who have sat in here and there sporadically as their personal lives could accommodate. As an outsider moderating these sessions I have been able to objectively witness a significant change happen as each week progresses. The first two weeks were meant to be good, old-fashioned, cathartic bitch sessions, where I encouraged everyone to air their dirty laundry, lay out the problems they see in Dallas and really talk about them. It was a hard day, but gradually our list on the wall grew, and gradually people started coming out of their shell to identify the issues at hand which were perpetuating the problems leading to the lack of value in the arts.

The second session was a bit of the same, but there were more faces in the crowd, and more people willing to speak up and have a conversation. By the time the third week rolled around we were engaging freely. The exhaustion and frustration that seemed to hinder the conversation in previous weeks was almost completely gone, and ideas, examples, and references flowed freely as we made a list of what we wanted from our arts ecosystem. This list has since turned into a real fire for activism.

This past week was different. There was no bitching, no complaining, but instead it became a session of real problem solving, and proof that perhaps a change really is on the horizon.

At this point I must remind you that I am not from Dallas, nor do I live in Dallas, and this is actually a good thing.

I am here for a short term curatorial residency at CentralTrak. Originally I was here to produce a site-specific exhibition, which I had to cancel because of a lack of funding, and then shifted the conversation make this lack of funding a bigger conversation about the lack of value for culture in Dallas really transparent. This conversation has grown into an activist moment far beyond what I could have expected, and far better than anything I could have planned. It has unfolded organically, and because there seems to be a common frustration in the system, this has translated into a unifying momentum.

I was here only 24 hours when these issues became incredibly obvious to me. What I saw in that time, however, was a certain amount of complacency in the system as it is, and in the powers that be. No doubt taking action and shifting the tide always requires more work than operating as things are, but sometimes it takes an outsider to really provide perspective, talk about the things that everyone is really thinking, and really make them transparent.

I've become embedded in these issues in Dallas, but it's important to remember that my perspective is one of an outsider operating on the periphery, and someone that has a home somewhere else. The canceled exhibition has come and gone, and that is no longer the main issue, nor the main cause. I have literally witnessed this project leave my hands and my brain, then have watched it evolve to reflect the voices and ideas of people and supporters who are genuinely invested in making change happen in this city.

At the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, it's been kinda magical to watch.

But, cheese aside, we are at a critical moment. We have worked together for five Saturdays of our lives for two hours each Saturday for a total of ten hours to identify real problems, make a real list of needs/wants, and we have begun to take real steps to achieve those goals. We've come too far to let it die now, and at this point, I'm equally as invested as everyone else.

Below is the beginning of our list of solutions, and they are good ones. While some might be idealistic and seem unreachable, it takes baby steps to make significant change happen. It's too late for this conversation to fizzle out and die, there's too much optimism behind this mobilization, and we aren't just focusing on the problems anymore, but making solutions happen which will alter the state of the arts in Dallas for decades to come. It's a big moment, even though we can't see it yet, and even if no big changes happen tomorrow, at least we are no longer in a state of disillusioned frustration, but instead creating a moment of fresh perspective.

I am so lucky to say that I really have been witness to change.

There is one more session at CentralTrak at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, May 16. I hope to see you there.

  • And below is our list of solutions:
  • Explore Cooperatives (Mass Gallery in Austin, MAC)
  • Set up a system of microgranting coming directly from community members (like awesome foundation, an bank for airline miles)
  • Provide more support for artists coming from outside of Dallas (think creatively to expand this network and offer support while they are here)
  • Grants for curators and/through a system of mentorship
  • Research starting a barter system (also think creatively about resources offered and provided)
  • Continue this conversation with an archive and include various voices
  • Create a place for networking (Facebook and social media)
  • Place deliverables and expectations on artists as well
  • Create a source for information
  • Create a job for a singular person to tackle all these things and raise money for it
  • Use existing resources
  • Active outreach between communities
  • Create a fundraiser of some sort like an Art Prom where artists are actually invited (look at Contemporary Art Month in San Antonio)
  • Create a system of barter that also includes professional services

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