It's Time to Make a List of What the Arts in Dallas Want

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 liken my job in the arts to a long-term relationship. It has the ups, downs and similar moments of fulfillment that any long-term relationship has. And similarly I have to remind myself that working in this field requires compromise, exercises in communication, flexibility and empathy.

I'll never forget the day that I was going through a particularly difficult break up many years ago, and my mom asked me about my "list." I was dumbfounded. I had no idea what list she was talking of, and as a big fan of lists I was surprised that I had let one escape being made. My mom, in her stealthy pragmatism, read my befuddlement and asked me if I had ever made a list of all the things that I was looking for in a relationship. I chuckled a little, and in my head likened such a list to the same ones I use for a trip to the grocery store: assess the fridge and pantry, shop for the things you need, buy only those things and nothing more, then go home happy.

It seemed ridiculously obvious. Why didn't I have a list?

There is a point here.

For the past two weeks at CentralTrak, we have hosted Saturday "sessions" where we have opened the doors to all members of the visual arts community in Dallas to come and talk about the problems inherent with the lack of funding, and how this has placed Dallas very low on the list of cities that actually support the visual arts in an impactful way. Once again, CentralTrak has been the hub for this activity after I faced a major funding crisis for a project I spent two years trying to produce, and to put it plainly, hit hurdles, brick walls and a general lack of support from the powers that be within the University that prevented funding from trickling down and really supporting CentralTrak as an institution. The result: You get what you pay for, and in this case it's an empty gallery. If however, CentralTrak is only one example of real arts funding in the city of Dallas, then the bigger message is painfully obvious. There is a clear lack of support for arts and culture on a bigger level. Yes, we have seen the art fair come and go, and we have seen art week Dallas become a thing, but once the layer of superficiality is peeled back, the reality of the situation is that Dallas is actually not an epicenter for arts and culture, and it's a frustrating situation, especially when we all know Dallas has the money and infrastructure to really build a great community.

For two weeks we have talked about these problems, why these problems exist, and how the definition of Dallas as a city simply does not allow for growth in terms of arts support (See my article from last week: This is Dallas!). But one thing came up in conversation last week that struck a chord: Maybe that's not what Dallas wants.

Please excuse my crude geography, but I am new here, I do not own a car, and I'm still trying to figure out the many neighborhoods and their implications. However, from my peripheral perspective, and from my research about the city, Dallas is best described as a "city on the verge." And to further quote Harvey Graff, the city is "at a tipping point," "on the threshold" or even "at a crossroads." The amount of space and resources here is astounding, and it's growing at a critical speed, but not necessarily a speed that propagates community initiatives. The city itself is a set of conjoined suburbs so spread out by massive highways and interchanges that geographical distance is a real issue, and growing up or living in North Dallas is a very different thing from growing up and living in South Dallas, not to mention everything on either side and in between. It's come to my attention that until now, Dallas was a set of communities acting within their own geographical discourses, and few things have happened to really mobilize on a city-wide scale. Last Saturday it was brought up in conversation that perhaps that's what Dallas wants to be: a series of smaller neighborhood initiatives content in doing their own thing and having their own voice.

In our past two sessions we have talked about the problems inherent in the art world. We have deciphered the city as one that likes to wave the flag of support for artists when it's convenient, but does little to engage in ways that have a long term impact for artists and spaces based in the city, and that the existing infrastructure of the city has contributed to a broken and fractured system of support.

But at this point I wonder if this is the relationship that we have perpetuated, enabled and if this is the relationship that we actually want?

Going into this I wanted to expose the problems contributing to the lack of value for visual arts and culture in Dallas in order to brainstorm possible solutions to change the tide. But at this point I have realized that I have to go back to the wise words of my mother, and just like any other relationship, this one needs a list, so we are going to make one.

This Saturday May 2nd at 12:30 at CentralTrak I will open the session to you, Dallas, and really ask: What do you want?

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