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 wish I could photograph people's faces when I tell them that I cancelled the exhibition I wanted to do at CentralTrak. Reactions run the gamut from confusion, shock and awe, to curiosity, and horror. These reactions are a telling sign that we've continually perpetuated this concept that "the show must go on." As creatives, it's appalling to consider asserting our value, demanding what we are worth, and shutting things down if we aren't receiving compensation for our brain power.
The case of CentralTrak is an interesting one. This is an incredible residency program that is open to all kinds of creative types that can come to Dallas from anywhere in the world, and use the city as an incubator to learn and produce. The residency is affiliated with the University of Texas at Dallas, one of the more costly campuses in the University of Texas system. CentralTrak has a facility in the historic neighborhood just east of Deep Ellum, Exposition Park. Fair Park is one block away, and really young project spaces focused on young emerging artists have been popping up for years surrounding the live music venues that have given the neighborhood its reputation for incredible jazz and blues.
While CentralTrak is part of the university system, the amount of support it actually receives from the institution is quite superficial, that isn't to say we don't value the support we receive, quite the contrary, matter of fact what I have seen at CentralTrak is a desire for University administration to be involved by showing up to CentralTrak events and exhibitions, and even integrate better into programming. Here you have a ton of really creative people coming in, working, researching, producing exhibitions, and setting the foundation for discussion and conversation, but the conversation is stopping here when it could easily extend to the lives of students.
But my real question is: is this just CentralTrak, or is CentralTrak a reflection of a bigger issue?
I have had a series of conversations about funding with Laura Sewell, business manager of CentralTrak and Heyd Fontenot, the director of CentralTrak about the residency, the lack of funding, the funding roadblocks, the affiliation to the University, and the city of Dallas itself. What I am beginning to see is that Dallas really likes its glittery facades, and this trickles down to every cultural level in this city. The more questions I ask about how and why things exist the way they do here, the more I get only one answer: "This is Dallas!".
Is that a justification? Are we qualifying the real lack of support in the arts with that answer? Is Dallas happy with popping champagne, hosting extravagant parties, and "saying" we are supporting art and artists?
Typically when someone does work they are paid accordingly for that work. You wouldn't dream of walking into a job interview and accepting an administrative position of 40 hours a week without negotiating a salary based on experience. Well, here I am, and unfortunately that's how the system has been contrived to run. Artists work constantly. We spit out creative capital all the time, but the benefits are rarely seen, and it's a great day when I don't have to email or call someone that owes me money for a job I've done. After a little while it kind of starts to mess with your mind, and you really have to think about the message that it's sending: 1. I'm not worth being paid on time, and 2. I'm not really worth being paid at all.
So there are really two issues playing parallel to each other here. First we are in a university setting without really being connected to the university, and secondly there are little resources provided that can really make this a productive platform for incoming creatives and students alike. CentralTrak is a gem of a place that really offers its residents an open platform, but without the proper support that platform becomes extremely limited, and at least in my case, resulted in a cancelled opportunity.
This is Dallas, right?
The point is that what's happening at Centraltrak is one great example of how artists and the arts are treated in this city. Sure, we love our arts, but we also love our champagne parties where artists aren't actually invited (looking right at you, Dallas Art Fair). And yes, we absolutely love our white-cube exhibitions, but as long as those exhibitions aren't pointing a critical finger at real issues, we are totally fine. And finally, yes it's true, Dallas has money and loves to show that it has money, but when it comes to supporting real artistic initiatives on a profound level that can affect culture in a city on a profound level, forget it.
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The visual arts are a part of cultural patrimony. Artists are arbitrators that see the world with a critical eye that makes life more interesting, to say the least. Especially in the case of CentralTrak, artists should be treated as cultural diplomats, as people coming in from other places with a plethora of resources and ideas that can change lives on a very real level. Yes, this is idealistic, but in a world full of such complicated issues, wouldn't we want to change the way we operate even on a small level? How is it that Dallas can get away with claiming to be one of the best cities in the United States, but doesn't support the arts or artists in a real tangible way by paying artists for their work, or providing honorariums, or supporting small non-profit institutions that offer their space for local artists?
These are all the issues that have come up in conversation with people in the community, and in my outsider perspective it seems contradictory to try to grow a city without growing a local arts scene. It's all an ecosystem, and right now that ecosystem is hanging by only a bare thread. I for one don't see the justification, and it's a shame that support happens on such a surface level, because I do value my time and my work.
Maybe it is and always will be just Dallas.