The Dallas Arts Need a Good Old Fashioned Call to Action

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 Dallas has been an incredible learning experience. I never expected that canceling an exhibition would result in such fruitful and genuine discussions that could lead to building such incredible relationships and strong connections . As I sat down to write this I also realized that my time in Dallas is halfway over, and that we have reached the midpoint of the "run of show" for the canceled exhibition turned community forum.

For two weeks we talked about the issues that contribute to the lack of value of visual arts and culture in Dallas in what were good old fashioned "bitch" sessions hosted by CentralTrak. Here the intention was to lay it all out on the table, and to identify the common problems in a setting that could be cathartic to community members who watch these problems play out regularly. In the course of those two weeks, multiple studies followed by reports of the Dallas art scene came up in conversation, illustrating that this was clearly not the first time these problems had been talked about.

While my foray into Dallas has been met with multiple hurdles of funding on an institutional level within CentralTrak and the UT Dallas system, I translated those issues as "bigger picture" problems pervasive in the visual arts in general. However, on arrival in Dallas I was immediately confronted with the economic disparity in the arts, and witnessed the extreme decadence of the Dallas Art Fair which built a carefully crafted façade of support, but the reality became clear when I looked around at the glitterati events and only a handful of artists were really invited. Dallas was sending a mixed message.

See also: Leslie Moody Castro: "This is Dallas"

In my time here I've moderated discussions, met a ton of people, asked even more questions, had more informal conversations than I can count, talked with students and visited with one class. Last week I made the trek to UT Dallas, met the mothership, and shifted the conversation to focus on listing tangible things we want in an arts ecosystem as a midpoint in the sessions before brainstorming solutions this coming week. With so many voices contributing to the conversation, really listening to find the commonalities becomes a real skill. And that's where the hard lesson lies within this discourse.

There is a tenuous relationship between the city of Dallas and the contemporary art world which is very real and palpable. However, over and over, there have been references to multiple conversations like this one, which is also a good thing, since regular reflection is healthy in a growing arts ecosystems. In Dallas, I've seen a general fear of transparency, a general aversion to it, in fact, and with that said, I have even read the main reports that have come out recently about the Dallas art world listing the reasons Dallas is not the arts epicenter it wants to be, and solutions to convert it into the arts epicenter it thinks it is (Creative Time and the National Center for Arts Vibrancy ranking Dallas #1572 in the country in arts initiatives in 2011.)

Throughout the sessions, and during my time here, I have learned that this lack of transparency has obscured another important factor that has popped up multiple times: It's a two way street.

Last week I related working in the visual arts to any normal relationship (It's time to Make a List). I talked about compromising, being flexible and communication, and in that article I wasn't just exaggerating for metaphor. In order to get what we want we have to take the initiative, we have to work for it and we have to advocate for it.

Dallas has seen these conversations come and go. There have been multiple articles, and blogs representing a variety of voices. We have seen panel discussions happen in a multitude of locations, but overall we have yet to see any real changes take place. However, various people have clearly stated that a huge problem in Dallas is the lack of advocacy, initiative and ambition. There's a certain amount of complacency to answering concerns with, "Well, that's Dallas!"

Creating an arts ecosystem is a two-way street. It requires us as a community to identify the things we want, then actively seek those things. It requires regular assessment, and acting on breaches in communication, thinking through strategic planning and recognizing creative partnerships. Creating a community that can build a sustainable ecosystem is no easy feat and no one ever said it would be. Dallas is simply a symptom of a larger problem, and if a community does not make active strides to work together to change or create a rupture in the norm, then we cannot make an active difference in molding it to what we really want. We have identified the problems over and over, now it's a matter of strategically mobilizing to facilitate real change.

So, Dallas, at this point we have reached a crossroads: Either continue to operate within the same systems, or come together to actively shift the tide and let the real work begin.

Yes, this is a call to action, and we can start with the list that was brainstormed in last week's session. I hope to see you all at 12:20 p.m. Saturday at CentralTrak (800 Exposition Ave.) to start brainstorming the solutions.

In no particular order:

  1. To bring the fractured pockets of community together
  2. More residencies in different departments and areas (the Microsoft Corp. as an example)
  3. Health benefits
  4. A physical space for meeting and facilitating dialogue
  5. Activism for/from the arts
  6. More ambition
  7. Housing/studio subsidies
  8. More collector support
  9. Different alliances outside of the arts sector such as commercial/developers
  10. Information in one consolidated space, such as a website
  11. A forum to share and facilitate conversation like these sessions that can be hosted and archived online
  12. Equity and honorariums
  13. Support and foster creative experimentation
  14. Research and follow models outside of Dallas
  15. A community of artists that are surrounded by each other, rather than isolating one another
  16. Interaction with the commercial economy in different and creative ways
  17. Cultural equity grants
  18. Promotion of travel within and outside of Dallas
  19. A better system of transit
  20. More socially engaged artists
  21. Artists who stay in Dallas
  22. A community that supports artists moving in and out of it
  23. Less conformity

-------------------------------------- Notes: 1. Creative Time SMU Meadows Prize Report: Building a Thriving Artistic Community, 2011 2. National Center for Arts Vibrancy Index: Hotbeds of America's Arts and Culture

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