Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Talk about stand and deliver. For two years in a row (2002 and 2003), SEM, one of DISD's court-mandated magnet high schools, had more minority students pass the advanced placement calculus exam than any other school in the nation. It's even more remarkable considering how small the student body is. With only 400 students, 113 passed the test in 2003; of those, 60 were Hispanic or African-American. On the AP chemistry exam, minority students at SEM tied for first place in the state; of the 23 SEM students who passed, 10 were minorities. "It always starts with the teacher," says Gregg Fleisher, president of the nonprofit AP Strategies, which works with school districts and businesses to manage AP programs. "And SEM Principal Richard White has recruited some of the best calculus teachers in the state." The program is also supported by the Texas Instruments Foundation and the Advanced Academic Services department in DISD, which provides lead teachers, curriculum and other materials. We know the program works. Now, why can't it work everywhere?
The governor of New Jersey got more national pub with his Gayo-American speech, but in local terms Laura Miller's public coming-out confessional before the North Dallas Chamber in June was every bit as riveting. The feisty former journalist who ran for office on a pledge of back-to-basics--she waged red-meat political campaigns against "the boys downtown" and their "big-ticket projects"--told the Chamber her husband had called her "stupid" and she was switching over to the boys' team. Yup. Just that simple. Miller said her husband, state representative and asbestos lawyer Steve Wolens, "is a lot more mature than me." Apparently Wolens had told the little lady to ditch that populist thing, put on some big fat pearls and cozy up to the downtown dogs. So now that's her plan. Instead of the streets and gutters she promised the voters when she ran, she told the Chamber she is now focused on the dogs' main deals, like the Trinity River project and redeveloping downtown. One of the most exciting things about Miller's personality makeover is that it comes barely a third of the way through her first full term as mayor. At this rate, we'll get to see at least three more totally new mayors before her term is up.
Ayo doesn't sound like a DJ, and we mean that as a compliment. He's funny without being shecky; personable but not self-obsessed; and enthusiastic but never phony. He sounds like a guy who loves music, and that's endearing, since the dial's full of slick-voiced, self-promoting, station-hopping sycophants. He wears Converse and band shirts, laughs at his own goofy jokes and plays drums in the KDGE cover band, The Ronnie Dobbs Band. And now more people will get to know Alan Ayo. He recently moved from the midday shift to the Edge of Night position from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The guy writes three times a week; he doesn't have Mike Royko's research staff; he's not going to be Mike Royko, OK? Besides, look what happened to Royko. He's dead. Steve Blow is alive, if not edgy. With a laid-back, easygoing, yarn-spinning style, he can also be a darned good reporter when he feels like it. And if he had done not one other good column all year, he would have earned a Best of Dallas award just for the one he did on the Muslim couple who got jeered on the Jumbotron at Cowboy Stadium. In one short piece, Blow weaved together a tapestry of themes about bigotry, football, the hopes and fears of immigrants, and the newly diverse nature of the region. Not many scribblers can do all that in an 800-word column. Blow provides Dallas with something it sorely needs--a familiar and authentic voice. And by the way, in case you never noticed, this ain't Chicago.
If you want columns about the latest b.s. fads in corporate-speak or the 118th column about how a North Texas CEO is putting his company on the right track, you read The Dallas Morning News. If you want to find out the real reason the CEO of Southwest Airlines stepped down (he'd lost face in labor negotiations because of his "meddling chairman," Herb Kelleher) or if you want to know one of the unspoken reasons Arlington will overpay for the dubious promise of development around a new Cowboys stadium (because "among the nine biggest cities in the metroplex, Arlington had the largest increase in poverty in the 1990s"--and it has no other way to revitalize itself), then you read biz columnist Mitch Schnurman in the Star-T. Schnurman is a rarity--a smart, tough reporter who understands business and can explain how boardroom decisions affect a city and its citizens. You'd say that it would be great if he were a city columnist, but he already offers more insight into the way Fort Worth works than any columnist at the DMN has ever done with Big D.
The Dallas Morning News
As the promise of the Morning News' "revolution" fades, it becomes more and more apparent that you can't change a corporate culture unless you (warning: bizspeak coming) hire peak performers and empower them. When the paper hired Keven Ann Willey to be its editorial page editor, it did just that. The editorials under Willey continue to be sharp and sensible. Even when we disagree with their conclusion, at least we know what the conclusion is--a marked improvement from the past 85 years or so. She has a vibrant, ideologically diverse staff that she allows to take the page in many different directions. It means that for the first time perhaps ever, you can open the editorial and op-ed pages of the DMN and be surprised.
Anybody really care what D magazine's writers think about Jessica Simpson, Alexa Conomos, Fireside Pies or other key issues of the day? Well, FrontBurner--a blog service of the publication's Web site--is the place to go if you do, indeed, care that much. On the other hand, if you prefer to catch up on inside jokes and office politics, they sometimes discuss cubicle size and trade sophomoric insults. Occasionally, they actually break some worthy news item, but that just detracts from their real purpose. The site apparently exists to allow the group (Adam McGill, Tim Rogers, Wick Allison, et. al.) to critique news coverage by other publications, particularly The Dallas Morning News. D's staff regularly calls out other writers in an online version of a Wild West challenge between two gunslingers. Downsides: Many people rightly or wrongly consider D a bastion of boosterism itself. Pluses: FrontBurner is great fun, sparked by occasional cattiness and a useful tidbit or two.
Situated just past the intersection of the Dallas North Tollway and Highway 121, Frisco Square is a 4 million-square-foot community built around the idea that the past is the future, that Norman Rockwell was right, that people want to walk to work (and to eat, and to shop), that real towns are built around plush parks and pedestrian-friendly streets. The people who came up with this idea (developer Cole McDowell and his company, Five Star Development; city planning director John Lettelleir; City Manager George Purefoy; architect David M. Schwarz; and former Frisco Mayor Kathy Seei) just might be right about all of that. Except there's not much there right now, other than townhomes, Frisco's new senior center and a few other buildings. But check back in five years. Then you can see how they did. Or didn't.
Book clubs are powerful tools. For example, any tome Oprah Winfrey features on hers instantly becomes a best seller. Same goes (to a lesser extent) for the books featured on other chat-show book clubs. Larry James and Central Dallas Ministries have the same goal, except for one important wrinkle. They don't want people who come to their Urban Engagement Book Club to buy the books. They want them to buy the ideas contained inside, thoughts about charity and its effects, politics and its soul, creativity and its importance. Every book leads to a lively debate and the feeling that maybe, just maybe, problems are about to be solved. You can see CDM is building up to something and, with the Urban Engagement Book Club, building a like-minded army to help them get there. Wish them well.
It's still early, but give Jack Matthews (the developer who brought the South Side on Lamar complex to life and owns much of the neighboring property) and the others brave enough to join him time. South Side itself is already home to the best artists-in-residence program in the area (and one of the best, period), as well as tenants such as Erykah Badu and The D.O.C. And sooner rather than later, Raphael Parry's new theater company, Project X, will have a home in the basement in the former confines of the building's boiler room. But it doesn't begin and end there. Gilley's opened a Dallas location in one of Matthews' buildings on the street, and David Card moved his Lower Greenville fixture, Poor David's Pub, to the area this summer. Plus, there's the up-and-coming, down-and-dirty dive Lee Harvey's to keep the locals well-lubricated on Pabst Blue Ribbon. Best part is, Matthews donated $1 million worth of real estate to the city so it could build the Dallas Police Department's headquarters directly across from South Side. So you don't need to worry about any Milk-Eyed Bandits going bump in the night.
As Chris Cree says, you don't have to know "antidisestablishmentarianism" to play Scrabble. Just plenty of two- to eight-letter words. Cree speaks from experience, because his knowledge of those words has made the local businessman the highest-ranked Scrabble player in Texas. He finished fourth at this year's National Scrabble Championship in New Orleans, losing a heartbreaking game in Round 30 to eventual champion Trey Wright. But it's still been a good year for Cree. A few months ago, he set an unofficial world record for most points scored on a single turn, when he played "blowzier" through two triple-word squares for 329 points, more than even many advanced players score in an entire game. Too bad it didn't happen in New Orleans.
You can get in free at any Dallas Mavericks game. Yes, you. It's simple. Here's the deal: Paint your face. Your body, too, if you feel up to it. Show up two hours before tip-off at the American Airlines Center. Find something called the "Mavs Urban Excursion." Don't worry, it shouldn't be hard to miss, since there will be more than a few people who look just like you. When prompted, scream and cheer and show just how much of a fan you are, even if you're the quiet type who'd rather just watch the game in peace. It's free, remember, so don't be shy. If you're lucky, and not too many had the same idea, the Mavs Street Team will hook you up with a ticket. And it's pretty close to the court, if you're still on the fence about the whole face-painting, whooping-it-up thing. By the time the final buzzer sounds, you'll be ready to do it all again next game.
Besides coming up with an undeniably sweet name, Art Prostitute founders Brian Gibb and Mark Searcy have come up with undeniably sweet things to go along with it. Like Art Prostitute, the most stylish art and design magazine around, geared toward building a new generation of art collectors. (It's a touch pricey at $20 but worth every cent because of the art prints--from Shepard Fairey, among others--that come with each issue.) There's also Art Prostitute, the duo's gallery that could one day be the epicenter of the North Texas arts scene the way the sainted Good/Bad Art Collective used to be, and it's already bringing in artists from all over, the kind of people you need to know about. Not to mention www.artprostitute.com, their Web site that acts as a tip sheet for everything that's worth checking out, be it music, art or whatever.