"An Important Moment for Dallas": How to Improve City's Arts Scene in 13 Easy Steps

Back in October '09, New York-based public-arts org Creative Time received one of the first two Meadows Prize artist residency awards doled out by the Meadows School at SMU. As the Hilltop notes today, one of CT's missions was to evaluate the state of the arts in Dallas -- "to identify strengths and potential areas for growth." That report was released today: the 11-page SMU Meadows Prize Report: Building a Thriving Artistic Community, in which Creative Time ID's what it calls "13 key elements necessary for the Dallas art community to thrive."

The release and report offer a little more detail, but in short during the past year, Creative Time's team came to town to meet with gallery owners, artists, writers, city officials and folks running Dallas' visual and performing-arts groups to chronicle the good, bad and ugly of the local arts scene. And, apparently, what they heard time and again was that Dallas either views itself as "world-class" or aspires to same -- we are, if nothing else, a city of "enormous ingenuity and ambition [and] the resources to achieve its dreams."

Says the doc, Dallas is doing OK but could be doing a whole lot better:

We also heard that there was great potential for Dallas to grow as a place to nurture, present, and support contemporary art. After building signature homes for the city's museums and theaters, Dallas citizens can take important steps to advance the city's commitment to the arts, attract greater international attention, and engage broad and diverse audiences. For example, although there is affordable live/work space, there are very few small and mid-sized alternative spaces supporting the production of new work. While there are amazing institutions organizing exhibitions, there is limited arts coverage in the local press. Although there are many artists living and working in Dallas, the planning of the city fragments them across a large geographical area, undermining their sense of community and potential for collaboration. And although there are terrific institutions for the public to visit, Dallas could benefit from greater opportunities for art to be created within its diverse neighborhoods.
Ah, but how? To the suggestions!

On Page Three of the report, you'll find the header "FOUNDATIONS FOR SUCCESS," wherein Creative Time begins to make its case for how to better the local arts scene:

We believe there are certain key elements that are necessary for any art community to thrive. These key factors are, in no ranked order:

1. A sustainable artist community and opportunities for live/ work space
2. Cultural institutions with international reach, innovative programs, and historically relevant collections
3. Great patrons who support the creation, presentation, and acquisition of art
4. Mid-sized and small art spaces that support the creation of new and experimental work by local and international artists
5. Skilled and visionary arts leaders in institutions big and small
6. Excellent contemporary art galleries with international reach
7. Residency programs for national and international artists to create in Dallas
8. Master of Fine Arts programs to train and attract artists
9. Arts education in Dallas public schools
10. Public art to engage broad audiences and activate public spaces
11. Engaged audiences
12. Experienced art writers featured daily in primary news media
13. Civic championing of the arts through policies and urban planning
The rest of the report fleshes out each suggestion, offering copious suggestions and criticisms along the way. (Go ahead, read the whole thing. Oh, like you have something better to do today.) To which Meadows School Dean José Bowen responds thusly in the SMU release today:
"This is an important moment for Dallas. We've built wonderful new performance spaces and we are clearly ambitious in our desire to be a major cultural center. The report highlights the existence of terrific collectors, patrons, artists, institutions and partnerships, but also gives us a fresh perspective on what Dallas needs to do to fulfill its promise. Mostly, we hope this report, and the symposium to follow, will serve as the beginning of a conversation for how we can make the Dallas arts community the best in the world."
SMU notes: The release of the report is but a baby step toward making improvements. To that end, there will be a free-to-the-public symposium on April 9, from noon to 6 p.m., titled "The Freedom of the City: Models of Urban Engagement and Creativity in the 21st Century." Among those scheduled to attend the meeting, which will be held in the Bob Hope Theatre of the Owen Arts Center, are Rick Lowe, creator of Houston's awfully impressive Project Row Houses; Tom Finkelpearl, executive director of the Queens Museum of Art, along with Creative Time-r's and leaders of Dallas's arts scene.

Interesting timing too: As we noted a few days ago, the city's also involved in that nationwide survey of its arts scene -- a big component of which involves translating arts support into economic development.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky