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Just One More Bad Idea Intended to Bring the Creative Class to The Arts District

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Oh, no, this can't be. The plan to bring together all of the city's disparate and independent small arts organizations under a central government ministry in the new "arts district" has hit a snag. According to a recent story in The Dallas Morning News, the independent arts organizations are failing to behave in a unified fashion.

What next? The fall of communism?

Since the early '80s Dallas City Hall and a tight cabal of influential real estate developers have poured untold treasure and time into the creation of the city's vaunted "arts district" between Ross Avenue and the Woodall Rodgers Freeway downtown. The plan has always been to get all of the city's cultural organizations out of their scattered venues, especially Fair Park, and put them under central control in a unified real estate development easily accessible to the Park Cities.

The difficulties recounted in The News story have to do with the new City Performance Hall, a venue under construction now in a roughly 30-block area shared with the city's glitzy opera and symphony halls and art museum. The new performance hall is supposed to serve small arts groups that can't afford to rent space in bigger venues nearby. But apparently many of those groups are already fearing they won't be able to rent space in the performance hall, either.

They also can't get the city to tell them how the thing will be governed. They also can't get the city to tell them when they can even know what dates will be available to book.

I'm reading this story. I'm thinking, "Well, if they do succeed in getting the city to tell them who's responsible and when they can get stuff done, I need to talk to them. I want to see if I can use the same techniques to get something done about my water meter that I've been complaining about for 20 years."

Let me ask you something: Who thought it was going to be a good idea to put small independent arts groups under the city? Why will they be better off working for some central government ministry called, "The Arts District?"

No, wait. Don't even answer that. Answer me something else first. What the hell is an arts district? Did we ever settle that question before we spent 30 years on this thing?

Maybe what they mean is sort of an arts mall. I could even get into that. It's a place where consumers go to buy art from retailers, so it needs to have all the right mall amenities -- good parking, armies of uniformed guards, Starbucks, enough bathrooms so every patron can take a leak once every 15 minutes. Sure. I'm not disparaging, but just trying to understand. An arts district, then, would be a place devoted to the sale and consumption of art.

As opposed to what? Well, notably, as opposed to what the small independent groups do, which is create art. That's just different. Creativity operates on a whole different scale from consumption, a different business plan, if you will. They're separate. They need to be.

You don't have the guy who actually throws the pots walking around NorthPark Center in his grungy clay-stained smock scaring people with his hair. He works far far away, in North Oak Cliff or the Cedars, in a studio with cheap rent where potential consumers can't see him. Everybody loves art. Nobody likes an artist.

The Arts District idea was fine as long as it was devoted solely to high-end rich-people art, museum art, big hall art, anything with a 50-buck minimum. That way you were drawing in only the big-bucks consumers, sort of like at a hoity-toity art auction where it's easy to keep things under control.

But now they're making what is probably a huge mistake by trying to bring in the creative people themselves. A tragedy in the making. They need to rethink. Somebody needs to cut some losses here, give up on this ill-conceived notion before it's too late. Maybe they could convert the so-called Dallas City Performance Hall into the Dallas Hall of Fashion and just use it to sell fur coats or something.

Meanwhile, please, you poor little small arts groups, don't leave your hobbit homes. Stay where you are. For you, the Arts District is the mountain dark and tall. Just don't go.

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