How to Improve the Arts in Dallas: The Best Lessons from Mayor Rawlings' Symposium
At City Performance Hall last night, Mayor Mike Rawlings led a panel discussion about the future of the arts in Dallas, part of his #DallasArtsWeek initiative. All the panelists - Dallas Museum of Art director Maxwell L. Anderson, Dallas Theater Center artistic director Kevin Moriarty, filmmaker and Oak Cliff Film Festival co-founder Eric Steele, local record producer John Kirtland and Oliver Francis Gallery owner Kevin Ruben Jacobs - were white and male. So much for the future of women and minorities in the arts, said the awkward visual, which only Anderson acknowledged (to loud applause and whistles from the audience).
"Instead of another [Klyde Warren Park], use that money to start the careers of 50 filmmakers," said the Texas Theater's Eric Steele.
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The purpose of the 75-minute chat, Rawlings said, was to talk about how Dallas can attract more artists -- the mayor called them "human capital," thus reducing them to something sounding like slave labor -- and convince them to stay. His solution was a typically business-oriented three-part plan: first, "build great edifices" (like the City Performance Hall, Wyly Theatre and Winspear); second, find good people to operate the big, new buildings; and third, finally get around to working on convincing those who make the art, the plays and the music to come to Dallas and create stuff.
It's the "if we build it, they will come" model. Which doesn't work with artists, who don't much like traveling in herds and don't get to work in those fancy "edifices" until they've been invited. Young or old, artists go where they can afford to live and make their art without starving.
That part of the discussion elicited five better ideas from the other white guys on the stage:
1. Get Money
Instead of more buildings adorned with the names of billionaires, said filmmaker Eric Steele, "artists need money. If you fund the artists, it will help them make art for the rest of their lives."
Steele talked about the $250,000 in grants the Austin Film Society distributes annually to local filmmakers, saying Dallas could use something like that to keep talent from fleeing to Austin, San Francisco, Portland or other arts-friendly cities.
2. Go small
Also, "change the conversation," said Steele. "Instead of another [Klyde Warren Park], use that money to start the careers of 50 filmmakers." And Steele blames Governor Perry for the drop in film production in Texas. When Perry removed tax incentives for the movie industry, it drove location filming that could have been done in this state to New Mexico, Louisiana and Canada.
"We need MFA programs at universities within an hour's drive of Dallas," said DMA director Max Anderson. Post-grad training in performing and visual arts could provide a steady stream of energetic young talent into the city, many eager to start and establish careers here.
4. Extreme Makeover: Us Edition
Dallas also could use an image makeover, said Anderson. "The perception in New York and elsewhere is that Dallas is conservative politically and religiously," and not friendly to risk-taking artists. John Kirtland pointed to the image of Austin as cooler than Big D because of how it's perceived by media coverage of Austin City Limits and SXSW. "They just haven't seen Oak Cliff yet," added Steele.
5. Encourage Criticism (Cough, cough)
Arts critics in Dallas were also a topic. Steele said, "The media here should be more honest about the art." Moriarty added, "There's a teaching function of the critic. A real directness and frankness is needed."
Rawlings closed out the discussion by saying he hoped to have this "creative conversation" about the arts again next year. Creating some diversity on the panel would help.