Counting Down 2013's Best and Worst Moments In Dallas Culture
Blunders, politicking and a few points of honest success topped culture headlines in 2013. Some of it was exciting, pointing to a new era of community interaction and cultural immersion. Other times it felt like we had allowed those old notions of what Dallas is -- socialites bickering, sexist opportunists and big money steamrollers -- to take the wheel while we napped. It's the year in art and it's all worth revisiting. Let's look at 2013's cultural highlights, from best to worst.
1. The DMA Went Free
The biggest news of the year was good news, and c'mon, that never happens. Let's take a moment to be extremely proud of Dallas. [Pours Champagne, blows noisemaker thing.]
The DMA switched to free general admission in January, an unprecedented move in museum operations and one that wasn't without significant risk. Then, something even more interesting happened: Area businesses and donors piled on to support the effort, replacing the funding through multimillion dollar grants.
All of the changes that have gone into effect since Maxwell Anderson took over -- the Friends program, the digitization, the technological improvements, transparency and free admission -- link together to make the DMA more than another destination museum, it's become a cultural hub that invites each of us in, six days a week. It's a place to relax, recharge and get a dose of complimentary inspiration. What a positively beautiful gift.
3. Two of the Year's Most Beautiful Films Came Out of Dallas
Each branch of the arts has its own temperament. Our city's filmmakers work quietly, and when prodded about their needs are quick to flip the positives, praising Dallas for its ease of living and work-making. I think that's why we overlook them: They don't bitch like everyone else. Instead, they labor late nights, early mornings and pay the bills in between. If you're not intimately connected to that network, you could forget it's there.
That's why this year was such a great wake-up call.
Shane Carruth's stunningly styled Upstream Color and David Lowery's Dust Bowl bounty hunt, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, both hit the theater and festival circuit in 2013. Superficially they couldn't have been more disparate, but at their cores each played with themes of the potential and limits of human connection. And they did so with passion and a peculiar beauty that's unique to these here parts.
4. SMU Retold Rite of Spring in Steubenville's Wake
Photo by Sharen Bradford
The press release was curious. It stated that for Rite of Spring's centennial, the Methodist university had hired a Dutch choreographer to reinterpret the piece, gearing it toward a new generation. Tucked deep into paragraph three was the mention of a sexually aggressive puppet, meant to embody technology and the group think it spurs.
The shiny little marionette looked like an ankle-biting C3PO, and as the piece progressed we learned exactly how bold this commissioned work actually was. From the greenhouse props the SMU dancers hormonally pressed against to the demonic nature of that shiny gold monster, we saw ripe youth controlled by a false idol. It was unexpected, powerful and terrifying.
5. Stelarc Presented the New Future
"Can you hear me now?"
Because he was brought to town by a convention of human suspension enthusiasts, Stelarc's Dallas visit went underpublicized to the broader arts audience. Those who were lucky enough to hear his talk at Lakewood Theater have an exciting new vision of where art and science are heading. For starters, the Australian artist has an ear - yes, an ear - implanted under the skin of his forearm and soon it will become Wi-Fi and microphone enabled, allowing any of us to tune in to his surroundings, regardless of geography. That alone should be enough, but no. Stelarc went on to show the current push to build smaller, sculptural robots designed to live inside our bodies and fix human parts as they break. He showed how rapidly artificial intelligence is improving. Then he hung people like human laundry. It was amazing, but I guess you had to be there.
6. The Van Horn Diaries
This one is pretty inside baseball, but odd enough that it deserves a mention. Early last year local art-goer and contributing culture writer Rachel Van Horn took to the Internet in what seemed like a manic swing. The rant lasted about 24 hours and during its run she called out everybody anyone's ever known or loved. Some survived unscathed. Most were verbally beaten, called names, accused of racist behavior or were even outed for their sexual orientations. Everywhere you went, people were on their phones, following the tailspin on Facebook and Twitter.
It was like watching a marathon episode of Gossip Girl, set in Dallas, where everyone's antidepressants had run out. You get what I'm saying: It was balls-out crazytime. When it finally ended, Van Horn brushed the weekend off, labeling the event a piece of experimental digital art, rather than an emotional purge. Since we've never understood what happened, the Van Horn Diaries get a number 6 -- smack dab in the middle.
7. The Dallas Symphony's PR Blunder
This scandal was swept under the rug quicker than a joint during dorm inspection, so let's talk about it. Jose Reyes was a not-rich man who volunteered heavily with the Dallas Symphony. Sure, he might have embellished what he did for a living to "I work in marketing," when he actually manned a Bank of America call center. He could have been too eager and not quite as beautiful or effortless as the socialites he served with. It's possible that he hopped into one photo too many, at the wrong event, on a bad night. But Jose Reyes didn't deserve the treatment he received.
Reyes earned a humble income and still supported the arts fully. He bought tickets to fundraising events, served on boards and increased the profitability of the organizations he volunteered with. That kind of work should be rewarded and admired. He should get a plaque. Instead, he got black balled, fired and ex-communicated when certain socialites voiced their concerns.
A diamond-studded posse lobbied complaints to the Dallas Symphony, accusing Reyes of sneaking into events and generally making them uncomfortable. Rather than asking Reyes to tamp down the photo hopping, the Dallas Symphony bent over for its inner funding circle and cut Reyes loose. Worse still: They did it publicly, in a media statement.
From there, it got more disgusting when D ran a gossip piece further defaming Reyes without fully fact-checking the allegations. I've seen those receipts and Reyes did not sneak into the events he volunteered for (although I believe volunteers should get into events for free). In all of the fury Bank of America cut ties with Reyes, wanting to distance the company from his image. The volunteer was left unemployed with a soiled reputation. Eventually the retractions would be published on D's blog Frontburner, but they came too late to save Reyes' career and friendships, proving that money -- who has it and who doesn't -- is still the driving force of the Dallas arts community.
8. Central Track Ran Photographs of Naked Women Against Their Wishes
If you haven't been to a Naked Girls Reading event, allow me to fill you in. A bunch of fiery ladies select literature based around a theme, then they read it in the buff for about three hours. By the end of hour number one, you've grown numb to the nudity -- an interesting phenomena that speaks well of the gals' skilled story telling. It's an art -- an offbeat weird art, sure. But an art, and one that needs to be witnessed to be appreciated.
No cameras are allowed at a Naked Girls Reading event except for approved media, and then those pictures come with obvious restrictions. (Cropping, etc.) Cell phones must be turned off and the only images you're allowed to leave with are what linger in your mind. Sure, these women read naked in closed-room parlor sessions, but they're also mothers, teachers and literary activists.
Nightlife website Central Track sent a photographer -- no writer, just a photographer -- then ran his pictures in their entirety on the blog. I'm talking full-frontal: from the ladies' Florida Keys to their Palm Beaches. I don't know of any journalism website that's allowed to run nipple and beaver shots, so that should have been a red flag for the site's editors. But they posted them without fully understanding the privacy restrictions. Those pictures were retweeted hundreds of times before Central Track realized what happened and removed the post.
9. The Dallas Contemporary Sold Work on eBay
As Dallas' art scene grows into itself we'll see a lot of youthful blunders. Still, little can be said in defense of the Dallas Contemporary's Internet misstep, when donated works were sold on the DC's eBay account without the artists' consent. Not only was the act disrespectful to the artists, many of whom wouldn't dare sell their work in that way -- for any amount -- but when the items went online and flipped for a fraction of their worth, the pieces' financial values were tarnished. Worse still was the shell game of blame, as those in top positions quickly accused the lowest-level employees for the error. Only after direct correspondence surfaced revealing director Peter Doroshenko gave the call to sell the work on eBay was a personal apology made at a higher level.
10. Comment Trolls by Museum Tower
I'm curious who buys that former anchorman Mike Snyder acted alone when he brawled through comment sections under fictitious usernames, like Brandon Eley. Part of a million-plus dollar Museum Tower publicity and legal campaign, Snyder attempted to manipulate public thought through advertisement-like comments. When that was reported, everyone denied everything. Even after the public records request found those emails linking Snyder's commenting actions to pension system administrator Richard Tettamant's wants. Worse still, Snyder was on the Museum Tower payroll, a company created and controlled by the pension fund -- meaning we actually paid money to be fed propaganda in 2013.
All of that came after mutually agreed upon mediator Tom Luce finally quit the compromise efforts, stating that Tettamant was actively avoiding resolution with the Nasher. It was after Museum Tower threatened Dallas arts writer Christina Rees with legal action, both to her and her then University employer, over comments she made on her own Facebook page. It was after the Nasher's sculpture garden lawn was replaced several times for heat exposure. This is where we are, and this is what we're allowing to happen. We need an intervention in 2014.