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We’re building it, will they come?


by Jerome Weeks 31 Jan 2008

With the Arts District, and especially with the Performing Arts Center, Dallas has bought into using culture as an urban revitalization tool, as well as a prop for increased national prominence. We have bet on it to the tune of — what? — three-quarters of a billion dollars? A billion? (The announcement this week that the PAC […]

CTA TBD

With the Arts District, and especially with the Performing Arts Center, Dallas has bought into using culture as an urban revitalization tool, as well as a prop for increased national prominence. We have bet on it to the tune of — what? — three-quarters of a billion dollars? A billion? (The announcement this week that the PAC has raised its final price tag/fundraising goal to $338 million seems to put us in that range, when one considers the DMA, the Meyerson, the Arts Magnet, etc.).

As a city, we started on this path well before the Guggenheim Bilbao ignited an international fervor for using culture to repair downtown and launch a city as a “prestige” arts center. But if every city of any size or ambition has a culture complex, how distinguished or life-changing can they be? Each town has its own infrastructure, cultural ecology, long-standing social tensions and audience make-up: We can’t just plug one of these in and hope it’ll work wonders.

So there are incredibly complex (and resistant) economic, cultural and urban design forces involved — as Richard Pilbrow, a leading theater consultant and an early advisor with the PAC, has said, raising $100 million for a new center is easy. It’s running one successfully that’s hard. One shrewd thing the PAC has done is include in its fundraising an endowment to cover operating expenses. Another is the hugely ambitious plan that Bill Lively, president of the Dallas Center, has for a nightlife-changing series of programs to keep the halls filled.

In the New Statesman, British theater critic Domenic Cavendish has started a regular column examining this entire phenomena of culture and urban regeneration (UK version). He’ll be “talking to people involved in regeneration schemes across the UK and reporting back about what they’ve said, and what I’ve seen. The questions asked will be broadly the same: what is it about ‘culture’ that’s driving urban change? Are there concrete examples of benefits? And if so, are those benefits lasting?”

We’ll check in as he does.

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  • In my opinion everything about the downtown art district is wrong. It’s elitist , conformist, and doesn’t address any real issue of the community. Nor does it revitalize anything – excluding the usual rich.
    What is needed is A. A daily newspaper that covers local arts – the Dallas Morning News does a horrible job of it – some of the worst in the country. DMN if you are going to spend all your time on Hollywood and NYC arts why don’t you move there? B. an art center that is NOT for ‘prestige’ but for art. I have written about such a center over the last decade, where the builders build the building then walk away. The people of Dallas fill it with their culture. They sign up and display their art, they sign up and use the theater for performances, they invite guest speakers, set up art lessons, open it to music groups etc. It becomes whatever Dallas wants it to be, not what people with money want. C. Finally what is needed is some common sense city planning. Set up a pedestrian only walkway that goes from Downtown all the way to Fair Park and you really revitalize downtown, and Fair Part, and Deep Ellum in between. Downtown Dallas could become the greatest pedestrian mall in the world simply by getting the cars out of Main, Commerce and Elm.
    Dallas is known to artists – artists of all kinds: musician, artists, writers, actors, filmmakers, etc. etc. – as a town that hates art and its artists. As a musician, painter, writer, and one who has covered the local arts for 15 years – that’s clear to me, and its been drilled into me by every emerging talent that flees the town in disgust. I’ve never heard it said Dallas is good to its artists. It’s not Austin, or Seattle or Boston or New Orleans. It’s not even 2nd or third tier. It’s reputation is clear – it hates arts and does nothing to promote it except that prestige thing – a show for society. A brick facade is a good symbol. But art is so much more. Too bad this town has yet to learn that. It’s paper turns its back on local arts, its radio marginalizes its music to Sunday night dead air time, and local art doesn’t count cause its not from somewhere else.
    We can sum it up in one word ‘provincial’. Dallas is provincial in every aspect of the way it treats it’s artists.
    I see Dallas as one day being the arts center of the world. I’ve written about it extensively. Yet for that to come to pass there must be some major changes!