Several years ago, during a public panel discussing the intellectual life of this city (held at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture), the talk had turned a little glum — along the lines of, ‘What can be done to improve things?’ One simple but significant improvement, I suggested, would be getting more spirited public discussion going. It’s hard to have a conversation with a single voice. Only the Dallas Morning News was reviewing vast sections of the local arts scene. Back then, for instance, the paper had the only full-time book critic on a newspaper staff in the entire state of Texas. Me.
What is the sound of one reviewer clapping? Or no reviewer? The newspaper book-critic position no longer exists.
So the idea at the time was: Encourage media outlets like D Magazine to cover the arts — beyond what it was doing then, which was mostly reviews of restaurants and plastic surgeons. Got applause from the attendees with that crack but also caught some flak from FrontBurner. They vigorously defended their restaurant reviews.
Now in a column for D magazine, publisher Wick Allison asks much the same question: What can be done — especially now, when the city is about to launch a vast expansion of its Arts District — and there’s very little left in the way of professional criticism? (“Good critics do more than critique. The late John Rosenfield of the Morning News helped establish the American regional theater movement in the 1950s, at a time when cities like Dallas were exposed to nothing more than third-rate traveling companies of old Broadway standbys.”)
Yes, he writes, there are bloggers (ahem). But you generally have to know where to look, so they tend to speak to the already-interested. True, but then Allison fails even to mention the Art&Seek reviews and news reports that have been appearing on KERA-FM since May. We only have a North Texas listening audience that numbers in the hundreds of thousands.
But we’ll let that slide because the publisher of D and FrontBurner humbly admits his own part in this situation. He eliminated the entire arts section from his People City newspapers last year. Glenn Arberry was an intelligent and knowledgeable theater critic for them, a welcome voice in the cultural conversation.
Then Allison concludes with this notable promise:
I do not have a solution to the problem. But as a media owner, I do have a responsibility. At the moment, we are monitoring and talking to very bright people in other cities who are grappling with the same dilemma. When we see an idea that works, D Magazine will do everything in its limited power to introduce it to Dallas. To my mind, the need is too great to merely sit by and watch.