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Commentary: Does Dallas Need a Culture Czar?
by Anne Bothwell 6 Apr 2011

What happens to the recommendations made in the report on Dallas’ art scene prepared by Creative Time? Joan Davidow, director emerita of the Dallas Contemporary, has some ideas in this KERA arts commentary.


Now that a New York-based arts organization has completed a year-long research residency on the arts scene in Dallas, what happens to recommendations made in the report? Joan Davidow is director emerita of the Dallas Contemporary art space. She suggests some ideas in this commentary.

Joan Davidow

The long-awaited report from Creative Time intensively scrutinizes the visual arts in Dallas – its strengths and areas of improvement.

As the report states, there’s much in the contemporary arts of which to be proud:  strong art museums and collections, good university art programs, talented artists, active gallery scene, and stunning architected halls. But Creative Time emphasizes Dallas needs more and different art voices.  So that the Creative Times report does not join similar studies that linger on a shelf, I suggest a Culture Czar to galvanize the art community.

A Culture Czar can be the connector to make new art world happenings happen.  In the mid-1980s, New York Mayor Ed Koch named Bess Myerson his Commissioner of Cultural Affairs.  Myerson doubled the budget, dramatically increasing financial support to New York’s art community.

Art-wise, Miami changed drastically 10 years ago when the Basel Art Fair organizers (the world’s largest art fair held each year in Switzerland) selected the Florida beach for its American art fair. Now occurring annually and with an international connection; high-powered collectors, galleries, and press, the Miami art scene, once just lolling in the sun, has since exploded with new art spaces, serious artists, collectors’ museums, gaining worldwide attention!

Every arts entity in the city can commit to adding ONE new creative endeavor to their, yes, already full agenda.  Dallas Museum of Art can install the works of the young, emerging artists it awards annually; Dallas Art Fair’s nationally growing art weekend can spur Satellite sites to show regional talent; university art departments can rally:  Meadows School of the Arts can begin its residency program inviting artists from around the world; and an area university could initiate a scholarly, art-criticism,  degreed program.  The great collectors here can each “adopt” an area artist to visit and critique regularly.  The artists themselves can become more proactive and have potluck suppers in their studios; Dallas’ cultural art centers – the Bath House, South Dallas, and Latino centers – can actively invite guest curators to mount exhibitions that show area emerging talent; and Dallas’ new private/public urban planning team can add a conceptual artist member as an active participant.

Much of the Creative Time report has resonated with Meadows School of the Arts.  SMU wants to activate its arts-community role, and with its resources, could contribute to the arts ecology of Dallas.  Using Creative Times’s suggestions, let SMU start by funding the Culture Czar to hydroplane Dallas into a new art arena.

What other ideas is Creative Time’s report sparking? Find out this weekend, when Meadows School of the Arts and Creative Time host a symposium on Urban Engagement and Creativity Saturday at SMU.

  • Oh Lard!

    At its best, the Dallas art community is an amazing anarchy. Pot luck suppers? Sure, why not? But who decides who gets invited?

    Oh, come on. A cultural czar? Who pays them? The already money-strapped City? The one that’s been canceling projects all over the place? Yeah, sure.

    What hooey!

    Anarchy should rule our precious Dallas art community. It’s done a great job so far.

    J R Compton

  • JasonMN

    I find that this rather free-form, impressionistic collection of sentiments fails to conclusively make the case for an arts czar.

    I deem it unlikely that SMU will, as proposed, fund a culture czar to hydroplane Dallas into a new arena, except perhaps one of dazzlingly mixed metaphors.

  • Cranky in the Morning

    Very ironic that the woman who (allegedly) killed D-Art is giving advice to Dallas artists. Or thinking that NYC in the 1980s is relevant to Dallas in the 2010s.