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Mayor’s Arts Panel: How Do We Get Artists to Live and Thrive Here?
by Jerome Weeks 10 Apr 2013

Five Dallas arts leaders joined Mayor Rawlings onstage to talk about getting more artists here and keeping the ones we already have. The conversation, Rawlings admitted, was just a start.

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This week, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings inaugurated Dallas Arts Week, a community-wide celebration of the arts. Wednesday evening, he convened what he termed a ‘creative conversation’ at the City Performance Hall. KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports on the talk.

  • KERA radio report:
  • Expanded online report:

Mayor Rawlings appeared to be enjoying himself, chatting with five Dallas arts leaders. Too often, he said, being mayor is a pain.  But now he said, “I get to talk about the arts. So I’m just – forget about you guys, I’m gonna have fun tonight ”  

Rawlings mostly listened and prodded the panelists with questions.  The main one was a two-parter: “The focus of tonight is how we can attract and get artists to thrive in the city of Dallas.”  

Record producer John Kirtland said young artists are drawn to a lively downtown. There, they can work, eat, perform and live around — other young artists.

Filmmaker-playwright-Texas Theatre-co-owner Eric Steele said the big factor was money. He noted Austin provides grants to young filmmakers. Meanwhile, he said, thanks to Governor Rick Perry’s budget-cutting, the state of Texas has axed its tax incentives for film production. So filmmakers are going to New Mexico or Louisiana.

Kevin Jacobs, owner of the Oliver Francis Gallery, said Dallas did have one distinct advantage — beyond its general wealth and positive attitude. It offers young artists a “a lack of pressure.” What he seemed to mean by that is that they’re free to fail — without the kind of punishing scrutiny that a media center like New York would inflict.

Kevin Moriarty, artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center, cited arts education in the public schools as a key issue. Maxwell Anderson, director of the Dallas Museum of Art, said North Texas needs more graduate programs in the arts. They’d provide a stream of educated, young artists into the city.

But Anderson also said he’d recently visited New York for a “propaganda session” — promoting Dallas to a group of leading New York  journalists. Many of them, he said — like many other people around the country — have an out-of-date image of Dallas as an arts center: “In terms of an arts community, there is a perception that we are a very conservative city — politically, religiously and ideologically. And that is probably the biggest single obstacle.”

Rawlings occasionally called on artists in the audience he knows: playwright David Marquis, Karen Blessen from Today Marks the Beginning. But the lists of helpful suggestions was strongest when it came to enticing newcomers; it petered out when the topic was what could be done for artists who already live here and feel sidelined by a city not concerned much with homegrown talent.

When Anderson brought it up, Rawlings admitted his panel of five white men lacked racial and sexual diversity. But he hoped this conversation was just the start of an annual series. Soon after he said this, an audience member surprised the panel by walking out and sitting down. She said, the panel clearly needed a girl. Courtney Ferrell is a self-described creativity consultant. When Rawlings asked for her suggestions, Ferrell said she thought Dallas was . . .  a little too polite.

Image from the Dallas Arts Week Facebook page.

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  • Excellent coverage. A lot of talk last night about the need to tell the story that Dallas isn’t what many people think (conservative on everything), and the need for honest, educated critics to point out the good stuff to a big audience. Since the collapse of newspapers around 2006, Art and Seek is really the only place I see that is doing that here. The local artists have a good point, Other than you guys, and to a lesser degree, the Morning News & Observer, the only outlet is social media, and there the attention falls on the good and the bad almost equally. It’s a challenge for artists, they have to be good and they have to make noise about it.. (By the way, Jerome, “Today Marks the Beginning” became “29 Pieces” last year.)

    • JeromeWeeks

      Ah, of course it did, and thanks for the correction. In my haste to post this and prepare the radio story for the next morning (note the time stamp on the post), I just linked to our three-year-old TV interview with Karen and went with that info.

  • Excellent coverage. A lot of talk last night about the need to tell the story that Dallas isn’t what many people think (conservative on everything), and the need for honest, educated critics to point out the good stuff to a big audience. Since the collapse of newspapers around 2006, Art and Seek is really the only place I see that is doing that here. The local artists have a good point, Other than you guys, and to a lesser degree, the Morning News & Observer, the only outlet is social media, and there the attention falls on the good and the bad almost equally. It’s a challenge for artists, they have to be good and they have to make noise about it.. (By the way, Jerome, “Today Marks the Beginning” became “29 Pieces” last year.)

    • JeromeWeeks

      Ah, of course it did, and thanks for the correction. In my haste to post this and prepare the radio story for the next morning (note the time stamp on the post), I just linked to our three-year-old TV interview with Karen and went that info.

  • How about starting with getting a FAIR share of the Bed Tax to the arts community to SUPPORT THE ARTISTS WHO ALREADY LIVE HERE?

  • How about starting with getting a FAIR share of the Bed Tax to the arts community to SUPPORT THE ARTISTS WHO ALREADY LIVE HERE?

  • stuart kraft

    A good first step would be to restore small arts group funding to previous levels and let the folks who are good at what they do, do it and be paid fairly for their hard work. Fund them and they will come.

  • stuart kraft

    A good first step would be to restore small arts group funding to previous levels and let the folks who are good at what they do, do it and be paid fairly for their hard work. Fund them and they will come.

  • Bruce Richardson

    Dang, Jerome. I brought it up. I pounded the hell out of that “grow it here” drum…

    • JeromeWeeks

      Yes, you did, Bruce. Sorry about that. Should have included you with Blessen and David. But I meant there weren’t many responses from THE PANEL on that topic. I was fairly impressed that right off the bat, Steele, Anderson, Kirtland showed they’d thought about the mayor’s initial question in practical terms. But then things got vaguer and slower when it came to local artists. in particular, I recall when the local ‘spoken-word’ performance artist was brought up — how can he fit with the established institutions? — and Kevin Moriarty didn’t really respond to it except in VERY general terms about how all artists, at some time or other, in almost any city, feel sidelined.

      Oooh. I should also add: I was several rows behind you. Whenever you and Marquis faced front, your words were pretty well lost to us folks in the bleachers.

      • Bruce Richardson

        If nothing else, I think there was a pretty clear and unified message originating north of the proscenium.

  • Dang, Jerome. I brought it up. I pounded the hell out of that “grow it here” drum…

    • JeromeWeeks

      Yes, you did, Bruce. Sorry about that. Should have included you with Blessen and David. But I meant there weren’t many responses from THE PANEL on that topic. I was fairly impressed that right off the bat, Steele, Anderson, Kirtland showed they’d thought about the mayor’s initial question. But then things got vaguer and slower. in particular, I recall when the the local ‘spoken-word’ performance artist was brought up — how can he fit with the established institutions? — and Kevin Moriarty didn’t really respond to it except in general terms about how all artists, at some time or other, in almost any city, feel sidelined.

      • If nothing else, I think there was a pretty clear and unified message originating north of the proscenium.

  • Is this about “How Do We Get Artists to Live and Thrive Here?” or nonprofit arts organization funding?

    Jobs and affordable places to live bring creative people to any community. Period.

    We have incredible job makers in this town in advertising, design, publishing, media, hospitality, and fashion that provide opportunities, salaries, and benefits to creative people of all stripes. None of those people were on the panel. We have property developers that have thriving communities of creative people living and working together. None of those people were on the panel. We have an adventurous investor community looking to invest in artist-entrepreneurs. None of those people were on the panel.

    Maybe next year?

  • Is this about “How Do We Get Artists to Live and Thrive Here?” or nonprofit arts organization funding?

    Jobs and affordable places to live bring creative people to any community. Period.

    We have incredible job makers in this town in advertising, design, publishing, media, hospitality, and fashion that provide opportunities, salaries, and benefits to creative people of all stripes. None of those people were on the panel. We have property developers that have thriving communities of creative people living and working together. None of those people were on the panel. We have an adventurous investor community looking to invest in artist-entrepreneurs. None of those people were on the panel.

    Maybe next year?

  • A panel of 5 white men- even if we throw that one out, there’s still the following:

    “How do we get artists to live and thrive in Dallas?” BUY THEIR ART.

    Dallas offers “a lack of pressure?” Read: “we just don’t expect that much. That’s why we buy our real art somewhere else.”

    There’s an outsider perception that Dallas is very conservative? IT IS. Try hanging a classical nude at a competition.

    Five white men? Start there.

  • A panel of 5 white men- even if we throw that one out, there’s still the following:

    “How do we get artists to live and thrive in Dallas?” BUY THEIR ART.

    Dallas offers “a lack of pressure?” Read: “we just don’t expect that much. That’s why we buy our real art somewhere else.”

    There’s an outsider perception that Dallas is very conservative? IT IS. Try hanging a classical nude at a competition.

    Five white men? Start there.