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.
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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 Many of them, he said — like many other people around the country — have an out-of-date image of Dallas as an arts center: “In terms of an arts community, there is a perception that we are a very conservative city — politically, religiously and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.
- Learn how you can earn prizes through the Dallas Arts Week photo contest.
Image from the Dallas Arts Week Facebook page.