Dane Walters shot and edited this video capturing Aurora in the Arts District Friday night. Even for those of us who were there, it’s fun to watch, especially things like the umbrella-flickers of Peter William Holden’s AutoGene. But if you didn’t make it (I, too, suffer from Friday Work Burnout, so you have my sympathy), then enjoy. It’s still a pleasure just to watch.
Walking up and down Flora Street, I often overheard people who, shall we say, were not exactly regular arts patrons. Judging from the conversations of younglings, quite a few had no idea what this was, if it had ever happened before or what many of the less easy-access artworks were trying to accomplish. Besides, a number of the artworks were clearly designed to be ‘experiential,’ not deep. They could have been carnival rides, an excuse to gather and chat and eat (LOTS of food trucks) with something interesting going on nearby. People were just having fun. One woman I heard explained why it had been so hard to find her friends; she apparently had never been to the district before.
All of which was The Point, of course.
Over on FrontRow, Peter Simek enthused that this kind of crowded, buzzy evening is precisely what the Arts District was created for and what it should be. I felt the same way four years ago, when the district held its Open House, and more than 25,000 people showed up (“The Arts District’s best day was its first day”). Such events — like the once-annual Arts in October — are attempts to prime the pump. They try to get the district to where it needs to be, but where it needs to be on a regular basis, even as it lacks any significant residential component in the immediate area, lacks any actual artists living there, lacks a lot of necessary retail and lacks (until recently, until these kinds of events) sufficient density of artistic activity to draw real crowds. Until we have those things — affordable housing, retail, resident artists, critical mass of scheduling and collaborative festival activities — Aurora and Aurora-like events will remain tantalizing rarities, all the more enjoyable for their rarity.
You know, very much like a cool, fall evening in North Texas.
Reportedly, some 35,000 came to Aurora, leading Simek to wonder, what magic led to this response? Actually, each year, Aurora has made quantum leaps upwards in crowds and complexity (this was the first year, for instance, that Klyde Warren Park was included, significantly expanding the festival’s walking area).
But I think there are two primary reasons for Friday’s crowds (and the nature of the crowds). First was the marketing muscle of The Dallas Morning News. In previous years, Aurora had been chatted up enthusiastically by, well, artsy outfits like Art&Seek and FrontRow. But when the News gave Aurora huge displays over and over — wrapped around Guide, major puffs by Michael Granberry (“Leo Kuelbs came to Dallas and fell in love. ‘I am in love … with that building,’ he says of the Wyly Theatre”) culminating in a breathless, day-after, front-page re-cap — then however online folks may still dismiss ink-on-dead-trees media, the fact is that, via the News, Aurora made the leap from an artists-and-their-friends audience to a wider, we’re-just-here-cuz-it-sounded-cool audience.
It makes perfect sense: Belo has long promoted downtown. So this past weekend, it got behind some downtown arts-and-music festivals like Aurora and Index. Not coincidentally, so did Mayor Rawlings with his call for downtown to ‘get funky.’
Even so, there are limits to what the News can do with print (and political influence). It helped immeasurably that Aurora had a terrific visual to sell: the Matrix-like wizardry of 3_Search and Glowing Bulbs, the artists who made the Wyly Theatre seemingly deconstruct, reconstruct and get all-cosmic on us. The News’ video of that projection-mapping piece, Blueprints and Perspectives, deservedly got picked up all over town (like, by us and by WFAA-TV, naturally). What made that video sell Aurora was simple enough: It needed no words to wow viewers, people online needed no arts background or explanations to get a visceral thrill (I’ve never even listened to the entire voice track the News added).
Proof? Granberry’s blog post with the video embedded got Facebooked more than anything else he’s blogged all year, with two exceptions, both of which had a strong, self-interest and money component to draw readers: a story on low-cost artists’ housing and a report on the DMA’s new free admissions policy.
All of which isn’t to say Aurora didn’t deserve the attention — only that it’s not going to be happening every weekend, or even every month, yet.