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Joan Davidow to Retire from Dallas Contemporary

by Jerome Weeks 17 Feb 2010 11:10 AM

Having successfully — finally — brought Dallas Contemporary into its large new warehouse-industrial space, executive director Joan Davidow will retire from her position at the end of May.  A bit of a surprise, to say the least — but that delay may have been the last straw, as it were. The former head of the […]


Having successfully — finally — brought Dallas Contemporary into its large new warehouse-industrial space, executive director Joan Davidow will retire from her position at the end of May.  A bit of a surprise, to say the least — but that delay may have been the last straw, as it were.

The former head of the Arlington Museum of Art ran the Contemporary for nine years, leading it from its 30-year-old Swiss Avenue home and  getting the capital campaign underway, raising $4 million of the $6 million that bought and re-built the former metal-processing plant near the Design District. Davidow also expanded Art Think, the Contemporary’s educational program and grew the museum’s national audience from 12,000 to 40,000.;

But the move into the new home, scheduled for early January, was embarrassingly delayed for a month because of last-minute snafus, mostly having to do with getting phone service into the building. Nonetheless, the opening on Feb. 6 of James Gilbert’s Warnings & Instructions showed what the ambitious, flexible new space can do in terms of a major, site-specific, multi-media installation — with giant pieces of a plastic-and-wood model of a commercial airliner, plus life rafts and life vests, all hand-sewn by the artist and dotted with the occasional video screen.

Our recent Think TV interview with Davidow can be found here.

The complete press release is below the fold.


Dallas, TX – February 17, 2010 – Dallas Contemporary today announced Joan Davidow will retire from the position of executive director effective May 31, 2010. The institution will shortly begin a national search for a new director. Davidow will continue in a consulting role until the end of 2010.

Davidow’s retirement comes after nine years of dynamic leadership under which Dallas Contemporary has grown membership, expanded programming and initiated Art Think™, a nationally award-winning arts education program, that served more than 11,000 students last year. In addition, Davidow has spearheaded the purchase of the new location at 161 Glass Street and led a capital campaign to ensure the long-term home for the institution. Many of the artists Davidow debuted in exhibitions advanced their careers to become Guggenheim fellows, shown in recognized galleries and seen in national museums.

“Upon near completion of our capital campaign and our move into new quarters, I have the bittersweet duty of announcing Joan Davidow’s retirement from Dallas Contemporary,” said board president, Jo Marie Lilly. “After nine years of dedication and the devotion of tremendous energy, Joan has achieved her goal of moving us into the new building and positioning us for the future, and it is now time for us to look for future leadership. Joan’s legacy will inspire our future. Her contribution to the Dallas cultural scene is significant, and we are proud we have had her leadership and guidance.”

During her tenure Davidow has become recognized for creating exhilarating exhibitions of work by emerging artists, mostly from Texas, and is credited with nurturing the career of many artists prior to their exposure on a national stage. The institution has achieved dramatic growth in its presentation of regional artists and is expanding its reach to show national and international artists.

Dallas Contemporary has been housed on Swiss Avenue as a guest of the Meadows Foundation for 30 years in its incubator program that gives non-profit organizations a place to mature. Co-founded in 1978 by Patricia Meadows and two arts leaders, the institution has a long and rich history of bringing contemporary art to Dallas. In 2007, aware of its move-out date at the end of 2009, Dallas Contemporary purchased the 1950s industrial building at 161 Glass Street and has raised $4 million of a $6 million capital campaign to redesign the site for a contemporary art space. Nationally recognized architect, Edward Baum, former dean of the architecture school at University of Texas at Arlington, has inventively repurposed the industrial plant into a lively space for presenting contemporary art.

“Under the dedicated and capable leadership of Beth Ewing, chair, and vice chairs, Karla McKinley and Nicole Musselman Boykin, this campaign will see completion quickly,” said Davidow. “With less than a third of the campaign left to conclude the project, I feel comfortable that the art space is in good hands and will achieve its goals. The new 161 Glass location will allow Dallas Contemporary room to grow for years to come, giving the city of Dallas the opportunity to further shape its creative future.”

As Dallas Contemporary’s curator, Davidow’s exhibition work gained national attention when The Wall Street Journal recognized it as a “respected museum” for presenting group exhibitions of young artists to watch. Her work received international attention when the Centre Pompidou in Paris presented Dallas Contemporary’s Real Time exhibition of videos from artists’ mobile phones. More international acclaim came when Dallas Contemporary was invited by the Saatchi Collection to appear on its Museums around the World website that attracts two million visitors annually.

Her great commitment to making art accessible to all culminated in the Art Think™ program, which teaches children of all ages to think creatively about contemporary art. In six years of teaching youth from the Dallas Independent School District and community youth centers, Dallas Contemporary has served more than 30,000 students.

Dallas Contemporary’s audience has grown from 12,000 to 40,000 annually. Its signature graphic style been awarded six times nationally by the American Association of Museums and with 30 awards from the Texas Association of Museums. Its popular Wish! Auction, that raises one third of the institution’s annual budget and gathers a spirited crowd of 400 guests is scheduled for Saturday, May 15, 2010.

The inaugural exhibition and the opening of the new space present an inventive, site specific installation James Gilbert: Warnings & Instructions that fills the industrial warehouse gallery with a tri-part airplane fuselage covered in Pepto Bismol pink. The adventurous project will be on view through April 18, 2010 at 161 Glass Street and Riverfront Boulevard.

  • Yolette Garcia

    There’s no one like Joan, really. Her vision and energy for the arts have made the city a more interesting and liveable place to be. And she’s also so much fun!
    Joan did arts reviews and features for KERA 90.1 starting back in the 80″s and I had the privilege of editing her until she was hired by Arlington Museum of Art. It was a kick to have her come into the newsroom –she gave my harried day the bit fresh air I needed.
    I hope she sticks around to do to other things. Otherwise, we are poorer for it.
    Thanks, Joan.

  • Maybe some time to hit the tennis ball now? I miss hanging out with you! All my love and congratulations on an amazing run! You inspire me.
    Lizzy Zinn