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Creative Time Critiques Dallas: 9 out of 10

by Gail Sachson 15 Oct 2010 11:17 AM

What does Dallas have to do to create an artist-friendly city? More open to public art? Guest blogger Gail Sachson on last night’s State of the Arts with Kevin Moriarty and Anne Pasternak.


Guest blogger Gail Sachson , MFA. SMU, owns Ask Me About Art offering lectures, tours and program planning , is Vice-Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the Public Art Committee

Pasternak. credit:Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

“Dallas is almost perfect”, said Anne Pasternak , President and Artistic Director of New York based Creative Time (this is where I envisioned her raising her paddle and shouting NINE!) .Creative Time is   one of the  extremely worthy inaugural recipients of the first Meadows Prize artists’ residency from SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. A combination of  Art Super Nanny and Dancing with the Stars Judge, she and her staff have visited with arts leaders to help formulate a creative plan for helping us score a perfect 10.

Pasternak and the ever energetic and creative Kevin  Moriarty, Artistic Director of the Dallas Theater Center, were in conversation with KERA’s  (Everything You Ever Wanted to Know) Jeff Whittington, as part of the new and popular State of the Arts series at the Dallas Museum of Art.

What would make us better”? asked Whittington.

What I heard, and agree with wholeheartedly, as suggestions for all cities was:

*We need more artists living among us, so that we realize that they are not immoral, but just like us- only talented.


*We need our institutions to be less didactic, not to talk down to us, but to ask, “What are You seeing?”

*We should not be so event driven for our art experiences, but bring art and art happenings more into our neighborhoods and daily lives-even more important than staging exhibits in the Arts District.

*More public art should be temporary. Temporary works give the artist greater leeway. “They can get away with murder”

*Public art should surprise us more. Children are “super engaged” when surprised by a work of art. Adults are fearful.

*Public art should be risky, cause arguments and be upsetting.

How upsetting?

Upsetting enough, suggested Pasternak, to call 911. “A project has failed”, she said smiling, but seemingly sincere, “if there was no discussion and no calls to 911.”


  • I would wholeheartedly agree with this perspective. Art doesn’t feel like its part of the every-day experience in Dallas. It’s not woven into the fabric of daily life for the every-day dallas-ite.

    Instead, curators, art leaders and other Dallas arts folks tend to co-exist with fashionistas and, unfortunately, sometimes share the same attitude – that most of us just aren’t good enough to be seen with them. Hence, talking down.

    The Dallas arts scene still feels and many times behaves like this … “Look at me, I’m a curator – you are nothing”.

    Art should feel so accessible, so open and reachable that it should feel like a commodity.

    1. Promote more artists we can relate to. Promote emerging local artists who don’t also happen to be Trust-Fund babies from West Texas who also happen to be Francophiles who sing Opera for a hobby. (I love France, and the Opera, by the way). Give us someone we can relate to and who doesn’t mind talking to us, even though we shop at Target or may drive a ’93 minivan.

    2. Stop propping up scene-hungry Fashionistas as the only spokespeople for art in Dallas. You have to commit to parting ways with the art snobs (as the proprietors) if you want to make art more accessible. The Dallas arts scene, in my opinion, has a brand perception/PR problem that’s really easily solved – Find voices who lead, who also represent the rest of us. Soccer moms, Single Dads, Accountants, Janitors…Let them be them.

    3. Free for lunch? Find ways to partner with offices large and small to promote lunch art shows —- with employees as artists.

    3. Wal Mart, Target, Movies, Restaurants…this is where the rest of Dallas spends their time. Go to them. Partner with local schools and arts/crafts organizations to show off local talent in the lobby, in the foyer.

    4. Art is for everyone. Art should be completely inclusive, egalitarian and open. Look inward. Do you believe this? Part ways with giving a leading voice to people who talk only to a small sliver of the dallas arts community. Find more Jeff Whittington’s to be the voice of dallas! He’s approachable.

    I was at a dinner with 2 people closely associated with KERA arts – It’s the first time in my 14 years in Dallas where a native Texan (one of the KERA folks) made it a point to remind me that I was not a Texan, and therefore could not understand Texas. Colorful personality – but his own worldview is shaped by a ‘moneyed’ mentality that the arts in Dallas are the exclusive playground of the rich (old money, by the way, unless you buy art), well educated Texan.

    5. The kind of local art that gets the most attention in Dallas is not an accurate representation of what’s happening in South Dallas, or in the Dallas International community. Have you seen what ‘Art Love Magic’ is doing? They are doing so much great work for the community, yet I rarely see any of their activities mentioned here. Have you seen what is promoting from one day to another? Amazing events! But again, rarely do I see any of it mentioned here.

    6. Make sure you’re ok with being criticized. You’re doing a great job! Some of us feel like you have to be a fan-boy or fan-girl to get invited to the great openings!

    7. Create venues and events where people can engage and practice that which we ideate! There’s a mumble of mockery for so many ‘idea’ events where 5 seconds and a postcard is dedicated to actually making some of those great ideas happen. Where’s action week? How can we give back to the Dallas community, and its artists? Provide us with as many opportunities to give and practice as you provide to sit, drink, listen and possibly buy.

    Thanks for reading this rant. I love Dallas. It deserves the 9 out of 10. That last digit is a daunting one – we’ll get there with more great communicators/great leaders like Jeff W.

    Times, they are changing.

  • gail sachson

    Dear Micah:
    I am delighted in your reply, and I want to respond as best I can to some of your insightful suggestions…FYI
    #1.The NORTH TEXAS BUSINESS FOR THE ARTS holds annual juried exhibitions of business employees who make art. “On My Own Time” displays the art in offices and at NorthPark Mall for the delight of the community.

    #2.Opportunities to congregate and mix with others enthusiastic about the arts can be found by joining the FRIENDS and LEAGUE support groups of the arts organizations and institutions.

    #3.One can find talented emerging artist work at BFA and MFA college shows, at MEMBERSHIP shows from community art organizations, such as THE MAC (McKINNEY AVNEUE CONTEMPORARY), the CREATIVE ART CENTER, the CONTEMPORARY, the art shows at the city’s CULTURAL CENTERS, such as the LATINO CULTURAL CENTER, THE SOUTH DALLAS CULTURAL CENTER and the BATH HOUSE. THE OAK CLIFF ART CENTER is now exhibiting art by Oak Cliff artists. ART AUCTIONS,which often benefit charities, are a great place to find good art and do good as well.

    #4. The art world has found that you are right to suggest showing art where the people are. One can now find good art in FURNITURE STORES, which are often partnering with galleries, at REAL ESTATE OPEN HOUSES, in RESTAURANTS and in the lobbies of MOVIE HOUSES, such as the rotating shows in the MAGNOLIA LOBBY.

    #5. There will soon be the CITY PERFORMANCE HALL in the ARTS DISTRICT, where the smaller arts companies can perform.

    #6. CHARLES SANTOS, Director of TITAS and KEVIN MORIARTY of THE DALLAS THEATER CENTER are just two examples of approachable leaders in the arts. They welcome interaction and have initiated “talk-backs” to hear from their audiences.

    #7.Please join us next Fall on ARTS ADVOCAY DAY, produced by the Office of Cultural Affairs, when all arts enthusiasts have the opportunity to gather and go forward as a group armed with good information and strategy.

    #8.For many years now I have taught courses through SMU/CAPE (CONTINUING AND PROFESSIONAL EDUCATION), in which we learn about all that is happening in the Arts in our area, tour various art hot spots and offer guidelines for emerging artists to find a place for themselves in the workplace. In April we will be visiting the DALLAS ART FAIR. We will also celebrate the Adult Education Division’s 50th Anniversary with “50 REASONS to LOVE DALLAS’S SCENE” for Valentine’s Day in February. Join us.

    Thank you for your support of the Arts and following us on Art&Seek.I am excited about the Dallas arts scene and its potential. Letters like yours will fight lethargy.
    Gail Sachson, MFA

  • Anne Bothwell

    Wow, Micah, thanks so much for taking the time to leave this thoughtful critique. I’m not going to reply point by point, because I don’t think that’s the spirit you intended, and because I’m not sure how much of this is directed at Art&Seek, and how much to Dallas at large.

    But thank you for giving me a chance to say: I totally agree that art is for everyone. Our mission at Art&Seek is to connect all North Texans to the arts, music, culture and creative community – from the trust fund babies and fashionistas you mention to the soccer moms and single dads. We primarily do that through the content our small team generates for KERA radio, TV and this Web site and through the Art&Seek calendar, which anyone can contribute to.

    Our target is a mighty broad audience, and we know that not every story, TV segment or blog post is going to resonate with everyone. But over time, our small team hopes we’re hitting a broad range of arts genres, North Texas geography and, most important, a diverse cross section of the folks in our community who are engaged with art, whether they’re making it at the kitchen table with their kids or hanging it on the walls at a Fort Worth museum.

    We also make the blog available to guests: any artist, arts professional, volunteer or educator who has something to share or an opinion to offer is welcome to post on our blog. Some folks take us up on that; others are understandably busy or simply choose to pass.

    Also agree that ideas are great, but executing them is the real challenge. Most of the folks I’ve heard or met at Idea Week this week are making things happen, as well as germinating plans for the future. I’d say a good half of the presenters at Pecha Kucha Wednesday night – one event that included writing your thoughts on a postcard – provided the audience with an opportunity to act – whether volunteering at Paul Quinn College’s football field/farm or getting involved with Dallas Makerspace.

    I don’t think this is a good forum to get into who you had dinner with, but would be happy to email offline with you about it. Sounds unusual. Jeff Whittington, on the other hand, rocks! He did a great job last night at State of the Arts.

    Finally, thanks too for mentioning Art Love Magic. Here are some links to videos of same we made earlier this year.

    And here:

    I’m not surprised you missed them. We lost a lot of video when we redesigned our site in the Spring. So thanks for mentioning it – helped us find a few more orphans – and we’ll get these reposted in our You Tube channel.

    Kind of a long reply, but a thoughtful note such as yours deserves a response that I hope is helpful and encourages you – and anyone else – to keep the comments, critiques, ideas, and stories about how they’re being acted on, coming.

    Anne Bothwell
    Director, Art&Seek

  • Anne Bothwell

    Ha, I was so busy writing my reply I didn’t notice Gail had posted a comment as well. Gail – apologies for the delayed posting.

  • Ann and Gail. Thanks so much for the great replies! I have lots of research to do, and lot’s of spaces to explore based on these great notes!

    Lot’s of fantastic food for thought here. I’d simply like to go on the record as a dissenting voice here, in stating that I can completely understand why Pasternak would use the word ‘Didactic’. One might even go so far as to say that, although your messages were incredibly well-articulated and respectful, Gail’s response could serve as an example of the ‘didactic’ sense that one gets from Dallas Arts Institutions mentioned in the piece.

    Having stated that, I’d like to follow up by re-stating some points.

    1. Gail, you mention some fantastic venues to make art more accessible! Having said that, places like the Magnolia lobby are no Wal-Mart. The Magnolia, for example, already caters to a fantastically well educated audience in regards to the arts – that’s usually why they’re there in the first place. Making an art piece viewable is not the same as making the art experience accessible. We don’t take the 9 and make it a 10 by hanging more art at Macaroni Grill or at the Magnolia (I had a show there in 2004 by the way.) Curator hated my frames. 🙂

    2. Gail, in regards to leagues and associations, I just renewed my membership to the Nasher. While the 75 dollars is well worth the investment for me, might it be a slight stretch to think that it would be a tough sell to advocate the arts to someone who might not yet see the value, but then ask them for the yearly fee?

    3. Gail, I’m delighted that you mention a litany or opportunities for MFA and BFA emerging artists, but, isn’t that just part of what an institution should do?

    4. I’m very excited about the City Performance Hall. I’m hopeful that we’ll see a set of completely new faces participating there. It’s safe to say that time and time again, the lion’s share of attention goes to the insular ‘in’ crowd.

    5. Santos and Moriarty are accessible and open. Tell me, at how many FREE events can I sit and chat with them? Professional athletes are required to spend a certain amount of time volunteering. Might we expect the same from our arts leaders?

    6. I’ve seen the price tag an SMU continuing education classes. That’s a far cry from what I could call accessible to the Regular Joe in Dallas. I appreciate your perspective as an academic, but SMU is no open institution. It’s registration fee moat is high enough.

    7. I went to Pecha Kucha on Wednesday night, and headed to dinner with the speakers and moderator. I was deeply moved by the speakers and their work. I, however, thought that the ‘what are you going to do about it’ notecard was trite – and the moderator addressing it gave it a total of 15 seconds. As well, there was no follow up, or pens for that matter, to use the cards. In speaking to one of the speakers afterwards, they even admitted confusion as to the purpose and follow up of the cards.

    8. I’ll look up those youtube videos. I’m mightily impressed by Art Love Magic’s soulful (and natural) approach to mixing art with activism.

    Again, I just need to state this, and I apologize for re-emphasizing this dissenting view – as a community, we must, must find ways to push multicultural art activism into the mainstream if Dallas is to be known as a city where art is a common interest.

    As a dissenter and critic, I can also tell you, wholeheartedly, that as an arts community, Dallas does not in fact embrace public dissent or public art as agent provocateur that serves a needed role.

    Go to Art Con and tell me how many new, fresh faces you see there. Observe the demographic and psychographic. Then, tell me you believe well-meaning events like Artcon are reaching a wide, diverse audience. Last year’s TedXSMU, although inspiring, was an audience that more closely mirrored my uncle’s southern baptist church. You can imagine that the intermission dialogue could have been much more, had the outreach and admissions strategy been more egalitarian. It was completely numbing to go from a late morning speaker discussing environmental accountability to a catered lunch that was laden with plastic wear!

    Let me just assume for one moment that you’re now thinking, as Pasternak stated, as to what I’m thinking and seeing. I’m finding my inspiration these days in the events sponsored by art love magic. I’m finding inspiration in all the good work at photopolus DFW. I visit every day almost. I read, learn and participate when I can. Ann, Gail, you do a great job! We need more of you and your staff. In my heart of hearts, I feel like you know what I’m talking about when I tell you that this ‘art clique’ of curators and fashionistas is at times more of a barrier to that last point than the bridge. They are not you.

    In conclusion, these comments are moderated. You could have easily shut my own long ramble down and chosen just not to post. I understand the risk you take by making your online home hospitable to a dissenter. Thanks for reading, and responding!

  • Anne Bothwell

    Micah, you are fantastic. Boosters to critics, “experts” to beginners eyes, all have a role to play in creating – and bettering – our arts community. Would that all were as thoughtful as you.