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Creative Time's Long-Awaited Report on Dallas' Arts

by Jerome Weeks 1 Feb 2011 12:59 PM

An innovative, New York-based nonprofit working on public art projects has released a report assessing Dallas’ arts scene — after a year-long residency provided by SMU’s Meadows Prize. Its 58 recommendations are directed toward fostering a closer-knit, supportive arts community here from patrons to administrators to artists. Some suggestions are no-brainers –“buy local” — others will spark some real thought or discussion.


  • Listen to Jose Bowen, dean of SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, and Anne Pasternak, director of Creative Time, talk with Krys Boyd on THINK about “Building a Thriving Artistic Community”
  • KERA news story:
  • Expanded online commentary:

An innovative, New York-based nonprofit working on public art projects has released a report assessing Dallas’ arts scene — after a year-long residency here provided by Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Prize. Over that year, a team from Creative Time visited Dallas on three occasions to meet with artists, patrons, curators, city officials and school administrators [full confession: I was part of one luncheon].  The resulting 11-page report, “Building A Thriving Artistic Community,” includes 58 recommendations that although they are not meant to be “comprehensive” are intended “to generate dialog” and “encourage feedback.” (The full report can be accessed here. The press release, included below, has details about a public symposium to be held April 9 at SMU’s Bob Hope Theatre.)

A number of the recommendations are pretty self-evident or will be old news to veterans of the Dallas arts scene. The need to “get audiences into your space,” for instance. Or “media agencies need to create more writing jobs.” Or, simply, “Buy local.”

But “Building a Thriving Artistic Community” also highlights significant issues that rarely get much attention in North Texas — notably the need for affordable live/work spaces in particular neighborhoods, spaces that will help develop and sustain a resident artist community (and all of the creative interactions that such proximity can foment). In fact, community — nurturing a closer-knit, more supportive, more productive, resident framework for our geographically scattered arts scene — lies behind much of the report’s specific suggestions about collaborations. After all of the celebrated construction efforts in the Arts District — where no artists actually live — it’s telling that the live/work space recommendations come first in the report. It should also be noted that this is a major factor in the discussions currently going on about future West Dallas redevelopment.

Under its more obvious ‘big tent’ goals, the Creative Time report throws out some proposals that are intriguing or have been tried elsewhere but are unfamiliar here — getting universities’ MFA programs “off campus,” for instance. And while the report is couched in optimistic and flattering language (“Dallas has great artists, extraordinary museums and collections”), it does identify badly needed improvements or, more positively, “areas for growth.” Consider, for instance, our often lackluster public sculptures: “Hold public projects to the same standards as your institutions. Though public art commissions exist in Dallas, they are not executed with the curatorial rigor of the city’s institutions.”

For some of the more ambitious, ‘big sky’ goals, the devil is in the (frequently maddening) details. There are recommendations that although one hails them as long-term dreams, one can’t help but view them as ‘problematic,’ to say the least, ‘non-starters,’ at the worst — given current political and economic realities. “Think big. Advocate for arts education in all of Dallas’ public schools, not just a select few, securing public and private funding to serve every K-12 student in Dallas.” Even when money has been relatively flush and significant arts education duties were picked up throughout the district by Big Thought, DISD has had bitter internal fights over funding for magnet-schools vs. local schools. Considering that DISD now faces devastating cuts thanks to the state’s mismanaged tax-and-budget setup, even basic school functions are at risk — let alone additional arts education funding. Securing this one goal would be a huge step forward — and a massively difficult one to pull off.

It’s worth noting that although a broad spectrum of people was included in Creative Time’s research, the yearlong study was actually based on the Dallas visual arts community. But because many of the recommendations are relevant to the concerns of artists in other fields, it was felt that the report and the accompanying press release should consciously refer to the “arts” or the “art community” and never specifically restrict comments to “the visual arts scene.” A reader might guess the report’s visual-arts orientation after encountering the many references to galleries and curators and the lack of examples for, say, dancers or musicians. And some points do not apply universally: The report cites the high quality of the area’s MFA programs (though it suggests expanding them — anyone catch that at SMU?). Yet there isn’t a single master’s program in creative writing in all of North Texas. One can also read the report’s cri du coeur about the lack of media coverage of the arts as directed pointedly at the absence of a visual arts critic at the Dallas Morning News.

Again, “Building A Thriving Artistic Community” is not a blueprint. But it is a welcome stimulus to thought. And perhaps more forcefully, a challenge to action — artists effecting change by themselves is often the point here. Some of the suggestions are clearly designed to be small-scale and down-to-earth, thus easier to implement. Take North Texas’ often thinly-organized arts scene: “Share meals. Everyone loves to eat, so make informal dinners and host parties regularly. Collaborations and new professional opportunities result when artists invite other artists over, even just two or three times a year.”

The Creative Time luncheon I attended was heavily represented by SMU chairs (there is an SMU-centric perspective on much of this, hey, they funded it), but still, one couldn’t help but be struck at how rare (and stimulating) such a cross-disciplinary gathering was among North Texas artists, administrators and media.

The full press release follows …


A series of recommendations for fostering the arts in Dallas will be released today by SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts and Creative Time, a New York-based public arts organization. In October 2009, Creative Time received one of the inaugural two Meadows Prize artist residency awards from the Meadows School.

Creative Time’s residency has taken the form of a yearlong study of the Dallas art community to identify strengths and potential areas for growth. During the course of three weeklong visits to Dallas over the past year, Creative Time’s team met with a wide range of members of the art community, including artists, curators, collectors, gallery owners, visual and performing arts organization leaders, school administrators, philanthropists, writers, community organizers and city officials.

“Our goal was to begin an inclusive dialogue about where Dallas could focus energies to nurture its artistic life, a conversation that we hope will continue long after our residency has ended and will lead to new initiatives, policies and opportunities for artists,” said Creative Time President and Artistic Director Anne Pasternak.

The group identified 13 key elements necessary for the Dallas art community to thrive. Many are already in place and working effectively, while others are lacking or nonexistent, Pasternak said. For each element, Creative Time developed several recommendations to further strengthen programs and structures and to create new opportunities.

The 13 key elements are:

• A sustainable artist community and opportunities for live/work space

• Cultural institutions with international reach, innovative programs and historically relevant collections

• Great patrons who support the creation, presentation and acquisition of art

• Mid-sized and small art spaces that support the creation of new and experimental work by local and international artists

• Skilled and visionary arts leaders in institutions big and small

• Excellent contemporary art galleries with international reach

• Residency programs for national and international artists to create in Dallas

• Master of Fine Arts programs to train and attract artists

• Arts education in Dallas public schools

• Public art to engage broad audiences and activate public spaces

• Engaged audiences

• Experienced art writers featured daily in primary news media

• Civic championing of the arts through policies and urban planning

Dallas excels in the caliber of its artists, museums, collections and MFA programs, as well as in its curious audiences and generous philanthropists and collectors, the report said. In addition, the city has plentiful live/work spaces for artists and a strong sense of community. However, the report noted, there are very few small and mid-sized alternative spaces supporting the production of new work; arts coverage in the local press is limited; and artists are fragmented across a large geographical area, undermining their sense of community and potential for collaboration. Dallas also could benefit from greater opportunities for art to be created within its diverse communities, the report said.

The 58 recommendations in the report provide ideas for both individual and collective action. For example, the report said:

• Artists could rent studio buildings together, purchase property collectively and get actively involved in the communities around their studios.

• Artists and arts organizations could explore opportunities to present work in unexpected and diverse sites throughout Dallas.

• Cultural institutions could commission new work and support artistic experimentation, collaborate across disciplines and involve the local artist community by hosting professional development workshops and artist events.

• Institutions should hire skilled and visionary leaders, invest in the training and growth of their staffs, and provide respectful and competitive compensation packages to attract and retain the best in the field.

• Patrons could be encouraged to support small and medium-sized organizations, which are the stepping stones between the studio and the museum, as well as opportunities for local artists to advance their work through travel grants and residencies.

• Galleries could collaborate with each other as well as with universities, alternative spaces and cultural institutions through events such as book launches, film screenings and museum member tours.

• MFA programs could expand their course offerings and connect with the larger art community by requiring students to attend shows and openings off campus, visit local artists’ studios, attend lectures at museums and galleries and intern at local institutions.

• Newspapers, universities and museums could expand the discourse on art by sharing resources, such as having arts journalists contribute essays to museum publications and university faculty write columns in newspapers and online magazines.

• City leaders could support temporary art projects, re-evaluate public art master plans and make sure public art commissions are professionally curated and maintained. To begin to link fragmented populations, civic leaders should promote new ideas in urban planning, integrate art into all areas of policy and champion cultural production.

• Audiences should spread the word about exhibitions and events, advocate on behalf of the arts in schools and local governments, and support local institutions by becoming members or volunteering.

“This is an important moment for Dallas,” said José Bowen, dean of the Meadows School. “We’ve built wonderful new performance spaces and we are clearly ambitious in our desire to be a major cultural center. The report highlights the existence of terrific collectors, patrons, artists, institutions and partnerships, but also gives us a fresh perspective on what Dallas needs to do to fulfill its promise. Mostly, we hope this report, and the symposium to follow, will serve as the beginning of a conversation for how we can make the Dallas arts community the best in the world.”

Bowen also noted that the Meadows School has already begun to act on the ideas in the report. “We’ve begun to create more opportunities for students to work in the community along the models that Creative Time has developed in other cities,” Bowen said. “We’ve also had overwhelming student interest in our new minor in arts entrepreneurship, the first program of its kind in the world.”


In a follow-up to the report, the Meadows School will host a public symposium on Saturday, April 9, from noon to 6 p.m. titled “The Freedom of the City: Models of Urban Engagement and Creativity in the 21st Century.” The symposium will explore new models of public art practice in the urban environment. The aim of the event is threefold: to disseminate information on exemplary projects of this type that have taken place or are in progress in cities throughout the United States; to discuss the relevance of such approaches to the city of Dallas; and to generate public feedback on these and related issues deemed crucial to the well-being of the community.

Participants will include socially engaged artists such as Rick Lowe, creator of Houston’s Project Row Houses, and Tom Finkelpearl, executive director of the Queens Museum of Art, as well as members of Creative Time and prominent Dallas community builders. The symposium will take place in the Bob Hope Theatre of the Owen Arts Center. Admission is free, and no tickets are required. For more information, call the Meadows School Division of Art at 214-768-2489.


Since 1974, Creative Time has presented the most innovative art in the public realm. The New York-based nonprofit has worked with over 2,000 artists to produce more than 335 groundbreaking public art projects that have ignited the public’s imagination, explored ideas that shape society and engaged millions of people around the globe.

Creative Time seeks to convert the power of artists’ ideas into works that inspire social change and stimulate public dialogue on timely issues, while initiating a dynamic conversation among artists, sites and audiences. A vanguard presenter of public art in New York, Creative Time recently began presenting national and global projects and initiatives, making it the only public arts organization with programs that have reached from New York to New Orleans, Haiti to Hanoi, and Dubai to Denver. These projects further Creative Time’s belief in the importance of artists in society and the power of art to raise consciousness, expose injustices and imagine a better world.

For more information on Creative Time and its projects, visit


The Meadows Prize replaced the Meadows Award, which was given annually from 1981 to 2003 to honor the accomplishments of an artist at the pinnacle of a distinguished career. The Meadows Prize was established in October 2009 and is awarded each fall to up to two artists. Recipients are pioneering artists and scholars with an emerging international profile, active in a discipline represented by one of the academic units within the Meadows School: advertising, art, art history, arts entrepreneurship and arts management, communication studies, dance, film and media arts, journalism, music and theatre. The Prize includes support for a four-to-eight-week residency in Dallas, in addition to a $25,000 stipend. In return, recipients are expected to interact in a substantive way with Meadows students and collaborating arts organizations, and to leave a lasting legacy in Dallas, such as a work of art that remains in the community, a composition or piece of dramatic writing that would be performed locally, or a new way of teaching in a particular discipline.

The Meadows Prize is sponsored by the Meadows School and The Meadows Foundation, in partnership with the new AT&T Center for the Performing Arts and local Dallas arts organizations.


In addition to Creative Time, the inaugural 2009 Meadows Prize was awarded to the Grammy-winning contemporary music ensemble eighth blackbird. The ensemble’s residency has taken place Oct. 17-23 and Nov. 15-19, 2010, and continues February 24-28 and March 27-30, 2011. (For information on their upcoming Dallas programs, click here) Its residency has focused on developing new curriculum that will help musicians become more entrepreneurial and engaged in their career plans. The curriculum is part of a new Meadows School initiative that includes the launch of the nation’s first minor in arts entrepreneurship.

The recipients of the second annual Meadows Prize, announced in December 2010, are playwright and performer Will Powerand choreographer Shen Wei. Power’s work in Dallas will be a partnership between the Meadows School and the Dallas Theater Center; during his residency, Power will lead workshops for Meadows theatre students, for the DTC’s resident acting company and for local high school students. He also will write/develop a new theatre piece intended for production at the DTC. Shen Wei’s residency will take place over winter-spring 2012 and will include a new work choreographed for SMU dance students, to be presented at their 2012 Spring Dance Concert. For more information on Will Power and Shen Wei, click here.

  • sam friedman

    My wife has sold over 25 pieces of art in the last 5 months. Now comes the hard part: Finding a studio space and a gallery to represent her. Although we looked in deep elm, and the new west end art spaces, there is no “art Vibe” She is today in Austin looking for a community. Art community would be the best and first step in building Dallas into a national center for the arts. And I mean that SMU should sponsor contests, with loft space as prizes. And I mean that other institutions should have shows of new artist, and support them in spaces so that we all can enjoy the fruits of their work. And I would be happy to help you achieve this goal.Please contact me.

  • sam friedman

    SMU and other instutions should support artists and communities of artists by having contests and exhibits. Winners would get space in either the west end or deep elm..I am sure that you all can work a deal out with landlords for all the empty loft space I looked at last week. Cheap rent has always been the big draw for starving artists.

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