I was interested to read the Creative Time report, and to follow the response. At one level, the report is inarguable. You can’t take issue with any of its recommendations. At another level, the report’s approach is highly particular, even pointed. It suggests that transformation will follow less from a great new project, a bold new vision, a new or restructured institution, or even the focused application of resources. Rather, we’ll attain the goal of a thriving artistic community through the progressive accretion of simple, obvious, positive behaviors. If we can, each of us—administrators, artists, collectors, gallerists, journalists, trustees, educators—be better arts citizens, then our arts community will thrive.
To a city that’s just witnessed the completion of dazzling new cultural edifices and the assembly of extraordinary art collections, the Creative Time approach might appear prosaic. Instead of the excitement of a grand vision, Creative Time offers a series of modest steps. Rather than the satisfaction of reading what other people should do, and how they should spend their money, we’re told to do it ourselves. And while it might be fun to see fingers pointed (not at ourselves), what’s fun about being told to cook dinner?
So I understand some of the less-than-enthusiastic response that’s greeted the report. But I don’t really agree with that response. Reading the report is like going to a fancy doctor anticipating some new wonder drug, only to be told to eat more fruits and vegetables. It’s a bit of a letdown, perhaps, but it will likely make us better.
I’m going to try and follow doctor’s orders. I hope everyone else does. In the meantime, if I were to prioritize one element of the report, it would be the importance of MFA programs. With all the investment in culture that this region has seen in recent decades, we’ve become an internationally recognized center of cultural consumption. If we want to achieve that same stature as a center of production, the swiftest, easiest, surest path is to bolster our university art schools. That means hiring brilliant and challenging artists to teach in our schools (think of the difference John Balsdessari made in LA, and Michael Craig-Martin made in London). That process has already begun, and should continue, bringing artists of international stature, capable of galvanizing their schools and community. And we need greater funding for our MFA programs to attract more students from outside this region—and retain the resident talents who might be drawn elsewhere. Of course, I’m talking about spending other people’s money to hire those teachers and attract and retain those students, but it’s considerably less than it takes to build buildings or assemble great collections. And the payoff should be obvious. Artists attract other artists. They strengthen art galleries and help create new ones. They engage collectors and cause museums to pay attention. Art students provide a vital and critical audience. They bring new ideas and energy. Throughout history, art capitals have flourished by attracting talent from elsewhere. That’s the very definition of a cosmopolitan center. The Medici didn’t so much buy art as they bought artists. Today, that’s what art schools do. Even a modest investment in art schools could pay off handsomely. The great contemporary art cities of the world all have great art schools. Why not Dallas?