My reaction to the Creative Time report is almost synonymous to what I feel when my New Yorker in-laws come to town and trivialize everything they see – “Wow, isn’t this Deep Ellum trying to be Brooklyn,” or “Let’s go to the Stockyards and see some real Texas” or “Isn’t this Northpark fancy” – which is to say, I get pretty defensive. “Shut up, man,” I want to say, “and open your eyes. This place rocks. Let me show you how.” But everything inevitably comes up short in the eyes of someone from New York, or some legitimized place. And certainly, we that are involved in shaping culture in this town know, very well, the odds we are up against. Those odds just so happen to be the very things Creative Time pinpointed (as outsiders with doors to the inside) in its report.
My dukes are up.
I think that many of us wanted to see some very cool public art event take place as a result of Creative Time’s study. I was thinking an art flash mob down Flora Street. (Frances Bagley’s blind Zebra on the back of a truck parading through a silent, Biggest-Arts-District-in-the-World, anyone?) But that didn’t happen. Instead, the bland report kicked us in the pants with its duh-ness. Mr. Miagi, is that you dressed up as a bunch of art folks from up North?
Wax on, wax off…
We know this stuff. When do we learn how to fight?
But, just as with my in laws, I’ll pull up my reigns a bit here, for the sake of diplomacy and because, at the heart of it, I think we benefit in an odd way from the milquetoast gleanings of Creative Time. That benefit is, namely, the realization that we need to say the things that need to be said, without fear. Whatever specifics were missing from the report – about museums, schools, galleries – should already be being said in print somewhere. Let me be more clear and put part of the responsibility on the media, of which I am a part. The press is the unbeholden, should it so choose.
Who keeps media in this town from pulling out the guts of the problem? In part, it’s the audience itself. When critics are actually critical in Dallas, they are often maligned by contingents that understand critics to serve as some kind of cheerleaders, always championing the smallest creative, to say nothing of artistic, effort. What attacking critics does, I think, is take away the fuel for the fire. If the city itself can’t bear to hear what’s wrong with itself, and what it makes or doesn’t make, than a critic begins to wonder what they are fighting for anyway if this town is actually as provincial as others would name it. At the core, any art is not better than no art; and any art school is not better than no art school; and no, we should not champion institutional programming benignity for the sake of attendance numbers. These are issues that need addressing. Where should they be addressed? The same forum that faceted ideas have always been discussed diplomatically – in the media, through all the modes that affords us.
Certainly, that won’t solve everything. So many other gears need to click into place, as so many thoughtful people have articulated here on FrontRow in this discussion. But, at the very least, if we begin to understand our media outlets as places for conversation, not just promotion — as free forums for hashing this stuff out, and making evident our concerns and insights without reservation — than we’ll begin to call our arts to the standards that not just Dallas deserves, but that art itself does.