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Making Dallas Even Better

Reaction to the Report: Professor and art critic Ben Lima

As several critics have noted, it seems that many of the recommendations in the Creative Time report are the kind of good ideas that would be valuable in many different cities; they don’t explicitly claim to identify unique characteristics of Dallas. Furthermore, the report apparently does not prioritize its recommendations, or estimate their cost in time and effort.  For an institution to respond to the recommendations, it will need to use its own judgment about what they cost and how achievable they are. I don’t claim any expertise here other than as an interested member of the public, but I would be most interested in ideas for what Dallas can do better than other cities can do. For example:

Doesn’t DFW have more Fortune 500 headquarters than almost anywhere else?  Are these companies all engaged with the arts?  A minuscule fraction of such a company’s donation budget could constitute a huge gift for an arts organization. Are all of these companies approached regularly with convincing visions?  The presence of these companies is a huge advantage for the area. Might they be willing to give more to the arts than they do?

Real estate is much cheaper here than on the coasts. That means good value for studio space.  Doesn’t this lure dynamic individuals who can spark larger movements? I know things like this are probably already happening, but: What if a grant-making organization offered prizes of months- or year-long free studio space to top national and international art-school graduates who might otherwise go to New York, Los Angeles or Chicago?  (More recent graduates will be less established and committed to another place, and more open to moving somewhere new.)   The cost of such a program would be a small fraction of doing so in one of these other cities.  Dallas has many real-estate developers.  They could sponsor this cheaply and get a lot of free good publicity out of it.  (Think of “The Andres Brothers Studio Fellowship” or “The Trammell Crow Studio Fellowship.”) 

(This one shared with other Texas cities.) We border the South, the Midwest, and Mexico; also, migrants from the rest of the country, including the North and West, continue to pour in (four new seats in Congress, right?). This means concrete experience with diversity that many other places don’t have. These themes of diversity and change are of great interest to the rest of the country. Shouldn’t Dallas be in a good position to explore these issues in a way that attracts broad attention? 


Many civic leaders seem to recognize the value of the “official” art institutions, i.e. the Arts District, but not as much the “unofficial” scene that arises when a critical mass of entrepreneurial, creative people start small-scale institutions on their own. This type of scene is what draws creative types to Austin, Portland and Brooklyn (and here too; see Jim Schutze on the ‘bikos’ of Oak Cliff). Of course the paradox is that these scenes thrive without official sponsorship. Maybe all the “official” institutions can do is to get out of the way.  But there should at least be a good communication channel.  The number of people who make such scenes happen is not large. Some of them have already commented on this report. Is there a network, an e-mail list, a way that these people can make themselves heard to civic leaders? Maybe there are bureaucratic or other things that can be done to help these people do what they do.  At least the “official” institutions need to recognize the value of the unofficial institutions in attracting an interested public to the city.

We could discuss the value of prizes and contests in stimulating a huge amount of activity, sometimes more so than grants that fund operations. Examples include the Netflix Prize and the X Prize.  Cash prizes basically get a lot of people to work hard for free in hopes of winning, and attract a lot of publicity.  If Dallas institutions want a lot of bang for the buck, they could announce a prize or two, and see what flourishes.  It looks like the Meadows Prize is a good example of this. (Here are a couple of articles from Slate that discuss prizes:

  • Cate

    Ben – I think you should have been paid the $25,000. Love your thoughts.