Texas suffers from a broadly philistine and even economically unfounded attitude toward the true value of culture. Broadly speaking, it sees culture as existing in the sole domain of private enterprise. At state and city political level it seems to regard culture as superfluous, a luxury, an indulgence, probably silly and probably pretentious. In short: a waste of money. It somehow fails to see it as the central component that engages, meshes, and lubricates the machinery of the entire civilized world – regardless of business models.
Instead, Perry prefers to promote video game designers as big business for the state. That approach to leveraging state funds will draw new revenue for sure, though not necessarily more revenue than an investment in the cultural would, and, in fact, ultimately very much less. But regardless of investment, that approach certainly won’t draw massive international respect, tourism, and tangible credibility on a world stage which will ultimately lead to untold future business opportunities. So, in terms of its impact on our own community, the myth of Dallas will be further perpetrated as big hair, beach ball bazoomers, out-sized trucks for picking up groceries at Tom Thumb and video games (about all the above?) for people who can’t seem to get out enough. Well, this may, at least, have the added bonus of keeping the kids happy while they’re failing at school and remaining uncompetitive in the world at large.
The great modern cities of the world have benefited beyond the scope of the current American dream in having an inter-layering of private and (significant) public investment in the arts. As such, different political moods in different eras add new institutions and initiatives that form multi-layered cultural activity that ultimately drive and feed the idea of a city as a hub of intelligent human endeavor in all its forms – including business, travel, restaurants, and so on.
I do not wish to pit one against the other in this instance – it’s not an either/or, culture vs video games, or culture vs sport, as the political arguments are so often idiotically reduced to. But extending a culture gap rather than closing one here is what will essentially keep the outside world from being interested in Texas. This may seem attractive to a certain Texan mindset, but when the low quality overbuilding in the exurbs crumbles, and the lack of investment in education and culture become painfully self-evident, Texas could end up with a similar problem that California now has, where the state can no longer support its expanded population. Surely the key to this would be in attracting sophisticated levels of business, and sophisticated individuals to provide a full spectrum of intelligent growth. Without culture, one can only expect a lowest common denominator influx of business that would leave Dallas looking something like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. It will function – barely – but at what cost? (Frankly, it’s not far off Brazil as it is). It is a recipe ultimately for implosion.
Where will the relocating wizards and entrepreneurs send their kids to school? They can’t all go to St Marks and Hockaday. In other words, the model Perry proposes is a short fix. In half a generation this type of thinking will come completely unstuck. Judging by the budget deficit, it already has. The current strategy indicates the same failure of vision as elsewhere in America. As Paul Krugman in the New York Times pointed out last January in his column ‘The Texas Omen,’ Texas was held up as the American republican panacea of no regulation, low taxation and low spending. According to the argument, if it worked in Texas, it could work elsewhere. It would, rather, seem that the experiment was an illusion. Texas is not a place renowned for investing in either education or the arts even at the best of times.
Is Texas to simply endlessly expand as a giant business center, relying on a handful of helpful privateers to build some museums and parade culture’s exterior trappings only? We can be thankful for these contributions, but it will never single-handedly build a modern culture without the city and state internalizing culture’s intrinsic value. Personally, I don’t see it to be optional. Now, more than ever, Texas, and Dallas in particular, should be investing in culture, not cutting it back. It just happens that now is the precise moment that Dallas is beginning to get the world’s attention. The spot light won’t necessarily linger on Dallas forever – especially if it can’t be seen to be making its merry dance. It’s a badly timed moment to be taking such a retrogressive step.
Photo by Richie Diesterheft via wikicommons.