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Phaidon’s new book Art Cities of the Future profiles a handful of world cities with vibrant, emerging art scenes. Here are a few things those cities possess that I wish we could steal for Dallas.

5 Far-Fetched Improvements That Would Make Dallas an “Art City”

Last week I received an advanced copy of Phaidon’s new book Art Cities of the Future. The new publication takes a different approach in trying to locate the most intriguing emerging artistic talent around the world. It zeros-in on the local scenes in a handful of cities, looking at the artists they have produced as well as the history, evolution, and ecology of the local environment that has given birth to them.

I’m interested in the book because Dallas fancies itself as an aspiring, emerging art center, and when I make it through the entire volume, I’ll come back with a more thorough review as well as some thoughts on what some of these cities around the world could teach Dallas about mapping itself as an “art city.” (Hint: It’s about artists, and not necessarily institutions and collectors, who play supporting roles to the art.)

Reading the book, though, has already sparked a few comparisons that harken back to the heady, turn-of-the-decade days when it seemed like making Dallas an art city was on everyone’s collective minds. And I couldn’t help but notice a handful of factors that make some of these world cities vibrant art centers, but which may be more difficult to manufacture in Dallas.

Make Dallas More Vibrant – Sure, kind of a generic statement. But community is born of proximity, creativity is stirred on by energy. The urban shape of Dallas diffuses both. Art scenes need density, which breeds more casual, everyday encounters, conversations, and critical disagreement. Critical disagreement: we need more that for sure.

Move UT to Dallas – Universities are not just the intellectual engines of art scenes, feeding cities with students, teachers, and activity, but they are intellectual institutions that artists can butt up against, stirring on more critical conversations and contention. Bringing UT to Dallas is certainly idiotically far-fetched, but maybe UNT could relocate some of its art school to Dallas, as SMU and UTD continue to invest. Better yet, how about an entirely new art school altogether?

Natural beauty – Sigh, I know. This again. But if you don’t have a vibrant urban environment, it would be nice to have a beach or something to make this city exciting for reasons that are not merely practical. Maybe with global warming, out dreams can come true.

That Superstar Artist from Dallas – Sure, we’ve had some great artists come out of Dallas: Vernon Fisher, David Bates, Erick Swenson. But we’ve never had that artist that comes out of this city and defines its art scene at the same time, then moves to somewhere New York and gives everyone a hard time for ignoring all the great talent that came before them, bullying critics and curators to take stock.

Collectors That Delight in Collecting Local Talent – Yes, Christina Rees has beaten this one before, but it’s a recurring theme in the the biographies of these emerging art cities profiled by Phaidon. I thought about it again over the weekend at The Power Station, which held a great exhibition called Amarillo Entropy. That exhibit looked at the activities of Robert Smithson and Ant Farm in the Texas panhandle, pairing ephemera with works by Richard Serra, John Chamberlain, and Ed Ruscha, as well as Stanley Marsh’s fake traffic signs. Complementing it all was an art auction featuring works by some of the best local talent inspired by the signs.

The idea was exactly what this city needs more of: a way to place local art within the context of a broader art dialogue, to showcase the best talents in a space that suits the project and has the potential to attract a rare cross-section of this city’s art world, from artists to high-end collectors. I just couldn’t figure out why there weren’t more collectors falling over themselves to snag the work of some of these artists which, at the end of the auction, went for just a few hundred bucks. They’ll kick themselves when this place actually does become an art city and they’ll have to shell out a whole lot more to catch up to the market they seem to always chase, and never lead.

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  • ArtsyDallas

    We have natural beauty! The Great Trinity Forest is gorgeous, White Rock is manmade but no one would guess it, and the Trinity River Corridor is beautiful. None of those are being used as well as they could be except for White Rock, but the Trinity Trust/Groundwork Dallas are focused on the Forest and a new group called RAFT is working to make the Trinity more vibrant.

  • Peter Simek

    @ArtsyDallas: I agree with you. Dallas is often surprisingly beautiful, but as you mention, all of our natural amenities are woefully under used and under “developed” in terms of their recreational potential (I use that word “developed” cautiously). That makes it hard to leverage our natural environment as an asset, though when you’ve lived here long enough, you find ways. Still makes it hard to compare to, say, San Juan, Puerto Rico, once of the cities in the study.

  • UTD grad

    “Move UT to Dallas – Universities are not just the intellectual engines of art scenes, feeding cities with students, teachers, and activity, but they are intellectual institutions that artists can butt up against, stirring on more critical conversations and contention. Bringing UT to Dallas is certainly idiotically far-fetched, but maybe UNT could relocate some of its art school to Dallas, as SMU and UTD continue to invest. Better yet, how about an entirely new art school altogether?”

    ^^^ Are yall even aware of what UTD stands for? I’ll give yall a hint, University of Texas at Dallas…idiotically far fetched… sounds to me like yall need to do some research

  • losingmyreligion

    Yep, and UTD’s central campus is in … Richardson.

  • Peter Simek

    To be more clear, the point is about big: UT Austin has 50K undergraduate and graduate students and over 24K faculty. UTD has 19K total students and about 1K staff. Then add losingmyreligion’s point, which relates mainly to the “vibrancy” issue. I wish we had even 10K college students living in downtown or Ellum/Expo. That said, UTD art profs and students are quite active and are an important part of the local scene. I just wish we had 4 times as many of them.

  • Esteban

    Did everyone forget that Savannah College of Art & Design was about to open a campus in the West End back in 2008? Of course the economy put the brakes on that, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be lured back now.

  • Peter Simek

    You know, I almost dug into the DMN to find a link to all of that, because you’re right, it would have been a fantastic addition. I asked someone who would know about these things about it a year or so ago and the thought was that even though the economy has improved since ’08, it isn’t a plan that can be easily revived. That said, if I was the mayor, I would put reaching out to SCAD on my three mile long list of to dos.

  • Timothy Steele

    Nobody cares about that crap. How about we do 5 far fetched things to improve the English comprehension levels of our students in the Dallas area, because I’ll tell you most of them are dumb as f*ck.

  • Mike M.

    as a teacher, posting this may be a conflict of interest, but I can say that if universities and colleges had the ability/funding to employ more of us on a sustainable level, it would keep more of us around. Eventually, teachers like myself are going to have to move away from Dallas if we want realistic long term employment. This is happening some, of course, but not enough. (and this isn’t a slight against the colleges, just the reality of the situation that I’m sure many already recognize.)

    But just to daydream a little, if every art school had it’s own Centraltrak equivalent, imagine what that might produce….

  • http://frontrow.dmagazine.com Peter Simek

    I like how you think: RE CentralTrak. And yes, you raise a good point. Faculty numbers offer a faulty gauge, particularly in this age of adjuncts.

  • Ricardo Paniagua

    Thank you for the last two paragraphs. Emboss them in gold.

  • Ricardo Paniagua

    Thank you for the last two paragraphs. Emboss them in gold and mount them high.

  • Gus Chiggins

    I am sure Rawlins could get behind a RISD outpost in DFW, No SCAD please…

    -C.h.i.g.g.i.n.s.