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The 5 Most Important North Texas Art Organizations for Artists

In keeping with our series of posts reflecting on the Dallas art scene in light of the new publication from Phaidon Art Cities of the Future, I came up with a list of the art organizations and institutions that I believe do the most to create the kind of environment that can sustain and promote artistic production in Dallas-Fort Worth. I’m thinking here about things that help make this place more livable for artists, help feed the intellectual environment, and may promote or further an artist’s career. Why artists? Because despite our heavy investment in art institutional prestige, it is the work of individual artists that actually does more to map urban areas as cultural centers.

I tend to think that the two largest obstacles facing artists who wish to establish a sustainable career while living in North Texas are economics and the problems of access. It is hard to sustain a career in a city that doesn’t possess (or leverage) the kind of curatorial or market credentials that can launch an emerging artist’s career. It is also difficult to find access to the critics, dealers, or curators who could launch a career when you do not live in an established “art center.” It certainly doesn’t help when the curators of the local public museum don’t bother going to openings, most galleries scarcely have a profile that transcends I-635, and many collectors won’t look you in the eye until you go to New York and get your stamp of approval.

That said, as Phaidon’s new volume demonstrates, the increasingly internationalization of the art world – both through the proliferation of art fairs as the transaction points for sales, replacing the traditional gallery model, and in the desire of curators to look beyond traditional art centers to take a more globalized view of artistic production and production centers – means vibrant regional centers should become more viable for artists. So here are the organizations that I see as already contributing to that end goal. I’m sure they’ll be much disagreement, so feel free to take issue with this list or add your own in the comments:

artfair Dallas Art Fair – Yes, I know, that crassly commercial glut of galleries, squeezed into booths, mixing quality and not-so-much, and a reduction of art into commodity. We’ve all heard the complaints about art fairs in general, and the Dallas Art Fair in particular. But here’s what I’m interested in: thanks to the Art Fair, Dallas is a stop for at least a subsection of the international art conga line each April. The Art Fair has provided an incentive for ancillary activity by artists to help catch the attention of people who are in town. And in theory, The Dallas Art Fair should be building the appetites of the kind of mid-tier collectors that will learn to support artists who choose to live in Dallas. In other words, it is addressing, albeit indirectly, the very issues of market and access that make Dallas challenging for sustainable artist careers.

dallascontemporrayThe Dallas Contemporary — Since Peter Doroshenko has taken over the Dallas Contemporary, more than a few local art watchers have grumbled over the programming, the gaffes, and the VIP-ed party atmosphere that seems to reduce art openings into party pic photo ops. But the Contemporary is also doing exactly what any local artist would want a non-collecting contemporary museum to do in a city: host ambitious exhibitions of artists previously unfamiliar to Dallas audiences, focus on a particular artistic practice and effort to explore it in depth (in this case, street art), reach out to new demographics and subsections of the city’s population, and, perhaps most importantly for artists, insert the best local talent into an international dialogue by exhibiting their work alongside established talents. With solo shows for artists like John Pomara and Kevin Todora, that’s what the Contemporary is doing.

centraltrakCentralTrak – Just for the dozens of artists CentralTrak has brought to town, the UT Dallas artist residency deserves to be on this list. But the organization has also become something of a art community hub of late, providing space for raucous parties, open and frank conversations, and ambitious curatorial projects alike.

Tuesday Evenings at the Modern – The quality of a good art scene is reflected in the vibrancy of its intellectual life. The level of critical discourse locally is a oft-noted shortcoming of the region. But the Tuesday Evenings lecture series does a lot to deepen the conversation with its astoundingly deep rotation of speakers, many of whom end up in MFA studios or at dinner tables with local artists while in town.

smuUniversities (Various) – As I said in last week’s post, there is no single university that does the kind of heavy lifting that a large institution like the University of Texas would do if it magically relocated to Dallas. But taken as a whole, each of the area’s individual institutions play vital role in the local scene. There’s Southern Methodist University’s Meadow Prize, its engaged professors, ongoing lectures and visitors, its budget, and, more recently, its role in the raising of the volume on Social Engaged Art practices in North Texas. The University of North Texas features artists like Vernon Fisher and Annette Lawrence on the faculty, boasts what is arguably the most respected art program in the area, and has a wonderful visiting artists program. Texas Christian University students are behind collectives like Homecoming! Committee and The Art Foundation. The Universities of Texas at Dallas and Arlington boast tons of engaged local artists, both faculty and students.  And the community colleges also offer some jobs for local artists and feature an array of interesting gallery/project spaces for non-commercial exhibitions. There are setbacks. Denton feels distant, some school’s students are less visible than others, faculties are clogged with adjunct positions which won’t keep talented young faculty members in the area for very long, and the area lacks the kind of MFA program that attracts dealers and curators to town each year to snatch up the best talent. But these universities still play an important role.

Honorable Mentions: Talley Dunn Gallery and Oliver Francis Gallery – The North Texas gallery scene deserves its own post, but these two spaces, on opposite sides of the financial spectrum, represent the best of what we have. Talley Dunn is as close as Dallas gets to a blue chip gallery, and so when they curate a group show of unrepresented artists, as they did this summer, it actually feels like those artist’s careers are given a boost. Oliver Francis shows what an intrepid individual can do with a few bucks, namely run an international program in a dingy space, and get noticed for it. And as with everything in North Texas, the wishlist includes five more of each of these spaces.