Monday, April 11, 2011
Smattering of artists and art enthusiasts probed state of Dallas’ arts
When the issue of money came up, the answer was clear: "Money is important, but we shut down ideas if we put money first," said one speaker.
DALLAS In February, a New York company called Creative Time released an investigative study of the arts communities in and around Dallas. What they discovered is that Dallas is quite proud of its accomplishments, but visions of a greater future awaits a city bursting with creative talent and avid patronage in the form of participation and philanthropic support.
In an effort to continue the dialogue and inspiration, The Meadows School of Arts hosted a symposium to discuss Creative Time's findings and get public feedback. An enthusiastic crowd of artists, art educators, and appreciators attended the event with a common hope to bring out more of the hidden artistic treasures in Dallas.
The day kicked off with the simple theme of “Art,” hosted by Rick Lowe, a Houston artist who discussed opportunities for art as well as social participation. His most profound example of art bringing a community together was a group of students in conjunction with the Anyang Public Art Program who revitalized a culturally rich neighborhood business on the brink of being dismantled by the ideas of modern progression. Laurie Jo Reynolds gave a compelling presentation on the effort to change the treatment of inmates at TAMMS Supermax Prison and how artists helped spread the word and bring attention to the inhumane condition in which the inmates are subjected to daily.
Mel Chin, perhaps the most entertaining speaker, presented his project Fundred Dollar Bill/Operation Paydirt, which investigates the toxicity levels of lead and its effect on those who live around lead-contaminated areas in the U.S. To bring about awareness, 300 million Fundred Dollar Bills are being created, which are equal to the cost of testing and eliminated the contaminated areas.
Theme B, introduced by Dr. Janis Bergman-Carton, focused on “Community” and how art can have a positive impact on even the least economically developed areas in the city. Cheryl Mayo, executive director of West Dallas Community Centers, provided an overview of the program, which includes art education and the positive impact that it has had on the children it serves. In partnership with Big Thought, teaching artists have opened up a whole new world of creativity and productivity to students considered low-performing and at-risk. Tom Finkelpearl, executive director of the Queens Museum of Art, provided a visual example of an art institution within one of the most racially diverse areas in the country. Since its inception, the museum has been a hub of international activity. Finkelpearl has continued this tradition by reaching out to the community through art and involving each unique culture in the spectacular events, exhibits, education, and even art therapy.
The final theme of the day was “Architecture,” which at first seemed out of place. Dean Almy, associate professor of architecture and director of graduate programs in Urban Design and Landscape at UT-Austin, probed the audience with a question: “How do we create meaningful space out of nothing?” Almy discussed how space -- all space, under bridges and in between buildings -- should be utilized. Almy also used a current project near the Design District and the Trinity River through the Dallas Urban Lab to control water and yet still develop the space to be utilized instead of simply cast off. Zola Zoka, award winning architect, presented her take on “sustainability and urbanism” of living structure. Her work demonstrates openness of space as opposed to walls that appear to cut one off from society. Her vision includes windows, which allow the inhabitants a view of their world while still maintaining privacy within.
The final presentation of the day and perhaps the most engaging was from presenter Wanda Dye, assistant professor of architecture at UT- Arlington. Opening with a brilliant and extremely appropriate quote by French philosopher Henri Lefebvre, Dye discussed her ideas about “public space intervention” -- to locate overlooked and neglected space and provide a solution which would use the space from a community as well as aesthetic frame of mind. Her presentation was interspersed with images and video from her students; one worthy of mentioning was a video created by Nelson Cuellar, a proposal of sorts giving a visual example how space on Lower Greenville could be transformed into a community garden.
Following each theme was a panel discussion facilitated by Nato Thompson, writer and curator at Creative Time. The audience was encouraged to participate and question the guest panel of presenters on possible solutions for artists and art communities specifically in Dallas. The two main topics on the minds of the audience were financial support and arts education.
Lowe addressed the financial side of social art. “I don’t start with the basis of money. If I did, I don’t think anything would ever get done," he said. "I look first for opportunity, then need and volunteerism. Money is important, but we shut down ideas if we put money first. Start with what you have and artists have plenty of resources and influence.”
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