Welcome to Canvassing, our regular look at the conversations that surround the Dallas art world. Pull up a chair. Stay with us for a while. The view’s pretty nice from here.
It’s easy to sit on this perch and point out the not-so-great in our city’s arts. But it’s important too to acknowledge all of the actually great things and people that are propping Dallas culture up right now.
Because there are tons of those — more than can be celebrated in a single piece of writing, really. It’s just too big a job.
Still, I’ll try — with advance apologies to Joachim West, Thor Johnson, #yearofrandy, 500X, Art Monsters, Lily Taylor, Sean Miller, Mighty Fine Arts, DaVerse Lounge, Pan African Connection, Basement Gallery, Contre Culture, Make Art With A Purpose, Peter Simek, Lauren Smart, Christina Rees, Anne Bothwell, Catherine Cuellar, the Arts District, The Dallas Arts Fair, Goss Michael Foundation, Ariel Saldivar and The Old Guard, all of whom are appreciated and essential to what makes Dallas vibrant and viable right now. I’ll be sure to write nice things about you all some other time.
For now, though, let’s choose not to ignore the following people, places and developments and the ways they’re making Dallas great.
Funding for Individual Artists. The Office of Cultural Affairs’ decision to invest directly into creatives who live in Dallas and into creative projects in Dallas is a huge policy win that many people spent years fighting for. It’s something worth celebrating — even as we continue to advocate for its expansion and refinement.
Fair Park. The conversation about how to best activate and maximize the potential of Fair Park is becoming a community conversation — and, yes, that’s very exciting. Fair Park is the most valuable cultural resource in the City of Dallas, yet it has been sectioned off from the rest of the city to the point that we rarely even think about it. How can our cultural organizers and artists integrate and utilize Fair Park for the benefit of the city? It’s an important question.
The Cultural Centers. The Oak Cliff, Latino, Bath House and South Dallas Cultural Centers are in many ways the true jewels of the city. They represent the most successful municipal art initiatives we have, and they do so much for their communities. Imagine what Dallas would look like if every council district had a cultural center. And ask yourself: How can we think about cultural centers in ways that don’t necessarily involve large buildings?
Zhulong, Cydonia and Erin Cluely. All three of these spaces are elevating the cultural discourse in this city. Better still: When I think about these spaces, I’m reminded of why I violently disagree when top collectors say that it doesn’t matter if they buy from local galleries. It does, especially when a new space as is showing art as good as any in the world, as these ones do. Our collector class should go out of their way to make sure these three galleries — all of which are run by very smart, very savvy female gallery directors — thrive. If any of these spaces should fold due to lack of local support, then perhaps Dallas simply doesn’t deserve nice things.
Wanda Dye. In a previous column, I referred to Wanda Dye as “the Nancy Whitenack of The Cedars.” What I meant by that is this: Just as Nancy was the first to start the Design District revolution, Wanda was one of the first to start the now-in-vogue Cedars revolution. Yeah, I know South Side and people like Karen Weiner were there over a decade ago, and they deserve equal credit. But RE, Homeland, Pariah and their combined activity have sparked a renewed interest in the area, which has in turn led to larger institutions deciding to choose the Cedars for their new homes.
Nancy Whitenack and Danette Dufilho. Conduit is just such a well-oiled machine. If you want to know what a successful professional contemporary arts gallery looks in Dallas, start here. I like to compare this crew to the San Antonio Spurs; sometimes their professionalism and their excellence feels boring,. but they playing the game the right way, they’re always showing exciting art and they’re repeat champions. They make being number one look easy.
The Reading Room. It’s such a small space in such a strange location, but the Reading Room is also truly unique in the types of exhibitions it presents and in its dedication to melding the literary with the visual. Karen Weiner is a true gem, and her wisdom and intellectual curiosity shines in how she curates exhibitions, and in the caliber of artist she attracts.
Michael Morris and Carolyn Sortor and Bart Weiss. These longtime advocates and practitioners of experimental films and videos have been having one of their most successful years in gaining traction with the mainstream art viewer. They deserve it.
Alison Starr. Substitute the words “experimental films and videos” for “performance art” in the above blurb and the same can be said of how this local gem is advancing and advocating how we think about live performances.
Beefhaus. Luke Harden’s space continues to be a safe haven for risk-taking and creative ideas. Not all of them work, no. But that’s OK: Beefhaus is essential because there are not enough spaces in town where artists can boldly and safely fail.
Heyd Fontenot and UTD Centraltrak. With the man at the helm tightening this spot’s programming in recent years, this Expo Park anchor has arrived at comfortable pace of exhibitions and talks — all of which interest and engage.
Dan Pritchett. The guy is seemingly everywhere, and always with a kind word at the ready. But he’s more than just some social gadfly. He also financially supports local artists. He’s a real MVP.
The Brians. Brian Jones and Brian Scott are having another big year creatively — pretty much an annual occurrence these days — but they’re still as generous, kind and strange as ever. Most importantly they’re loved by the arts community, and the group show dedicated to them at UTD-Centraltrak earlier this year was one of the more smile-inducing concepts I’ve seen in some time.
Ro2 Art. Susan and Jordan Roth’s Downtown space has been coming into its own for a while now, but it now feels fully realized and deserving of a place in the conversation alongside the best galleries in town.
Giovanni Valderas. There’s possibly no one doing more for Dallas culture right now than Giovanni Valderas. Between making art, serving as the gallery director of The Cliff Gallery at Mountain View College, curating shows at Oak Cliff Cultural Center and City Hall, and serving as the Vice-Chair of the Cultural Affairs, he’s at the forefront of making Dallas an equitable and progressive place for artists.
Arthur Peña. The guy’s just killing it with his roving Vice Palace venue. And it’s clear that at this point that the venture has turned from hobby to passion project. In turn, he’s bridging gaps in our cultural world, and it will be interesting to see how all of these inputs play out in his future work.
Black Lodge. Quietly, Evita Cortez and Darius Goodson have built the most exciting and ambitious experimental space in Deep Ellum. Check them out if you haven’t already.
Eli Walker and Kelly Kroener. Between curating shows at Homeland Security and their own solo work, this duo is always engaged in something interesting.
Pariah Arts. Pariah Arts is killing it right now, too. The crew’s more active than ever, really: Joshua Von Ammon and Frank Darko combine film, music and art in their playground in the Cedars, and it’s a joy to watch.
That That. Although mostly a hub for music with live visuals, That That remains a favored place for young Dallasites to hang out — and a melting pot for the fashion, art and music worlds.
Justin Adu. He’s creating a movement amongst black creatives in Dallas-Fort Worth through his own art practices. And, in the process, he’s unearthed many other talented people, all of whom are deserving of attention and respect locally — even though many of them have the resume to be household names.
The Laurens. Lauren Wood and Lauren Cross are two of the most important creatives in DFW. Their show at the South Dallas Cultural Center is a must see.
Francisco Moreno is trying to put the city on his back — and, if his recent successful Kickstarter campaign is any indication, it’s clear that many people believe he has what it takes to increase the ambitions of Dallas-based artists. His Soluna debut is highly anticipated.
Kevin Ruben Jacobs. In many ways, Kevin’s singular energy and spirit helped launch and support a generation of creatives doing great work in Dallas. So it’s a pleasure to see him back and tending to his OFG.XXX space. After his return show with Josh Reames and Amber Renaye, it seems like his fastball is as good as ever.
Epocha. You wouldn’t expect a store to necessarily be one of the most important spaces for creatives of color to congregate and exchange ideas in fashion, music and visual art, but it very much is. Don’t be surprised if some of the artists who will dominate the cultural discourse in this city in a few years are being nurtured at Epocha right now.