What Can City Leaders Really Tell Us About Building an Arts Community?

On Wednesday night, as part of his Dallas Arts Week initiative, Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings took to the September-opened Dallas City Performance Hall to try to find an answer to one big question in particular — what Dallas needs to do in order to attract and retain artists and creative thinkers.

He had some help, of course. It wasn't just the former Pizza Hut CEO up on stage opining on the subject by his lonesome.

Max Anderson of the Dallas Museum of Art joined him; so, too, did the Oliver Francis Gallery's Kevin Ruben Jacobs, the Dallas Theater Center's Kevin Moriarty, the Texas Theatre's Eric Steele and Kirtland Records namesake John Kirtland.

And, together, as part of a mostly informal and relaxed discussion, the mayor and his merry men took focus on the next generation of Dallas artists.

One problem: The mayor's invited guests were, indeed, all men. And all white men, at that. About halfway through the talk, that would change as author and creativity consultant Courtney Ferrell bum-rushed the stage and took up one of the stage's empty seats.

And, that glaring misstep aside, the whole thing still felt like a fairly productive, if redundant, one.

Miss the discussion? It's cool, We went for you.

Below, you can check out our favorite notes, quotes and bullet points from the hour-long talk.

• Mayor Rawlings: “If every major business in Dallas had an arts organization that it financially supported, Dallas' artistic output would be vastly improved.”
• The current process of supporting the arts, from the city's perspective: 1.) Building great edifices, 2.) operating them well, and 3.) getting the art to fill in the spaces. Mayor Rawlings says we're currently in step two.
• Mayor Rawlings (paraphrased): We have to be young, creative and smart to become a great city. It's all about people and attracting human capital.
• Max Anderson: “We need more MFA programs.”
• Cities the panel believes Dallas is currently competing with for creative types: New York City, Los Angeles, Austin, Portland and San Francisco.
• Eric Steele: “Austin has a lot of grants for artists that Dallas does not have”.
• Steele (paraphrased): Dallas has a great business climate. Art needs investors, and Dallas has those.
• Anderson: “Artists need access to a great canon in order to further evolve their work.”
• John Kirtland (paraphrased): Dallas has an entrepreneurial nature. An artist can do something that someone hasn't done here before. You can be noticed here and make a difference.
• Kevin Moriarty (paraphrased): We need to have critical media that reviews local art as they would on a national level, in order to gain credibility.
• Anderson: “There is a genuine naivete about Dallas from journalists across the country. They see Dallas as a conservative city, which is a big problem. It overshadows everything else that is being accomplished.”
• Anderson (paraphrased): Dallasites need to take advantage of all of the great cultural events and institutions that we have at our disposal.
• Courtney Ferrell, fittingly (paraphrased): We need to be disruptive.
• Anderson: “We need subsidies for artists, so they can afford safe good places to live. Artist also need grants so they won't need a third or fourth job to survive.”
• Moriarty (paraphrased): We need collaboration between big and small art outlets. We need an infrastructure that supports the smaller projects to take new exciting ideas into the fold.
• Rawlings: “I was told that apparently we have 17 billionaires living in Dallas. We need to get in front of them and change the conversation.”
• Rawlings: “Why does everyone think Austin is cooler than Dallas?” Steele: “They haven't seen Oak Cliff yet.” Mayor: “Do we need a SXSW in Dallas?” Steele: “There are already festivals in Dallas, such as the Oak Cliff Film Festival. Dallas needs to support them more. SXSW started some odd 25 years ago by just a few people in a room and it has turned into what it is today. We need to support the same organic growth here in Dallas.”

OK.

So.

In conclusion: Did anything about this conversation necessarily solve any problems in the Dallas arts scenes? No.

Did most everyone leaving the room feel as if there's now an ongoing conversation about the arts taking place in this city? Um… hopefully?

Point is, whether anything actually comes from this talk or future ones like it (the mayor has already promised to hold another discussion along these lines next year), at least they're happening.

And there's not too much bad that can come from that.

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