Dallas — In case you haven’t noticed, there have been new, different types of things bubbling out of SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. Increasingly in the chatter surrounding a Dallas new arts initiative or presentation, the name SMU is mentioned. The individual responsible for guiding some of that newness is Clyde Valentín, Director of SMU Meadows Arts and Urbanism initiative. Valentin joined SMU in 2013 after having last served as director of the New York City-based Hip-Hop Theater Festival (HHTF), overseeing its transition to Hi-ARTS which was dedicated to outreach and education through the hip-hop art and culture movements.
In May of this year, Meadows School of the Arts announced the launch of a new initiative, Ignite/Arts Dallas, intended to expand the intersectionality of the arts and community in Dallas with SMU and its students in the midst in a cohesive role. Included under the Meadows School of the Arts umbrella is the Meadows Prize, which includes a residency in Dallas and $25,000. This prize is presented annually to up to two innovative artists. Awarded artists must commit to interacting substantively with SMU students, and to collaborating with local arts organizations with the goal of leaving an imprint in Dallas. One of the awards this year was given to an artists’ collective from Detroit, Complex Movements.
TheaterJones talked with Director Valentín about Complex Movements, and his vision for Ignite/Arts Dallas and SMU.
TheaterJones: What is your vision for Dallas and SMU’s role through works such as this? The appeal of such a type of work?
Clyde Valentín: Longer-term relationships with the members of the local cohort, which I feel have already been forged and established. I was also interested in demonstrating something that is highly interactive on expected levels with the various disciplines that they are engaging with, and also with unexpected ones.
How has your work with this group enhanced your vision for possibilities with SMU Meadows of the Arts moving forward? This might be curricular or philosophically.
We know across the disciplines that our students are very interested in collaborations between each other. Currently within our curriculum there aren’t many spaces for that. When you look at our school at large we have the Performing Arts Division, Fine Arts, and Communication Arts all under the same umbrella. One of the things I noticed upon coming in was I thought it was interesting that we had a Communications wing under the Arts school because sometimes those are both standalone disciplines. There is very little engagement between the Fine Arts wing and the Communication wing. I think there could be improvements to make room for that with the students. The curriculum is already so rigorous that there is very little room to actually create time to work that way.
What do you see as a next step for Ignite/Arts, particularly through your experience at the national level?
We are going to continue to convene our students and artists in the city and nationally. We just hosted the Latina/o Theater Commons here, the national Steering Committee meeting as an example. We didn’t exclusively host that, we hosted along with another level of community that included Cara Mía Theatre, the Dallas Theatre Center, the Office of Cultural Affairs, the Latino Cultural Center, and the University of North Texas. Everyone contributed to facilitating and making that meeting possible. We also created space for Texas theater makers over the course of the weekend to meet with us and talk about what’s unique to Texas. We had people from as far away as Brownsville and San Antonio that came up for that meeting which is pretty great. We envision more opportunities like that around national conversations, and also around what is relevant to the state and to the region. So, we see that happening. We see further collaboration at different scales happening.
There is another project that we will be announcing a soon that will be a pretty big deal and will take the participatory component of community collaboration to a different level. That is slated for spring 2017, so we have some things on the horizon.
We also want to support work locally through an initiative that I am working to get off the ground called the Dallas Arts Project, which will be a mini version of the Meadows prize. We want to replicate that level of support but for local artists rather than national.
The Meadows Prize was a competition and as such, probably received a number of applications. Besides the interactivity, what was the strength of the appeal of Complex Movements?
It is hard to say just one thing. For me, there were three things. First and foremost, there was the ambition of the group and their goals with the project to practice at every single step a commitment to not only the artistic practice but also the community practice, that’s going hand in hand. I think that is incredibly difficult to do but I was interested in that as an exercise and in doing that new on the ground in a brand new place, and taking that kind of risk in making that kind of commitment to something.
Second thing, as I got to know them was the level of rigor around each piece in terms of what they had to learn to realize their project. At face value, some might think, “oh, it’s just a bunch of hip-hop generation artists from Detroit” and one might make a million and one assumptions. But the level of work they’ve all put in is extraordinary. I want to put that forth and look at our notion of quality and rigor, considering that it is much broader than maybe specific western forms. Oftentimes that’s what that is most associated with.
Thirdly, as a hip-hop generation guy that is getting older, being really struck by the challenge to the generation about “this is another way to do it.” I like that idea of the live show and what the culture is and what it becomes. Pushing that envelope.
» Complex Movements' Beware of the Dandelions begins performances this week in Fair Park. It's free, but reservations are required. Read our interview with members of that Detroit-based outfit here.