Dallas — ROOTS Weekend in Dallas, yay! Alternate ROOTS, one of the oldest national arts service organizations that spearheaded the national conversation on cultural equity decades ago, was in our town this past weekend. What a timely visit given all the conversations Dallas artists of color have been trying to have around issues of cultural and racial equity!
So who was conspicuously absent from the weekend of events at its cultural centers? You guessed it, the Office of Cultural Affairs senior staff. They’d known about the event for months so it could have been a priority. Now I’m particularly ticked off because I figure if I could drag my tired, half-sick ass out to some of the workshops and performances, surely they could have made the same effort.
Benjamin Espino, General Manager of the Latino Cultural Center, not only didn’t even see fit to welcome the organization into his own house, but also didn’t have anyone from the LCC staff take on this task in his stead. (One of the corresponding events, Juárez: A Documentary Mythology from NYC's Theater Mitu and co-presented by Cara Mía Theatre Company and Ignite/Arts Dallas, was at the LCC though.)
Of course, OCA Director Jennifer Scripps was also MIA during this weekend of workshops, presentations and performances that had as their theme creating vibrant communities, yet all her public declarations have emphasized her desire to address cultural equity or the lack thereof with gusto. Well this was one missed golden opportunity to demonstrate that these are not simply hollow declarations. Given that she used ROOTS Weekend as an example of Dallas attracting national attention when giving her report to the Dallas City Council Arts, Culture & Libraries Committee just a few weeks prior, you’d think she’d want to actually see what Alternate ROOTS does as an organization that’s in the forefront of the cultural equity conversation.
South Dallas Cultural Center’s manager, Harold Steward, worked hard to bring this event to Dallas and this was the first time Alternate ROOTS presented a major event in Texas. The presentations and workshops on Saturday were substantive and timely with topics that ranged from exploring culturally based performance processes to creating vibrant communities using the story circle as a community engagement vehicle. The fact that we had artists and arts leaders from all around Texas as well as many other states, should have been reason enough to want OCA staff in abundance at all the events since networking is so critical in today’s cultural work. But alas…
So while I’m calling out folks, I’m going to also call out our private funding community for not seeing fit to engage in this conversation on cultural equity. I was happy to see Laura Embrey at Friday’s event but was not surprised since Laura seems genuinely interested in broadening her knowledge around the issues important to people of color. But I didn’t notice any folks from any of the other major arts funding sources present. TACA even had Alternate ROOTS’ Executive Director Carlton Turner on a panel the Monday following ROOTS Weekend, yet didn’t see its way to being a part of the work this national cultural leader is committed to by checking in on the events, not even for a short stay!
The media seemed to pick up on only the SMU events but took little notice of the actual ROOTS Weekend core program, which is a shame because it would have been great for Dallasites to hear about this event in greater detail than simply a listing in the Dallas Morning News and Dallas Observer guides. The Cuban born/now Austin based rappers Krudas Cubensi were phenomenal, performing at the Thursday night kick-off reception and I was introduced to a Dallas group of dynamic Latinos, Rebel Planet that infused a lot of musical energy into the space. Progress Theatre mesmerized the audience on Friday night with their A Capella renditions of what founder Dr. Cristal Chanelle Truscott coined as NeoSpirituals and although I couldn’t stay up for the Saturday late night poetry “battle” at SDCC, I understand it was fantastic, hosted by DJ Knodat and Queen Sheba.
I realize that this past weekend had a lot going on with the Dallas VideoFest, tge Robert Pruitt art opening at the University of Texas at Dallas, Teatro Dallas’ Day of the Dead performance, Aurora pre- show, and much more. As is true of any large metropolitan area, there was a diversity of cultural options from which to choose for the arts lover. I don’t begrudge anyone their choices when it comes to attending events and in fact I rejoice in the fact that Dallas now offers so much to enjoy where the arts are concerned.
However, I do expect a more concerted effort on the part of those cultural leaders who are espousing a desire to address cultural equity to embrace opportunities that provide a platform from which to engage in meaningful dialog on the subject. Since ROOTS Weekend was a one-shot event that won’t likely be repeated any time soon, I think more effort should have been made on the part of OCA staff to get involved as well as encouraging the Cultural Affairs Commissioners and even the Arts, Culture & Libraries Committee members to participate. I’d love to stop hammering on this topic because believe me when I say it’s like déjà vu for me. It’s as if I’m living a Groundhog Day experience insomuch as every 10 years I seem to be repeating my rants on cultural and racial equity!
Dallas could be the national model for making significant headway towards achieving cultural equity if only we realized one shouldn’t just give lip service to the issue. Real work with people who know what the real issues are is what’s needed. Refusing to face the underlying cause of cultural inequity, i.e. systemic racism, condemns us to revisiting the same conversations over and over again. I’m pretty sure that I am not the only one tired of the cultural/racial inequity merry-go-round we seem to be stuck on.
» Vicki Meek is a former arts manager, a practicing artist and activist splitting her time between Dallas and Costa Rica. ART-iculate explores issues around race, politics and the arts. You can also keep up with Meek's musings in her blog Art & Racenotes.