Dallas — April was designated Dallas Arts Month by our mayor and it was supposed to “build awareness and appreciation for the work of Dallas artists and organizations.” Thanks to being retired, I actually had an opportunity to see some work that, were I not retired, I probably would have missed because y’all know how tethered I was to the South Dallas Cultural Center! I caught a performance of The Automobile Graveyard, a wonderfully biting play by Spanish playwright Fernando Arrabal presented by Teatro Dallas; a sci-fi political commentary production When Earth Meets Sky presented by Cara Mía Theatre and written by local artists Edyka Chilome, Ariana Cook and Vanessa Mercado Taylor; a staged reading of playwright Jonathan Norton’s newest work A Love Offering presented by Undermain Theatre as a part of their new series dedicated to new American plays; an energetic evening of dance featuring the brilliant choreography of the late Eleo Pomare (if you’re not familiar, look him up!) presented in Beckles Dancing Company’s “Pomare Plus”; and the opening of the luxurious “Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia from Ghana” exhibition presented by Dallas Museum of Art and showcasing the gorgeous and intricate gold-work of the Asante people in Ghana.
I then went to Montgomery, Alabama to attend the opening of Equal Justice Initiative’s controversial new museum, The Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace & Justice, that is devoted to exposing the horrendous legacy of lynching in this country. I am honored to have my silkscreen about Mrs. Ida B. Wells and her anti-lynching crusade made into a poster that will be sold in the gift shop of this courageous museum. I returned to Dallas just in time to attend the dynamic Walter Mosley’s book reading presented by Wordspace and South Dallas Cultural Center in a collaborative project entitled “African Diaspora: New Dialogues” to close out Dallas Arts Month. I love him because his interests span so many of my favorite topics, including my most favorite: race! I can’t wait to hear what he has to say about our current times.
I’m mentioning all of these events because, as it may be apparent, all of these are featuring culturally specific work, albeit work that should have universal appeal because, although the specificity of the cultural context may be coming from a particular racial/cultural perspective, the narratives are based in experiences we all have. Fear, beauty, hate, anger, love all are aspects of life we all experience, so everyone should take away something from every one of the productions and exhibition referenced above. But will all of these presentations receive the same attention that their non-culturally specific peers do? Well, let me just use the example of the “Power of Gold” exhibition to illustrate why I think not.
As is common for any major exhibition featuring works from abroad, the DMA rolled out the red carpet for the dignitaries coming from Ghana to attend the opening of “Power of Gold” and reached out to all the media to secure publicity. So why didn’t I see the Arts Editor of our only daily newspaper at the preview reception (and I understand there was no writer at the press preview either). I sat next to the editor at the Nasher Sculpture Prize Gala, so I know he gets out! Our Mayor was also conspicuously missing from the festivities and instead we had the Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, who I know is the stand-in when the Mayor can’t attend functions, but who I don’t think should be the city representative sent to greet a foreign dignitary. I can’t help but wonder if that’s who would have been sent to extend official greetings had this been Prince Charles or Prince Harry coming to town? What was apparent to me was that the Ghanaian Mamponghene (European equivalent of a Duke), Nana Osei Bonsu II, didn’t rate a Key to the City or a formal welcome from our top city official. The exhibition wasn’t of sufficient interest to our only daily newspaper to send someone to interview the Mamponghene about the significance of this exhibition to his country? I’m sure the Dallas Morning News will get around to covering it, but these optics are what cause me and others in the African and African-American communities to surmise that there’s a hierarchal system of importance when it comes to ethnic-specific cultural event coverage. If the exhibit had opened in February, I’m guessing it would have gotten more attention, well, you know why; I don’t have to spell it out for you!
The issue of cultural equity is one that touches on many areas, one of which is the way in which ethnic and culturally specific events get covered by media. The black press shouldn’t be the only media expected to cover black cultural offerings because the majority of people reading the black press are, obviously, black. So, it’s kind of like preaching to the choir when black events are only advertised in the black press. The way we expand our horizons is by experiencing things outside our cultural sphere and one of the ways that can happen is if the mainstream press makes a concerted effort to cover cultural events other than those representing Western European culture. Of course, it also helps if when these events are covered, it’s by someone who has at least done their homework on what they’re seeing. I’ve read some very uninformed critiques of arts events that were clearly outside the cultural knowledge of the writer.
Granted, I recognize that Dallas isn’t actually known for its arts criticism where mainstream media is concerned (are there any art critics left on staff at the Dallas Morning News?) but there are enough freelancers out there who can write for them in lieu of having staff available. Of course, all of this conversation would presuppose that we as a city care equally about ALL the cultural arts and not just those that represent Western European cultures. Needless to say, we’ve had enough concrete examples of this not being the case: Cara Mía and Teatro constantly having to beg for space; Dallas Black Dance Theater never having first dibs on a performance space; and I’ll wait to see how the Dallas Theater Center handles marketing and promotion for Jonathan Norton’s Penny Candy before I pass judgment on their efforts at cultural equity!
As we move closer towards creating a Cultural Plan for our city, I hope we look at all the factors that contribute to cultural organizations growing and being successful and strive to bring equity into all these arenas. After all, we keep saying we’re an “International City” so let’s live up to that claim!
» 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.
» ART-iculate runs on the last Wednesday of the month. (However, because of an editor's error, the April 2018 ART-iculate is running a few weeks late. We'll get back on schedule on May 30.)
- April: Vicki Meek ART-iculates
- May: On Dallas and Cultural Equity
- June: Equity vs. Diversity
- July: An Arts Super PAC?
- August: Too Big to Fail?
- September: It Isn't Us Against Them
- October: Another Missed Opportunity
- November: Neighborhood Arts Center: Not a New Idea
- December: Save Our Summer Programs
- January: The Creative Community in the Trump Era
- February: Being a Black Artist in a White World
- March: Expanding Our Cultural Horizons
- April: Intercultural Self-Determination
- May: A New Cultural Plan
- June: Working for Good
- July: Into the Forest
- August: Saved by Art
- September: Immersed in Cultural Equity
- October: The Artist as Citizen
- November: Understanding Your Roots
- December: No column