After 2 ½ years teaching at University of Texas at Dallas (after
moving here from Los Angeles,)
I just started teaching at UT Arlington . Since I write reviews for the Fort
Worth Star-Telegram
, I had made the Gallery at UTA a regular stop, and have often been impressed
with the quality of shows I witnessed there. The curator and director of the
space is Benito Huerta, an artist of note in his own right, a faculty member at
UTA – and a very nice guy.

I had never set one foot beyond the gallery onto the rest of campus.

I got a call
a few weeks ago that they were in need, and went in for an interview. I
was frankly shocked to find that UTA has about 700 art majors, a brand new MFA
program, a new multi-million dollar studio facility (in addition to numbers of
studios and classrooms in their old building across campus,) and that they’ve
spent $500,000 in computers in the last couple years, just for the art
programs. There are computers in every classroom, and numbers of giant Epsom
printers that are by no means restricted to some selected upperclassmen.

 

They are in process for being
accredited by NASAD, a distinction had by only 250 of the 600-something art programs nationwide. You have to pay
$15 to find out who on the website, but I know only a few schools in Texas are accredited. In any case, North Texas is in need of more, better art programs.
There is something of a scramble going on to make this happen, with
residencies, galleries, symposiums, etc being launched to grab some brittle
mantle of art supremacy. College administrations seem by nature resistant to
recognizing the importance of such programs (it is hard to monetarily, or even
culturally, quantify fine art education,) and UTA seems as close as any
institution to actually putting their money where their mouth is and, utilizing
the wealth of resources in the area, attempting to create a degree program with true
depth and breadth of focus.

UTA is the second
largest UT branch (25,000 students or so.) I was surprised to discover a
gorgeous urban campus with fountains, large trees, courtyards, comprehensive
technical capabilities, and even a specialized art and architecture library
(joy of joys!) Being a state school lends an air of secularism (and affordable
tuition) that gives clout over private schools, with their inherent or merely
supposed biases. The art faculty, numbering 40 plus and increasing, have some
impressive pedigrees and CV’s among them, and are backed by an administration
that seems to appreciate them and care. The students seem bright and capable. Existing side by side with accomplished architecture and urban planning programs is a big plus – kind of reminds me of Yale, when art and architecture shared a building, and had neighboring student galleries. Seems promising to me, and I'm happy to be on board.

If DFW is going to fulfill
its apparent potential as a vital center for contemporary art, it needs to have
more visible, solid institutions feeding the scene with young artists, and
students out there to question, to mimick, to curiously poke and prod all the
cultural beasts, large and small, amateur and pro. Right now, it feels really
top heavy, with great museums and a few good galleries, but with a lot of the
talent being shipped in from Houston, if for no other reason than that is where
the programs are, and that’s where the artists and students/grads find a
welcome environment to see and be seen. I have hope for our sprawling
interdependent mélange of cities, none of which has all the elements to make
for a wholly interesting place to be. Public transportation here generally sucks (it's
totally absent in Arlington – the largest city
in America
for which this is true; criminal!) but we all have cars. With a little
commitment and a large carbon footprint, we can get around and uh, help water
the little seeds that may one day sprout into mighty cultural oaks! (Holy
hyperbole, Batman. Somebody give me a grant or something already.)

also by Titus OBrien
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