From DIY to DIT: A Micro History and Possible Future for the Dallas Art Scene

It is no longer a secret. There is something happening with the Dallas art scene. There is a spirit moving upon previously hushed waters. Just last year, Christina Rees was exhorting young whippersnappers to fuck things up, and now they’re hanging out at RE Gallery with the mayor.

Over the past two years, the Do It Yourself movement has swept over Dallas, bringing energy, new artists taking creative risks, and a host of interesting art spaces and collectives. Yet to continue the growth of the Dallas art scene, Do It Yourself won’t be enough; we are going to have to start Doing It Together.

Dallas in Recession

Dallas in Recession

Much of the recent growth of the Dallas art scene can be attributed to the great recession. North Texas wasn’t as affected as other art centers; economic prospects dipped but they did not shatter. Talented artists who would have left Dallas to pursue careers in other places realized it was more economically viable to stay in Dallas. Artists who had finished MFAs elsewhere but had North Texas roots realized that their best bet might be to return home. Much of the talent that helped kick start Dallas’ recent DIY revolution never intended to be here. The recession brought to the city a concentration of young, energetic, like-minded creatives that it had previously lacked.

Even though Dallas was brighter than other areas, it still experienced a downturn in the arts. Between 2008 and 2010, dozens of contemporary art galleries closed their doors, and even the best had a couple very tough years. By 2011, we were left with old stalwarts like Barry Whistler and Conduit Gallery, who had mostly-full gallery rosters, and a bunch of new galleries starting to pop up, but very few galleries in the seven-to-fifteen year range that would typically support top MFA talent. These artists were stuck in Dallas and there weren’t enough respected gallery spaces to show them, so they decided to take matters into their own hands.

In Cooperation with Muscle Nation, 2012

In Cooperation with Muscle Nation, 2012

Although, S.C.A.B and the Art Foundation have gotten most of the press recently, I would suggest the first successful Dallas collective to come out of this post-recession landscape was In Cooperation With Muscle Nation, which came from an earlier collective, 14+1. Homecoming Committee was getting started at the same time and so was Oliver Francis Gallery, which might be best understood as a collective at this point. Then the Art Foundation happened. Then the collective of collectives, S.C.A.B happened. What makes S.C.A.B different is that their artists were mostly not originally from Dallas. They came to Dallas by choice, fresh from the Midwest and Northeast.

During this same time, new galleries and spaces (sometimes manned by the collectives) were opening: Cohn Drennan, Ro2, Cris Worley, Angstrom (round 2), The Power Station, Circuit 12, Red Arrow, W.A.A.S, Blow Up Gallery, Nerv Gallery, Studio DFTU, Homeland Security, RE Gallery, Black Lodge, That That, Fort Worth Drawing Center, Ash Studios, Two Bronze Doors,  and more. Pop-up and temporary spaces dominated the landscape, and young artists in Dallas realized that they could get just as much notoriety showing in a dilapidated warehouse as in a pristine white cube.

This energy became infectious. Aurora was happening; semigloss. was happening; (wo)manorial was happening; East Dallas was happening; Cedars was happening; West Dallas was happening; Design District was happening; Deep Ellum was happening; Expo Park was happening; UTD CentralTrak was happening; Reading Room was happening; Goss Michael became less stuffy; the Omni became a new media installation; SMU gained Michael Corris; Dallas Contemporary gained Peter Doroshenko; the DMA gained Maxwell Anderson; the Arts District gained Catherine Cuellar; and the City of Dallas gained Mike Rawlings. What started as a couple dozen emerging artists with no place to show their art has led to a state-wide, and sometimes even national conversation about whether Dallas can be a world-class arts city.

But the country is changing. Quietly, slowly, and steadily, the economy has improved. As the economy improves, what little funding there is for the arts starts to return as well. Unfortunately for Dallas, most of that funding is not in Dallas. Our top young artists and art leaders are entering a new stage. Danielle Georgiou, a founding member of In Cooperation with Muscle Nation, recently spent some of her spring in Fresno and Portland exhibiting her performance art. Michael Morris, a founding member of S.C.A.B., spent time recently in Chicago, Portland, and Austin. Kevin Jacobs, founder of Oliver Francis Gallery, just finished curating his first New York City show at Interstate. Most importantly, the people in those places loved them, want to have them back, will keep them on their short list for the next residency, grant award, or job opening that comes up. And this is happening with the majority of our top young talent. The young whippersnappers of the DIY revolution are legitimately good artists, curators, and arts professionals. Not just Dallas good; they are anywhere good.

Kevin Ruben Jacobs in action at the Fallas Dart Air, 2013

If Dallas wants to continue the growth of our art scene, we are going to have to solve some of the systemic issues that every artist has to face. We are going to have to tackle the same problems that some “art destination” cities have done a better job of dealing with, including cities in our own state. Namely, we have to have better funding opportunities for emerging artists and creative projects; we have to address health care for artists; and we have to take better advantage of perhaps our best asset, our bountiful amount of space. These are issues that aren’t solved by Doing It Yourself, but can only be solved by Doing It Together. We have the energy and the resources to tackle all of these issues. We must harness the collective energy of the moment to build a strong foundation that will help support working class artists in Dallas for the next twenty and thirty years. This is what the Doing It Together movement is about, and the more people, collectives, organizations, and institutions that are willing to work together, share resources, and force change—the better Dallas will become.

The DIY movement has made Dallas an attractive and viable destination for emerging artists to live, work, and jumpstart their careers. However, as these artists continue to prosper and thrive, it will be the success of the DIT movement that will determine whether Dallas becomes their home or just another pit stop in their careers.

 Darryl Ratcliff is the CEO of the Green Bandana Group, innovators in art commerce. He organized the recent panel discussion, Not Waiting For Permission: 2nd Annual State of the Emerging Arts at CentralTrak on April 25.

also by Darryl Ratcliff

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22 responses to “From DIY to DIT: A Micro History and Possible Future for the Dallas Art Scene”

  1. And miles to go before we sleep…Dallas artists have cast themselves adrift in a heart of darkness known as art in the political economy. There’s a void between art as a community good and art for profit. Creative entrepreneurs have jumped right in, making things happen. The challenge with it is that they’re doing it in silos and, absent the Universities which are log-jammed with talent, there isn’t a community infrastructure to really test their mettle, refine them, and scale them to the next level of global market participation. There’s an opportunity for Dallas — as a community — to help the Kevins,the Michaels, the Danielles, and the yet unknowns to be more efficient in their market participation. Well said, my friend.

  2. Although it wasn’t mentioned in the article, our gallery, Ro2 Art, has had the pleasure of hosting IN COOPERATION WITH MUSCLE NATION (three times in two years), as well as Danielle’s ‘Pizzicato Porno’ (as seen in Fresno). We also collaborated with SOLVENT last summer for more than a month, giving control to the collective and an additional 20 young artists….We’ve had important shows for numerous young and re-emerging Dallas artists, LOTS of talented MFA candidates and recent grads over the years. With regard to MFA’s and Muscle Nation, our current show includes about a dozen current MFA candidates and recent grads, and four members of the Collective the author admires so much. Granted, the author is free to promote whomever he pleases — and in this article, we can see clearly who he wishes to impress. It’s good writing, but far from a complete and balanced review of the artistic landscape in Dallas.

  3. Jordan, you are right. Ro2 should be included in the list, and I will edit the article to reflect that. Not intentional. Thank you for what you do.

    1. Thanks, Darryl… I figured it might have been an oversight. I like the concept of DIT. Hope it gains some traction, has always been our point-of-view.

  4. Great article. Any chance of posting more Fallas Dart Air video?

  5. Here are my own ideas for jump-starting the Dallas Arts scene (my feeble attempt at channeling Carlin).

    1) For the DMA, hang Honda Accords from the ceiling, each painted to look like Swiss cheese; call it “The Eagle Has Landed” (sponsored by John Eagle Honda).

    2) For the Nasher I suggest super-scale Hummel figurines depicting the various NorthPark customer archetypes, basically a collection of rich white women with tightly-pulled faces.

    3) For the Dallas Cowboys “Art Gallery” I suggest a Thomas Kinkade surrealist portrait of Jerry Jones and Tony Romo hoisting a melting Super Bowl Trophy (aptly named The Persistence of Grinning).

    1. That’s just silly.

      1. You’re being complimentary, I assume.

  6. great article, but just wanted to add that 500X has been doing this sort of thing for 35 years. artist run and operated

  7. It’s encouraging to read that the conversation continues. And I appreciate the diligence of the writer–that he can name all those local organizations and artists is a feat probably fewer than ten citizens of Dallas could pull off.

    Through the years, in each of the four large Texas cities I’ve lived in, I’ve heard similar discussions and talk of big plans in the making. Co-op studio space. Artist-owned galleries. Converted warehouses. City art commissions, grants (that magic word) and the rest of it. The kindest thing I can say is many have tried. It’s been the rare exception when I’ve witnessed an artists’ collaboration sustain itself for more than a year. The success of those rare exceptions, however–Lawndale Art Center and DiverseWorks in Houston, and Blue Star in San Antonio–has been spectacular. Both for serious artists and for the cities in which they have chosen to live.

    Assuming this article is representative of “emerging” Dallas artists, I see an abundance of enthusiasm among a small group of people…and each member of the group faces a unique set of issues. Out of that enthusiasm has arisen a list of talking points and grievances…without a pragmatic set of solutions. I see no plan of action, which is typical. Sometimes I think artists should just stay away from round tables and committees, which require negotiation and compromise–words not often heard in creative circles, and may not be in their best interests anyway. But that would be cynical.

    The myth in cities outside of New York is that talent, if it is to blossom, requires a nurturing environment supplied by monied sources from outside the art world; the reality is that that doesn’t happen in New York or anywhere else. Money flows to talent. Where there is talent, whether it be in a walk-up apartment in the Lower East Side or a desolate town like Marfa in far west Texas, there will be money.

    I’ve learned that young artists are better off–and so much happier–when they’re busy creating and developing and unraveling the mystery of their talent; and they’re miserable when distracted by politics drummed up by well-meaning community activists. There are certain things the community is required to do, of course. Everyone has a right to healthcare. Artists residency programs can be of benefit to a certain type of artist. But I don’t think you’re going to be able to piece together a one-size-fits-all arts program for Dallas. I’ve never known an artist who is truly dedicated to his or her work to be defeated by a lack of funding. And I think you’ll find it takes more than money to keep them here.

    That said, there is a place for publicly funded galleries and studios. If you read through the history of successful alternative art spaces, like Lawndale or The Ant Farm out of San Francisco, what they have in common is that although they were originally created by artists for artists, their vision is outward, not inward–they are of benefit to the city they’re in, designed not only to serve artists, but the community at large. No city, and especially a city as hard-nosed as New York, is going to look kindly on a group of artists–or non-artists–that seeks public funding without a reciprocal action.

    I do think at this point it should be required of the Dallas Museum of Art that it acknowledge the work produced in its own region. It wasn’t until the Houston Museum of Fine Arts opened it doors in 1985 to the gigantic exhibition of regional artists known as “Fresh Paint: The Houston School,” that the Houston art scene took flight. That show is still discussed by artists, gallerists and collectors as a turning point. It validated the work of local artists whose work may never have come to light otherwise. The fact that it traveled to P.S. 1 in New York served notice to important collectors, galleries and museums–and the press–that the national discussion from that moment forward would include Houston. Is there enough talent in Dallas to support such a show? I doubt any one person knows. Maybe one of the universities tracks such things, or a journal such as Glasstire. If not, I’d suggest to this group that its first order of business be a census of who’s here and what they’re doing. And use that as a springboard for funding and space. And if the Dallas museum doesn’t want to discuss it, do what generations of artists, dancers and musicians before you have done. Pick up the phone and call Fort Worth.

    One final thought. The macro forces wreaking havoc on the international art market could well change the artist/gallery/collector dynamic forever, along with relationships between museums and donors. A tectonic shift has fractured the art world–here the super-rich collectors and their super-collectible stable of untouchables (Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter, Damien Hirst, et al); there the merely collectible artists whose work will eventually go to museums and perhaps be remembered; and then the rest, who feel lucky to be shown in a gallery. Artists without a gallery, or even artists in the lesser galleries, are simply not discussed; it’s assumed their work is already lost to the ages. Greed and ego are a part of it, as are questionable gallery practices. The internet and its uncertainties is also destabilizing. Artists may find they no longer need depend on a gallery, that a website makes a gallery show redundant. There are collectors who would gladly sidestep the gallery owners. And then there are installations and conceptual pieces that defy any attempt to archive them or be put on permanent display. What this means for Dallas I don’t know. But if I were putting forth proposals for the future I’d try to find out.

    1. Glad you mention Lawndale, Diverseworks and Blue Star, all of which are different but great in their own way. But although they have artist boards (Diverseworks just reinstated its artist board), they’re institutions now, and different from artist-run spaces. There is an example of an artist-run space that’s hung in there over the long haul with consistently great programming: Sala Diaz in San Antonio.

      That said, there’s nothing necessarily bad about artist-run spaces morphing into institutions (they almost always do if they are to survive), and there’s also nothing bad about artist-run spaces having their run, and then folding. That kind of flux is healthy and a necessary part of generational turnover. Very few people (nobody other than Alejandro Diaz, and now Hills Snyder) can sustain an artist-run space for long–it’s too grueling and expensive.

      You say that there’s discussion of “big plans” in all Texas cities, but I think the self-awareness Dallas has been demonstrating lately is unique to Dallas. As a Houstonian, I admire the civic and grassroots energy around art in Dallas right now, and I think the Dallas art scene is great (which is a kinder way of saying, do you really need yet another panel talking about how the Dallas art scene is doing?).

      So: Go Big D!

    2. Gary, as Jordan mentions, beginning July 19, alongside the DallasSITES show at the DMA, there will be some additional programming in the Barrel Vault and quad galleries that endeavors to shed light on current artists and collectives working in Dallas now. As an ancillary exhibition, The Art Foundation, a collective of which I am a part, will mount a show of current work by Dallas artists and Dallas-natives that have flown the coop in hopes of better attention in the bigger art cities. As (local) guest curators, the hope is to provide evidence that there is, in fact, enough talent to support such a show, and also to suggest that that talent needs support if we are to know it is even there to champion. In addition to The Art Foundation’s curated show, expect to see some mad-cap brilliance by way of a interactive installation by FW collective Homecoming Committee. It will be a little of everything on a revolutionary plate.

      Your example of the 1985 Houston show is encouraging, and your art market diagnostics seem to be very much on point. I think, I hope, that Dallas is growing in the savvy necessary to carve out a innovative path in the face of these things, but it will require better synthesis between all the levels of the art hierarchy in order for it to succeed.

  8. Gary, great response. On the author’s knowledge of a dozen or so artists, gallerists, and organizations – poll any of those mentioned and they’ll mention the same list of ‘creative doers.’. There’s a small group of young folks in Dallas who are doing very well at promoting each other, with the help of a few sympathetic writers (and outlets like Glasstire, Frontrow, and various local print publications.). There’s a lot of talent among this group, but we see a real disparity in coverage by arts media, at panel discussions, and the such. Groups of real, active artists and organizations are simply curated out of conversation.

    DallasSites is on view at The Dallas Museum of Art this Summer, and offers a fairly comprehensive survey of what’s been going on here in Dallas over the last several decades. Beginning on July 19, the museum gives up space to several area collectives and art orgs to develop programming through the Summer. Hopefully it’s the start of something… But I’d encourage readers of the above article to tour this exhibit to see the breadth of activity that’s taken place here

    1. [cut off too soon, and sorry for mobile punctuation issues]. ….. Also, the author cites “gaining” Doroshenko and a “less stuffy” Goss Michael as accomplishments of an evolving arts city — but as Michael Francis discussed, no mention of 500x (doing it together for 35 years) or The MAC (supporting local artists for 19 years). In fact, the MAC, under direction of Lisa Hees, has had recent solo shows for at least three artists involved in a couple of the programs lauded by the author. Why no mention? Cool kids…

      I think this sort of dialogue needs to be encouraged, but providing additional platforms for the SAME conversation, to promote the same subgroups of the contemporary arts cultural landscape of a city takes us nowhere.

  9. It’s great whenever someone writes a think-piece for Glasstire about the state of art in DFW. Always tons of comments. It seems like a Dallas thing. Sure people in other cities think about these things, but Dallas seems to really feel the need to think about them in public. I don’t know why, but I find it totally entertaining. Dallas has an art scene that really wears its heart on its sleeve and I love it. Never change.

  10. We opened our new gallery space in 2009 in the Dallas Design District on Dragon Street. Previously, we were one of the first galleries to operate on Dragon Street in 2001 when I was the gallery director for al-so gallery. In 1998 we were one of the first studio/gallery to open in the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff. We have always been proud to include emerging artists in our shows, many are from Texas and have gone on to great things or still with our roster of artists.
    We are civic minded and continue to do more for the arts than some of the galleries mentioned in the article who have only been around for a year or so.
    Please visit our website or come by our gallery and ascertain if you think we are worthy of a mention. Mary

  11. This is a great discussion. But it is also a common one in most metropolitan cities outside of New York. There has been zillions of $$’s pumped into this city creating an arts culture. But even these bright and shiny institutions suffer from budget concerns. It is a shame. I think the momentum is there, obviously. And we HAVE become an art destination.
    Since we opened our gallery 18 years ago we have seen so much happen in a most positive direction. But there is far to go. Supporting local artists is always a trial for every city. 500X and Central Trak, to name a couple, have been great venues for young, energetic artists. If you look at some of the history of Dallas’s art scene you will see that a lot of it came out of universities, namely UNT. We have all forgotten how important art schools are to education and inspiration–necessary factors to break through. Sorry for rambling. Too much to say on this topic.
    But keep up the good work, stop complaining and work harder…..

  12. Way to leave 500x out of your article. Spectacular writing from Glasstire as usual… (sarcasm implied).

    1. Bubba, curing omissions is one things comments are good for- please post your own list, with annotations!

  13. Check this–”What Chicago’s Art Scene Can Learn From Vampire Bats”–on Bad at Sports: http://badatsports.com/2013/what-chicagos-art-scene-can-learn-from-vampire-bats/

    We are all in this together.

  14. I`ve just discovered Glasstire (via PaintersTable) This is great stuff- ace articles and ace comments! Real communication!( I`ve just added some comments after the Matthew Collings&Emma Biggs `Suspicious Utopias`interview) I`m in Newcastle,UK. It`s been called “the arsehole of the artworld”.

  15. Glasstire keep up the good work!

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