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Dallas Center for Contemporary Art
liedD-Art was not co-founded by
Patricia Meadows, nor in 1978,
as Davidow said in interviews
on KERA-TV and elsewhere.

Joan In the New Space - corpyright Dean Terry

Joan Davidow at the new Dallas Contemporary Space — still from
a video by Dean Terry video on Flickr. Click picture to see the video.
 

See the new ACT/D-Art Timeline and the new Squeaky Wheel to follow the history of ACT and D-Art date by date and fact-by-fact through their collective early histories.
 

It's crazy. Joan Davidow is as visionary as the lone Dallas artist who actually founded D-Art nearly thirty years ago — but not in 1978, as Joan carefully enunciated in her TV interview. Joan is bright and creative and has a stunning vision for Dallas art. Why does she mire herself and her dream by telling revisionist lies that are easily discredited with documents from her own organization's archives?

Does she believe that if she can foist Patricia Meadows as the founder, the monied few will give her enough cash to install toilets and electricity into that humongous building The Contemp has recently installed itself into?

There's a curious historical twist to Joan finding this gargantuan building. It was she, then serving on the board of Dallas Artists Research & Exposition (DARE), also founded by visionary artists without much administrative sense, after D-Art went under the first time — another historical fact that's not often mentioned — who found the DARE building that destroyed that lofty-notioned nonprofit organization's existence.
 

Mary Ward, the Founder of D-ART - photograph copyright John Walker

D-ART and The Contemp's real founder: Scanned from Texas Arts Revue
Number 9, summer 1982, after the Artists Coalition of Texas changed
the name to TexasArtsRevue. After jettisoning them, I changed the name
back to DallasArtsRevue. John Walker photograph
 

The DARE building was a giant warehouse space (sound familiar?), whose offices were air-conditioned but whose gargantuan warehouse space was not, but it was not the DARE building for long.

Because it was so hugely expensive, and those costs rapidly outpaced DARE's meager income from memberships and donations, they had to give the building back. Within a few months, DARE's nonprofit status was given over to Claude Albritton, owner of the building in which The McKinney Avenue Contemporary still resides.

It's a fate that could easily become The Contemp's. They're worried. Joan is worried.

Is she so freaked about the dire possibilities that she's pumping up old lies about the Contemp's founding mother? Does she really believe someone with big bucks will support those dreams and aspirations if she tells them some well-connected and genial woman started the organization Joan now heads?

Or is her own board of directors putting her up to it?

They may be. It was in a letter from them that I first read the lies about the founding of the organization that has, over the years, transitioned through the names, D-ART, D'ART, D-Art, DVAC, Dallas Center for Contemporary Art, and The Contemp — though some artists insist calling it "The Contempt" for its non-service to its members, who supported it for many years.

Another curious historical twist involves Joan's insistence that Patricia Meadows, who certainly played the major part in popularizing the arts organization, was its founder. A lie perpetrated most of this century by their own board of directors and now thrust into the public utterances of their soon-to-retire director, Joan Davidow.

Another twistingly fascinating aspect raised in the Davidow interview was that Joan was hired to "raise the bar." Apparently, the board of directors all but ignored D-Arts' early and long-term tastelessness — especially during the 1980s when Patricia Meadows almost single-handedly ran D-Art. When her (Meadows had been president of ACA) Artists and Craftsmen Associated and the Southwest Watercolor Society paid the two-thousand dollar monthly rent at the old building.

There was nothing to stop those organizations from expecting their shows to show unjuried. Many other artists noticed, however, and they purposely stayed away from the budding art center supposedly for all Dallas artists. And that practice netted the center a deservedly lousy reputation among the more professional artists, who believed D-Art would show anything by anybody.

Mary Ward began the organization with high-bar aesthetics, then they dipped precipitously throught he 1980s. Then they returned to good taste when Katherine Wagner was named director after D-Art returned to life after financial ruin.
 

Historical Facts

In 1978 the corporate nonprofit status that eventually devolved to D-ART belonged to the Artists Coalition of Texas, which as late as summer 1980, published this magazine (DallasArtsRevue). Patricia Meadows was not involved then but later became an important catalyst in the organization's history.

On May 12, 1980, "Mary Ward made the presentation to ACT describing her dream, her quest, for an art center for Dallas. Something she'd wanted a long time," my early-80s ACT contact told me a few years ago.

When I told her about DVAC's version of their history, she insisted, "No, no, no. That's absolutely false."
 

Gathering Crowd - Photograph Copyright 2010 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Art Talk at the soon-to-open new Dallas Contemporary
That's the super heater at lower center
 

In June 1980, in a letter typed on Artists Coalition of Texas letterhead and signed by Project Director Mary Wachowiak-Ward, to specified members of leading Dallas art organizations, she bubbled about "our meeting on May 16" being "a great success. An informal group of ten were expected and it was very exciting to see thirty interested visual artists and arts related participants come together to introduce themselves and present their thoughts concerning their needs for a Visual Arts Center."

A discussion of goals for the Center resulted in a lengthy list of specific needs, as representatives from ten local visual arts groups voiced opinions. At the head of the list was a need for studio space, classrooms, space for meetings and an exhibition space."

The letter continues, "At the June 16 [1980] meeting, stated goals and needs will be examined and discussion will be focused on a mutually acceptable definition for a Visual Arts Center. New participants are expected to contribute their ideas; We look to new individuals and groups to add different dimensions. An agenda is attached and all participants are encouraged to submit issues for discussion prior to the meeting."
 

Celebrating D-Art on Swiss Avenue's First Anniversary

Clippings from D-Art's July-August 1982 newsletter celebrating the first Anniversary
of opening their first space on Swiss Avenue, entering their second year of existence
 

"Facts About The Proposed Visual Arts Center for Dallas, Texas" is one of the documents included on the Documents Pertaining to D-ART's Founder Mary Ward page, as is a copy of an invitation from D-Art Art Center for a ribbon-cutting by Mayor Jack Evans and a Thursday, November 5, 1981 opening of the new "D-Art Art Center at 2917 Swiss Avenue. ACT had offices in a bank on Hall Street overlooking Turtle Creek, but D-ART's first real office was in 500 Exposition Gallery.

D-ART (the organization's first name after acquiring the Artists Coalition of Texas nonprofit status) did not come into existence until late 1981, although the chameleonic organization has, just in this century, claimed several different founders as well as several different founding dates. 1978 is the earliest yet. Perhaps Joan was confusing the inception of ACT with the transition of ACT to D-ART.

No one is named as founder in the ribbon-cutting invitation, but both Mary Wachowiak-Ward and Patricia B. Meadows are listed as members of the nonprofit corporation's Board of Directors.

In the DallasArtsRevue's Special Pegasus Issue published on paper in Autumn 1981, I noted:

"D'ARTs sounds like a ladies' garden club to us, with that fakey French accent stuff, but the group, formerly named Artists Coalition of Texas (ACT), is finally putting together a real, live art center for big D — ACT always wanted to, but never seemed to get it off the drawing board. Congrats are in order for D-arter Mary Ward. Now that you got it, Mary, whatcha gonna do with it?"

In the same issue, in an article written by D-ART's real founder, Mary Wachowiak-Ward, titled "an experiment," she talks about the center and her desires for its future success. She is listed as the D-ART Project Coordinator.
 

DVAC Downtown - Photograph Copyright  by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

D-Art's Second Swiss Avenue Space
 

I have, on several occasions when Patricia Meadows spoke at D-Art or in public elsewhere, spoken up to state that, "no, you are not," when she claimed to be the founder of D-Art. Each time, she agreed that she was not. Eventually, she promised not to say it any more. Then in later years, that bold mistatement was included in her vitae information for new projects. I guess she forgot.

This all may be "a company line" foisted on Joan by the board of directors. Meanwhile, the new building has neither electricity in all of its rooms, nor plumbing, both usually necessary to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy. The Contemp has cited "unforeseen circumstances," but surely they know where the light switches are and the bathrooms aren't.

 

Related Stories on DallasArtsRevue

Copyright Gerald Burns

Gerald Burns' fanciful drawing of the trashing of Wayne Amerine's Sculpture at The Red Horse Flying Show at D-ART. D-ART Founder and then director, Mary Ward had told artists their work was insured. But there was no way the fledgling organization could afford insurance. So when Wayne's piece was broken during the dancing at the reception, D-ART was financially embarrassed, and Mary Ward was fired — for that fact and the rumors of her public indiscretion of 'carrying on' with a married City official.
 

Quoted from "The LAST Pegasus Story," after the entire previous issue had been devoted to the myth and art of Pegasus. I wrote in the winter 1982 issue of then-Texas Arts Revue (the one with Dan Pirarro's drawing of Raymond the Sumo Duck Swallower on the cover):

Wayne Amerine - Shiek - photograph copyright J R Compton.

Wayne Amerine   Sheik   J R Compton photo, scanned
from the winter 1982 issue of DallasArtsRevue [before dot com]

“The first Pegasus show was a grand spectacle. Only Will Hipp's 18' sawhorse would've tested the immensity of Dallas City Hall, but it wasn't in the first show.

The Flying Red Horse Show [at Dallas City Hall] was an inspiring exhibition, with many exciting entries and only a few duds. The later reception at sponsoring Dallas Institute was a hoot. As was the Pegasus Polka opening of D-arts' enlarged 1982 version, The Red Horse Flying Show.

But the grandeur was gone. Most of the pieces seemed lost in a vast dingy emptiness. The video tape of the earlier show echoed unintelligibly in a corner, but Brave Combo was most audible.

Except for figuring out which pieces were new or missing, the most fun at Pegasus Two was watching D-art director Mary Ward and City Arts Program director Richard Huff doing the flying pegasus polka.

 

Why is all this important?

It's important to tell the truth about how our institutions began, because the people who made it happen — Mary Ward and the Artists Coalition of Texas — did a major service to the artists of Dallas, Texas. They created a center for this community. A place where we could show our work, learn, teach and understand what's going on.

Despite what that organization has since become.

The organization now known as the Dallas Center for Contemporary Art was founded as an active art center for Dallas artists and craftspersons, a pivotal early goal that it has jettisoned in its latest director's ambition to morph it into a contemporary art center to show anybody but Dallas artists and craftspersons — an extension of her dreams to turn the Arlington Museum of Art into the same sort of regional art center, before she was fired from that position.

The other organization in Dallas that now fulfills that and its own original goal of showing Dallas art by Dallas artists, The McKinney Avenue Contemporary, was founded during the time when D-Art had lost so much money it had to go into hibernation for about a year and a half.

When it returned to existence, it was operated by Katherine Wagner from October 1989 through the second week in January 2001. She was followed by a weak, transitional temporary director. Then after she was let go from the Arlington Museum of Art, Joan Davidow was hired as what by then had become Dallas Visual Art Center's new director, and together with the board of directors, crafted a new path — and a new version of their history.


See the ACT/D-Art Timeline to follow the document-based history of both organizations through the early times.

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