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Art History in the Making
Davidow, D-Art, DVAC,
The MAC & Beyond

Read JR's extensive, January 2005 Interview with Joan Davidow

D-Art & The MAC Subindex
An Archivist's History
D-Art & The MAC - Parallel Histories
Revisionist History

D-Art Contemporary on Swiss Avenue

DVAC emerging from the shadow of downtown Dallas

Story + Photographs © 2001 by J R Compton  

Joan Davidow will be the new director of Dallas Visual Art Center.

The first director of the Arlington Museum of Art (AMA) and before that, a founding board member of Dallas Artists Research & Exhibitions (DARE, where she discovered our first building), Davidow was named "the most imaginative and adventurous museum director working in Texas" by Texas Monthly's Michael Ennis in 1998. She began work at DVAC May 1, 2001.

The press release naming Davidow claims DVAC was "founded in 1981 by the dedicated and visionary leader Patricia Meadows."

Although Meadows played many important roles in D-Art's early history, financial success and popularity, she was not The Founder.

DVAC actually sprang from the nonprofit status of ACTArtists Coalition of Texas, primarily through the efforts of Mary Ward, who conceived the dream, approached ACT with the idea in the early summer of 1980, then made it happen.

It was she who actually founded D-Art and was its first director. But she was ousted early, and she's been written out of their official history.

(Right: Detail from Mary Ward at Home, Portrait © 1982 by John Walker, from Texas Arts Revue #9, summer / fall, 1982 - then published by ACT ). It may be instructive to read a story about D-Art, which included a lot of local art history, an interview with Mary Ward, just after she left D'Art, and the ongoing battle to recognize her as The Founder.

During Meadows' tenure, D-ART, (DVAC in 2001, later The Dallas Center for Contemporary Art) tried to be everything to every artist in Dallas. Taste was an issue, but it rarely kept anyone from showing at the already crumbling space. Many, more experienced artists refused to show there.

The struggle continued during artist / administrator Vicki Meek's short, three-year administration in the late 80s, as D-Art slowly transitioned to a more careful system of selection committees and proposals. D-Art closed its doors at her departure. But only temporarily.

A decade ago, when young businesswoman Katherine Wagner was hired, D-Art had an iffy future. Gradually, she brought vibrant life to the moribund institution. The sense of community was palpable, shared and expanding. The new building was a vast improvement over the dreary, faux-facaded, now razed warehouse down the street. It feels, looks and is a much more professional space, and it became an honor to be exhibited there.

Directing is not the poverty position it may be at many art centers. DVAC pays its directors well. Although she was rarely seen at other organizations' art events, Wagner distinguished herself at DVAC, although not everyone appreciated all of her touches. She brought the right energy at the right juncture in the organization's growth.

Davidow is not an artist, either, but she's long been a part of this scene, even once had an art critical radio show here. Because of her long-term relations with Texas artists and the press, she brought an excitement of anticipation to Swiss Avenue — and, of course, a lot of open questions.

Housed in a former department store, the so-called Arlington Museum of Art is a City-sponsored center, which is permanently mired in bureacratic absurdities, some of which she'll find at her new job, too. At her controversial departure last year, a new AMA facility had been designed but yet un-funded.

The primary reason for hiring Ms Davidow is to raise funds for future DVAC existence and expansion.

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D-MAC vs. DVAC    

The Meadows Building

Now called DVAC, the organization housed in the fanciful, post-modern building at 2917 Swiss Avenue ( left ) — a $3 million facility owned by the Meadows Foundation — competes directly and indirectly with DMAC — more properly called The McKinney Avenue Contemporary  — which is housed in the big, blue building at 3120 McKinney Avenue ( below right ) — owned by independent Dallas businessman Claude Albritton.

The MAC wrested the 501-(c)(3) nonprofit status from DARE, which was founded on the need for serious Dallas artists to be exhibited outside the local gallery structure.

While DVAC's reputation for exhibiting Dallas and Texas artists grows, DMAC has nearly abandoned its founding purposes, relying instead on slick shows by national, regional and big-name, former Dallas artists and its in-house theatre company.

Both centers are in a constant financial struggle. It is amazing that this city has supported both this long. DVAC's 10-year lease with the Meadows Foundation runs out in eight years. And it is already planning to build its own space, which won't come cheap, or easy.

This nonprofit competition should be even more interesting than the Million Dollar Art War across town between major Dallas commercial galleries Pillsbury-Peters and Dunn & Brown.

It will be fascinating to watch as Dallas' paramount, non-commercial artist organization / exhibition spaces duke it out for our affections, attentions and financial support. With Joan Davidow at DVAC's wheel, it could be an even more interesting race. - JRC

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Historical & Other Notes

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D-Art & The MAC Subindex

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All Contents © 2001 by J R Compton All Rights Reserved. Commercial use or redistribution in any form, printed or electronic, is prohibited.