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Revisionist D-Art History
Just Won't Go Away

© 2001 and slightly updated in 2010 and 2013 by JR Compton

See also:
An Historical Document-based Timeline of ACT and D-Art

The Squeaky Wheel - Making a Noise that Won't Go Away
D-Art & The MAC Subindex 

I KEEP HOPING THAT THE TRUTH WILL WIN OUT over the strange, revisionist histories propagated by DVAC and the Dallas Contemporary (two of the many names of the organization usually called D-Art has had over the decades) which were published unsigned on the Bath House website, in several official DVAC and Dallas Contemporary publications and press releases, as well as private press releases from Patricia Meadows. I wonder if they'll ever accept that Mary Ward, acting with the Artists Coalition of Texas (ACT, whose nonprofit status became D-Art), founded D'ART, the institution that is now called Dallas Contemporary.   

In March, 2001, DVAC board president Laura Boeckman wrote in a letter to DVAC members announcing Joan Davidow as the upcoming DVAC director, that "D-Art was founded by Patricia Meadows."

I knew better, since I was associated with the Artists Coalition of Texas (ACT was publishing Dallas Arts Revue that they insisted on changing the name to Texas Arts Revue) when Mary Ward turned ACT into D'ART.

So I told Boeckman the facts. Even then she denied Mary Ward was The Founder. Instead, she mistakenly introduced Judy Hearst-Smith as the "founder." I explained that while Smith was around part of that time, she most definitely did not found D-Art.

If DVAC is to fulfill its destiny, it is important to know its true history. Revising history by changing important details of its origins, is irresponsible and rude, if not libelous.

MARY WARD FOREVER LOST the good graces of her creation and its mostly matronly patrons when, at the new space's first exhibition, The Red Horse Flying Show, produced by Robert Trammel, a wood Pegasus by prominent, then-Dallas artist Wayne Amerine was accidentally broken during the opening.

Ward had told participating artists that the show was insured. But she allowed that insurance to expire before the opening. When she attempted to repair the slightly broken artwork, the artist got angry and sued D'ART, which had to pay him out of pocket, thus ensuring apparently eternal wrath from D'ART officials.

There must have been at least one, other, yet-unreported issue swirling around Ward and her new organizations' funders just before her untimely departure. But this reporter has been unable to uproot it — there was a cloud of rumors circulating that had to do with Mary Ward dancing with then City Art Program's Director Richard Huff. In any case, Mary Ward was fired, and Texas Arts Revue interviewed her shortly afterward.

AT LEAST PATRICIA MEADOWS, who deserves immense and immeasurable credit for guiding what was then called D-Art through some of its darkest years, is no longer named as The Founder — even though Meadows herself has perpetrated that myth. [I wrote that in 2001. Since then Meadows is often named as Founder or Co-Founder of the organization she was busy elsewhere during the founding of.

In the latest incarnation of the official revision of Dallas art history, Meadows is called D-Art's "visionary leader." Which is closer to the truth. Patricia Meadows was a determined administrator and a dear and sweet lady, who was a true friend to many Dallas artists. I like and admire her for whom she really was.

But it was Mary Ward who was the dreamer — the flawed visionary and perhaps inept administrator. Meadows had the financial connections, the intelligence to recognize a great idea when she saw one, and the tenacity to keep it going. Not to mention the financial security to work unpaid.

It is no coincidence that Mrs. Meadows' last name and the name of the Meadows Foundation and the Meadows Building in which DVAC [and later The Contemp] resided, coincide — although she no longer serves on its board of directors. When Meadows began her tenure as director, Ward's invention needed money more than it needed its creator, as Ward herself, acknowledged.

The Bath House website promoting the joint 20th Anniversary celebrations of the Bath House, DVAC (hard to keep up with all the name-changes D-Art has experienced) and Sammons Center, at first cited Judy Hearst Smith and Mary Ward — in that unfortunate order — as the founders of D-Art.

When I checked a couple days later, the Bath House web page had changed. It said that D-Art was "organized by Judy Smith Hearst (sic) and Mary Ward." So now, Smith has had a name change and demotion — along with Mary Ward — to mere organizers.

Forget for a moment who founded it.

Over time, the organization's name was softened to D'Art, then D-Art, which stood for many years, and many of us still prefer to call it that. The next name change was to Dallas Visual Art Center — DVAC, which always sounded like a MASH unit bugging out, but it's remarkably in keeping with Mary Ward's original concept of a "Visual Arts Center" for Dallas.

The story in the invitation also calls D'Art "the first alternative art space in Dallas." Which assertion neatly sidesteps at least a century of local art history — including The Dallas Contemporary Arts Museum, 500 Exposition Gallery, Allen Street Gallery, all the participants in Robert Trammell's Dallas New Arts and other festivals and fairs, Willard "The Texas Kid" Watson's front yard, Pamela Nelson's front porch and hundreds of other spaces, including the Dallas Museum of Art, which was originally founded to show work by Dallas artists.

WHEN I ASKED THE FORMER Vice President of the Artists Coalition of Texas — the organization that Mary Ward transformed into D-Art, about Judy Hearst-Smith being named founder — or the organizer — of D'ART, she replied emphatically, "That's not true."

Said VP specifically requested that her name not be used in this article, because she did not wish to be dragged into this imbroglio.

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 source said in a long-distance phone interview. I pressed the issue.

When I told her about DVAC [and now The Dallas Contemporary]'s version of their history, she insisted, "No, no, no. That's absolutely false."

"Mary Ward came months before Judy Smith," whom she called "a hanger on [who] had very little... to do with D-ART. She was simply a person who was there at the moment of inception and just took advantage of it."

"Mary Ward came, took over, and moved the whole shebang to 500 Exposition Gallery, where the first D-Art office was. When she opened the office, Judy Hearst Smith started hanging around." The ACT office had previously been in a donated high rise office on Turtle Creek.

A letter signed by Mary Ward describing that first, presentation meeting — with no mention of Ms. Smith, who hadn't arrived on the scene yet — is reproduced on the document page for this article.

Both, the former ACT VP told me, were "ballsy women" who needed each other's emotional support. They were friends. After creating D'ART out of the organization and nonprofit status of ACT, "Mary Ward felt vulnerable. She was pumped up by having Judy Smith around." They leaned on each other during early fund-raising and organizational difficulties.

The seminal D'ART organization later moved to its first building on Swiss Avenue, where they held their first [but not the first] Pegasus Show. "We never heard Judy Hearst Smith's name after that. She was just there during the tiny transition before Patricia Meadows got involved."

The source continued, saying that if anybody got the credit, it should be the TFAA (the Texas Fine Arts Association). They sponsored a conference at the University of Texas at Dallas, called "The Business of Art." It was from that art conference, that ACT was formed.

"What Judy Smith had to do with it..." she said, "She was just somebody who came along at the end."

After our telephone conversation, my source E-mailed me back, saying:

IN ALL HONESTY, one could say that Judy Hearst Smith was around during the early days of trying to find funds and a building for an art center.... back when ACT had offices in the 500X gallery.

HOWEVER, she was not on the scene prior to Mary Ward. And it was Mary Ward's baby!

The former VP told me to "check out your own publication, #7 of Texas Arts Revue — the special Pegasus issue. In it [page 24] you state in RAWart..." "More hustle: 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?"

Also, in the same ish, is an article written by Mary Ward titled, "an experiment, in which she writes about the center and her desires for its future success. She is listed as the D'ART Project Coordinator. It seems to me there were several people helping Mary at the time, and maybe JHS was one of them, but I would question JHS being considered one of the founders.

She (Ms. Smith) came in much too late to be honored as such.


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