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by Karen Erxleben
(founding DARE Board Member and continuing Board Member for The MAC)
Approximately 400 people participated in the DARE workshop held at the Dallas Museum of Art on November 4, 1989. From the dialogue that occurred that day and from the responses to the questionnaires completed by attendees, it is evident that a serious vacuum exists within the visual arts community of the Metroplex and that there is a high level of interest in seeking remedies.
Historically, these needs have always existed, but motivation, cohesiveness, leadership, and maturity of vision have been lacking to do much about it. Unrest and changes occurring in Dallas economics and politics as well as the attention to NEA issues across the country have united artists in a way never possible before.
65 questionnaires were returned, with responses ranging from poetic and scholarly to comic, illegible and downright rude. The information obtained will be helpful in guiding DARE to best serve the needs of the artistic community. A summary follows.
"There is no Dallas arts community. There are images and isolated individuals only." There was widespread consensus that the Dallas arts community is not only unimportant nationally, but approaches being invisible. However, it was felt that there is the potential to become an important regional center and to influence art trends. In order to engage the public, most agreed that education, exposure, de-mystification, defusing hostility, eliminating elitism, and including the public in artistic dialogue were needed.
40% of respondents do not have a network of artists; 32% have somewhat of a network but were desirous of more; and 18% have an existing network. 67% of those responding feel that artist-run organizations are relevant/beneficial to the community; 20% that they could or should be; 6% that they aren't. Additional remarks were that such organizations should strive for high quality and stability, yet avoid becoming a clique.
Programming suggestions included: an art center, clearinghouse for information (especially funding and grants), exhibitions, dialogue, criticism, networking, workshops, advocacy, performances, and inter-disciplinary works, work space, slide registry, job referral service, emergency financial aid, artists' credit union, a billboard, publicity, weekly TV and radio programs featuring artists, artists-in-education programs, visiting prominent artists, films, competitions, publications, interaction with the Dallas Museum of Art.
90% of respondents are willing to pay between $20-30 for membership in an artist-run organization. The majority did not expect discounts but suggestions were made for student discounts and discounts for services and supplies at local vendors to be included as a membership benefit. "We must be willing to support ourselves." was a a frequent comment.
The advantages of alternative spaces were easily agreed upon as being more experimental and cutting out the "middleman" financially. A high level of interest (84%) in establishing an artist-run space in Dallas and making it as inclusive and democratic as possible. Services preferred were: group exhibitions--35%, exhibition opportunities--32%, dialogue/criticism--30%, workshops--30%, bookstore--27%, performances--20%, insurance--18%, coffee shop--9%, touring info--6%, and all of these--43%.
Other suggestions included: a place for shooting slides, support for special projects, equipment usage, readings, a community meeting place. Many felt that an alternative space might provide resources for collaborative work and a place for artists to hold benefit-type events. Current avenues for alternative work mentioned were Club Dada, the Bath House, 500X and art bars, indicating that an "alternative" scene and network already exist but without a permanent, on-going home base.
The majority of respondents felt very strongly that the existing Dallas media does not meet their needs. There was general agreement that the viewing information provided is lnadequate, but in all other respects visual arts coverage is seriously lacking. More frequency, diversity, dept, and varied viewpoints were cited as needed improvements. Because the written work is integral to educating/involving the public, carrying news of local arts achievements to other cities, and providing a mechanism for evaluation and further exploration for artists, this need is critical.
"An alternative publication should be the hub of our network." 50% said they would subscribe to such a publication, 13% might, and 9% would not. 10% currently subscribe to various publications, and 24% do not. 43% wanted to publish their own thoughts, 16% would consider it, 24% were not interested. Preferences for content were: calendar-13%, grants/show information-13%, preview notices-7%, advocacy-7%, performances-6%, all of these 44%. There was mixed sentiment regarding advertisements: 7% for and 6% against. Additional suggestions included artist interviews, letters to the editor, popular art forms ("not just white people's stuff"), personals, materials and services sources.
The frustration and lack of political clout of artists as an entity was demonstrated by the responses in this section. "I don't know," "I wish I knew" and "Nowhere" were frequent answers, although a budding awareness was evidenced by the mention of TALA, NAAO, Pro Arts, TCA, Dallas Coalition for the Arts, Office of Cultural Affairs and Women's Caucus for the Arts. 73% felt that an artist advocacy group could serve as a collective voice to present working artists' concerns, but many cautioned against the difficulties of organizing the traditionally independent artist.
Issues of concern were: funds and legislation affecting artists, taxes, insurance, censorship, the environment, studio/living space, public perception and support. Suggestions included: learning the advocacy process, then organizing, being specific, articulate, and constructive. "Be sure to poll members before speaking for the group." "But artists themselves have to be relevant to the organizations. If they are selfish, their relationship is parasitic."
Criticism and Dialogue
"The art community is spread out like the city--there is nowhere to meet to talk." "Any work at all would make me feel more real" Although it was noted that dialogue and criticism denote two distinct forms of discourse, the need and desire for both were indicated (66%). Another 50% were interested in open critiques.
A majority felt that local coverage was descriptive rather than critical or analytical, and that the role of the critic should be to "select and present issues embodied in the work, then present an argument on the execution of the work." Contextualization was felt to be a responsibility of the critic as well. There is, of necessity, a difference in criticism to J. Q. Public and the artist. And it was agreed that education to bridge this gap was the shared concern of the critic and artists themselves. "There are a log of J. Q. artists around, too." Differences of opinion and aesthetics were agreed to be a positive thing.
From this information, the mandate expressed is for: 1) an artist support group for exhibition/performance space, information clearinghouse, social/artistic interaction, and 2) an artist advocacy group to articulate a united voice and to advocate artists' needs within society.
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