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Story + Photographs by JR Compton

vs.

Part Two - Return to Part One

DARE - Seduced by Performance

© 1990 + 2000 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

The Wesco Building, at 605 South Good-Lattimer, had a huge warehouse space in back, a small theater upstairs — made famous in the 1950s by TV star and former Miss America, Betty Furness (above), who was photographed in a long series of Westinhouse appliance ads in Life Magazine and other national publications.

The 15,000 square feet building also had several smallish office/meeting room spaces up front, large sliding doors and built-in freight access. Gradually, inexorably, the originating concept of establishing an organization and space to show the work of struggling but serious Dallas artists was seduced by performance, which was immediately popular and much easier to curate and present.In the PR brochure distributed at the DMA the year before, DARE defined

The Term "visual arts" ... [as] painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, film, video, decorative arts, [and] art publishing...."None of those forms were included in DARE Preview & Performance, the opening night premiere of the new space December 8, 1990.

It was the beginning of a trend.The event netted six additional members, bringing the total to 226 — many of whom were expected to renew in March — and approximately $200 in the donations jar. The Preview cost $2,800, which was mostly covered by financial assistance from nine donors.

At the January board meeting, the DARE treasury totalled $380.90. The group's nonprofit status was not yet in, we were told, but we had a letter from the Texas Commission for the Arts and the City promising $1,000 to cover our projected artist lecture series.

At the meeting, we decided that the recently created Artists Advisory Committee would advocate events, and the Board would produce them. The AAC's mission was to "analyze and review proposed projects and develop recommendations."


The extrardinarily noisy NecroSonic Institute bangs on steel drums at Preview & Performance

But it got a lot more complicated to plan and produce events. Only two visual art show ideas ever made it past DARE's by-then labyrinthine system of more or less inter- connected committees and proposal systems. One was produced by photographer and former Allen Street Gallery board member Robert McAn upstairs at the Latimer space.

Sharing the stage with DARE's first, excellent, bleeding-edge exhibition in April 1991 was nationally known Dallas performance artist, musician, record producer and art activist Jerry Hunt, who created one of his shamanistic rituals (left) upstairs in the theater. The performance involved his own original music, raw electroic equipment, strange sounds, lights, primitive fetish pieces, talk, vocal and dance elements and acoustic banging on walls and floors. It was electric, and it seemed like it would be a seminal moment in the early history of DARE.

Unfortunately, it was already obvious, at the board meeting before the Preview that DARE's occupancy of the Wesco space could not long continue. Fifteen thousand square feet of space was incredibly expensive to heat and cool, and DARE's minor-league fund raising was not up to the task.Besides that, we were told, "a commercial entity wanted to lease both sides of the WESCO building, and that activity is 'proceeding slowly' — much like our negotiations [had]." But that process was expected to take several months.

After the grand-scale Preview and several smaller-scale, but interactive and popular community events in the front rooms of the aging warehouse, DARE abandoned it in the heat of July, supposedly over a dispute with the electric company. Sometime late in the decade since, the building was razed.

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See Events List to discover the variety of events Dare produced.

Facing the financial realities of big art, the board of directors became obsessed with attracting what was called 'a money board.'  The logic seemed to be that if the board could find people who either had or could attract large sums of money, DARE could finally be the organization we all dreamed it should be.

By then DARE's organizational structure comprised the Board of Directors, an Executive Committee and the Artists Advisory Committee, which was only then realizing it would be responsible for raising funds necessary to produce any events it developed.

Just to keep things confused, there was also an artists advisory board nominated by DARE to advise the Dallas Museum of Art.Some board members at first excited by the open ended possibilities were daunted by institutional closed minds, foot-dragging and interferrence. Communications between the board of directors and the Artists Advisory Board plummeted, and for several months, the AAB, which was charged with programming, refused to even meet with the board.

It was as if DARE had lost faith in sweat equity and personal initiative. Many of us knew we could accomplish almost anything, if we were left alone to do it. But a committee mentality took over. Nothing could be accomplished independently. Everything proposed had to be submited to subcommittees, then repeatedly subjected to non-expert judgements.

Perfectionism destroyed confidence. Faith turned into dread, and several board members escaped. But new idealists were always available.The one other exhibition idea to clear DARE's growing bureaucratic hurdles was almost universally appealing. It was grand in scope and probably the most successful event the organization ever produced. It was also one of the last under the DARE banner.

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See The Biennial Page for more info about that superb show, including Michael Helsem's 1993 review, Exhibition Director Jeanne Chvosta's poetic wrapup and a list of exhibiting artists from the DARE newsletter. Or see Lee Murray's DARts on-paper rhapsody on Texas art and the Biennial.

Calls for entries went to more than 5,500 artists, arts organizations, universities, colleges and galleries throughout Texas. The jurors selected 80 exhibiting visual and installation artists -- including 23 from the Dallas area -- from approximately 3,500 slides from 365 artists.Hundreds of people helped produce the large-scale event, held in the Food & Fiber Building on the Texas State Fairgrounds. And thousands attended the exhibition, which opened November 20, 1993. After struggling for half a decade, DARE finally achieved the status of a genuine and successful alternative arts organization.Possibly the most important effect of the Bienneial, however, was that it brought Claude Albritton into the ranks of DARE supporters. You see, he owns this building on McKinney Avenue ...

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Alien Planet

This story was to be continued, but the truth is I do not know how DARE became The MAC. I'd given up in utter disgust by that time, and I was angry with Art in its many Dallas manifestations for much of the four years between the last on-paper edition of DARts and the first online version in 1999. I still visited The MAC sometimes, but it always feels like an alien planet — albeit one with the great bookstore and coffeeshop, local theater and occasional BTAGFOOT (big time art guys from out of town) exhibitions, and sometimes pretty good art talks we often discussed in DARE Board meetings so long ago.

I do know that DARE founding president Greg Metz had extensive discussions with Claude Albritton, Rick Brettel and others about the transformation. And curious as I am, I flat don't care how it happened. I just want The MAC to honor DARE's commitment to exhibit quality, lesser-known artists of Dallas in some other venue besides their putrid annual membership shows.

I know I'm not alone in this fervent desire. But I also am fairly certain nothing will change now that The MAC is set with DARE's precious nonprofit status.It's very curious indeed when, perhaps like the Ice House Cultral Center in Oak Cliff, a nonprofit organization is housed in a building owned by someone who is not necessarily nonprofit himself.

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