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#13

Personal experiences with art in Dallas

A Confluence of Conflict — The CAC Nazis

The center's beautiful new arched roof over their back porch
sculpture area — after a storm blew the old one away

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Troubled East Dallas Institution Gets Potential New Direction

East Dallas' Creative Arts Center, long a learning institution in crisis, now has an opportunity for a clearly defined and eminently possible new future, thanks to a City grant and a detailed report from a pair of experienced community leaders. Katherine Wagner and Tom Adams delivered a substantial and critical, but gentle report detailing the many problems facing the venerable, but deeply troubled art and crafts school for adults. Importantly, they also provided a series of suggested solutions.

Katherine Wagner is the former D-Art and Dallas Visual Arts Center director, and Tom Adams is one of the founders of TITAS, the Dallas dance and music performance organization.

It will be intriguing to see what the micro managing CAC Board of Directors does with the information.

Will they share the pro- and con-cepts in the thick, green-bound report with everyone at CAC? Or will they try to hide it away, and continue to deny there's any real problems at the little art school that might?

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Katherine Wagner

Tom Adams,
one of the TITAS founders

I attended the meeting to watch the board interact and take photographs. The duo's remarkable report presentation was an entertaining bonus. The two experienced managers and inspirers have vast experience with successful, community-involved Nonprofit organizations. And they did their homework.

They listened to everybody who'd talk about it and administered detailed and confidential surveys to the diverse levels of CACkers — students, staff, faculty, and even the unpaid volunteers. (I was a volunteer, and although I never saw that survey, I did submit long lists of issues and suggestions I'd gathered from the Dallas arts community.)

The two organizational experts kept their ears and doors open for input from anybody who cares or cared about the deeply dysfunctional institution.

I didn't get to read the report, since it is Board-Members-Only for now — although, since it was publicly funded, the report should eventually become available. Not that I would expect this board to ever share it without legal procedings.

Businesswoman, teacher and former D-Art Director Katherine Wagner suffered from a sore throat, so she delivered her overview sitting down and only occasionally coughing. Mild. Gentle and only occasionally inaudible. She hit the high points — a lot of them.

I'd met and talked informally with TITAS Productions co-founder Tom Adams in the hall before the meeting. But I was not prepared for his dynamic, engaging, fun and spirited presentation of the CAC's communications woes and potential cures.

 

Jugs of pigment lined up in formation in CAC's central plaza

 

It was quietly thrilling to hear so many of the complaints so many CACkers had expressed over the last few months and years in private and public forums all over town. The experts delivered sincere criticisms in this semi-public forum. They spoke in gentle, precise language with clear, straight-forward recommendations. Calmly, gently, with kind overtones and a remarkably positive attitude

It is a good organization, the two experts insisted.* With the potential to become a lot better, if it plays its strengths.

I was delighted when Tom Adams cited the CAC web site that I had done on a voluntary basis until this month, as a positive and effective form of communications — in sharp contrast to the major CAC publication, that they call "the brochure," which is actually a class schedule.

Adams said the site was colorful and attractive. He liked the photographs. And he compared the site's many pictures with the ink on paper publication, which he called text-oriented, with no pictures and almost no color.

There were many other changes suggested in the report, and it will be fascinating to watch as CAC deals with them.

After their joint presentation, Katherine and Tom literally bowed out of the room, deflecting invitations to stay for the rest of the meeting. Good thing. The board's initial reaction after being castigated by the green report was to engage in a flurry of inappropriate behavior attacking the first outsiders unwise enough to cross them.

Given time to absorb and understand the range of possibilities suggested in the report, however, it is possible that the CAC board will develop new leadership and progress into the future.

 

The big question is  will the board share its newly assigned issues, goals and suggested cures with the center's staff, faculty, students and volunteers in a bold new direction?

Will the CAC board let go of their perceived power and access, instead, the real strength of a community working together on common goals?

It will be fascinating to watch — from afar.

a can of worms?

*Afar Enough

I say afar, because the board chose that auspicious moment to remove me from any position where I still cared about CAC.

I had become enmeshed in the little school with a shaky present and only a glimmering future. I had been producing their website pro bono for more than a year and had been careful not to critique them — although I'd grown to resent that stance, even as CAC's need to be critiqued multiplied exponentially.

When the opportunity arose to thump it for a minor, but revelatory, bureaucratic idiocy, I took it (See CENSORED, below) and hoped they'd see my need for balance. They did not.

Looking back at the Recent Unpleasantness several weeks into the future, I cannot imagine a better, quicker or cleaner way to come unmeshed. I'm relieved to be liberated from their collective madness. Despite that the separation was perpetrated via a series of outright lies, I'm delighted no longer to have to deal with the Creative Arts Center.

Of course, they lopped me off. My website was their only effective communication with the outside world (See Tom Adams' comments above.)

At first, I was angry. Gradually, however, I realized that — like so many sudden transitions — I could not have asked for better results.

 

Lesson Learning

This episode also provided a gloriously straight-forward opportunity to learn how I dealt with anger — how I enjoyed it way too much and expected people to just forgive me for it later. An important lesson for this 59-year-old. One long overdue. And a lesson that will take some time to absorb fully, but I'm working on it. I have to.

 

How I "got" to do the CAC website

A friend had been doing their site, but she was tired. Her okay for me to take over was easy. Getting the CAC board president to allow me to take it over was much more difficult.

I remember pleading for permission. He'd never heard of DallasArtsRevue or me, so it was an uphill battle. When he finally relented, I redesigned the site and started adding my photographs. That was my joy in doing the site — showing my photographs of their classes, the building and the art growing there.

Over the year I did it, the site's visitors more than doubled, although the board never did really understand why I had included photographs of the tiny campus.

The first major kink in our relationship was that it took the board more than 10 months to officially thank me — even though I'd been cajoling the management about their thankless attitude nearly all that time.

I was hardly the only volunteer they failed to thank. It may be their official policy.

Along the way, while periodically prowling the former elementary school for new shots, I learned way too much about CAC. I attended at least a half dozen formal and informal gripe sessions all over the city about the school.

Unfortunately, until Wagner and Adams began advertising for suggestions, all our collective gripes and suggestions were useless. For a long time, it seemed that nothing would ever change.

Now it might, but I don't care anymore. Thank goodness! 

Other CAC mentions on this site

Read about the "Art Nazi" controversy on this page, several clicks below, and

ponder CAC's charges and JR's responses immediately below.

Visit the CAC web site to learn more about the school and classes.

See my second-to-last series of CAC photographs — of the Blue Plate Special and related events.As always, DARts seeks your signed or unsigned response(s).

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Ornament Sale at gives 80% to artists, if they follow
ALL the rules — and bring FRESH cookies...

Until October 18, 2003, there was a listing on DARts' public Artists Opportunities page for an event whose prospectus reminded one artist (and this editor) of the "Soup Nazi" character on Jewish comedian Jerry Seinfeld's very popular but now defunct TV show.

So we called the event "Art Nazi," never realizing that not only would some people not get the joke, but that they'd turn it into a personal attack.

Sometimes ya just can't say "Art Nazi," even in your the privacy of your own publication — even when it is so obviously apt.

I didn't originate the opinion. Like often on these pages, I just expressed it, since many people are — sometimes justifiably (like here) — frightened near to death to express their own opinions.

Also as is the tradition at DallasArtsRevue, we sometimes make fun of overly strict or obtuse or just plain stupid prospecti for questionable "opportunities."

At the meeting, one particularly memorable board member (Raul Flores) loudly proclaimed that he would defend my right to speak any opinion I might want to. Then, in the next breath, he loudly and forcibly attacked me for expressing that opinion, insisting I could not ever use that word in any association with CAC.

So, a Jewish comedian can use the term on TV. You and I joking in the street or in our homes or galleries or bars or wherever — can joke about Nazi this or Nazi that, and even though we all know exactly what we're talking about, I am barred from using the term in reference to CAC.

If I offended anyone at the Creative Arts Center ... well — ya know, I really worry about anyone who gets offended by the term made famous by a Jewish comedian on TV.

I am sorry they got offended.

But this "you can say anything you want about anything else you want, but don't criticize us" attitude is absurd.

I take responsibility for the words I write, as I did when they were used against me at  that meeting. I said I'd retract it, if they wished.

And boy! did they.

So I did. Then I removed it from the DARts Artists' Opportunities page, and posted it only here, where it is most appropriate. The only difference here is that I've removed the little graphic I used wherever the words CAC or Art Nazi appeared.

It looks like this. And  this story looked a lot more interesting with it peppered through it. But that was when anger was fun...

But, as you can clearly see from the events reported on this page, the Creative Arts Center Board of Directors really are a bunch of art nazis.

J R Compton

 

DARts has already received one letter of feedback regarding this Art Nazi controversy. It's on the DARts Feedback page. We'd love to hear from you, too, if you ha ve anything to say about this whole imbroglio.

I'd be happy to publish your opinions — positive or negative or neutral — and no, you don't have to sign them, just E-mail them to me at JRC23@DallasArtsRevue.com

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Why Jimmy lost his temper

A CAC instructor (whose name I won't mention here) E-mailed me, asking for information about the efficacy of their web site, which I designed and produced until this imbroglio.

I sent him a two page E-mail containing site statistics, and he responded with some personal comments about the staff and curriculum at the center, suggusting that I should inform the board of those statistics.

I did. In my E-mail to CAC, I had deleted his remarks at the beginning of the E-mail I got from him, but I accidentally left in his remarks at the end of the long letter that mostly detailed the statistics.

Certainly, I deserve some devilment for broaching his confidence. I know it's bad juju, and I apologized to him both publicly during the board meeting and privately later, although he said he was not angry.

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Someone at CAC:

When I produced the CAC website, I put this on
their Board of Directors page. A bunch of ratchets.

After twice yelling angrily at the instructor who actually wrote the comments referenced by my E-mail about CAC web site statistics, the CAC prexy turned on me and yelled the same thing twice more.

"CAC is not yours," he repeated loudly and angrily as his face turned a vicious red. I tried to explain that I did not write the comments he was reacting to, but I don't think he understood, after all somebody had carefully circled those remarks and misidentified them as mine.

As a nonprofit organization organized under the State of Texas CAC, of course, belongs to all of us. It's mine, and it's yours, too.

I resigned from the CAC web site that night, and asked that my copyrighted photographs, be removed.

That same night, someone changed the password on the CAC site, so I could no longer access it. I had planned to upload photographs of the board in "action," since that's why I was there.

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Two days later, I received this letter:

CAC's letter to me

Dear JR:
By means of this letter, the Board of Directors of the Creative Arts Center acknowledges receipt of your email of October 20, 2003, announcing yur resignation as our Webmaster. We accept your resignation, and agree that it is in the best interes of the Creative Arts Center that this relationship be severed.

We request that you immediately cease all webmastering activity on the Creative Arts Centr site, and take no further action whatsoever to post, delete, copy or manipulate any material at that site, without limitation. Any continued activity by you at our website may be rerded as a trespass to chattels. We also request that you cease photography at the Creative Arts Center. Your physical presence there may be regarded as a trespass.

We appreciate your removal of the article characterizing the Creative Arts Center Chistmas sale as an "Art Nazi" sale from your Dallas Arts Revue website. While we obviously have no control over any statements that you may post on your website, we would respectuflly request that you refrain from making any further untrue and derogatory statements concerning the Center or its management. Such statements are obviously hurtful, and damaging to our business and reputation.

We have appreciated your past efforts to assist the Center as Webmaster, and deeply regret that this situation has arisen.

Very truly yours,
The Creative Arts Center Board of Directors
James C. Galbraith III, President
Anne Ward Guinan, Vice President
Sherry Mick, Treasurer

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My response

CAC Board Officials:

Odd that you want truth from me, when the text Jimmy Galbraith yelled at me for at the board meeting was written to me, not by me in a personal E-mail you edited, mis-identified and distributed, an act many consider highly innappropriate.

I have been scrupulously honest in coverage of the Creative Arts Center, whose faculty and curriculum I greatly admire, despite its many managerial failings as listed and published in the recent, City-funded "green report."

I will continue to express honest opinions about area art, artists, art events and art institutions, and I resent your implications otherwse.

JR Compton
Editor
DallasArtsRevue

All contents Copyright 2003 by JR Compton
No Reproduction in any analog or digital form
Without explicit, written permission
from DARts Editor/Publisher JR Compton.

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