These days the word “art” seems ever ready on the lips of Dallas residents. Thanks to the opening of the AT&T Performing Arts Center last October, for much of the past year we have been talking about art, thinking about our art, musing about the role of art in the city, and asking ourselves, “Is Dallas a good place for art?”

What does all of this art talk mean? Why are we suddenly so preoccupied with art?

In Dallas, status plays a powerful role in shaping local culture. And with the opening of the Performing Arts Center, we wondered what impact those buildings would have on our status as a cultural center. But this question inevitably leads back to the content of the materials and performances found inside our city’s venues, in and out of the Arts District. It is that content that ultimately defines what kind of place this city is and informs and shapes the people who live in it.

There is no underestimating the significance of the role art plays in human life. Art is an attempt to make sense of this place in which we live and to communicate that sense. It is an argument with an existence that would otherwise be defined by chaos. It can be delightful and entertaining, but these joys spring from what is at the root of the experience of art: the hope for meaning.

As a city, we have reached a point when we can no longer avoid wrestling with our meaning—what we are, who we are becoming, how we shape ourselves into a more human place? These questions have driven much activity and debate over the past year: the opening of the Performing Arts Center; the launch of websites Art & Seek and TheaterJones; the roundtable discussions among members of the local art world organized by collector Howard Rachofsky; D Magazine’s Art Slam and the subsequent debate about what it said about how we value our artists; the ongoing State of the Arts colloquiums at the Dallas Museum of Art; and the series of articles written by Christina Rees in Glasstire that challenged us to rethink how we engage and support our local scene. There are other examples, but it is clear that we are engaging ourselves as a city through art in an unprecedented way in our history.

It is in the context of this ongoing dialogue that we are proud to announce the launch of D’s new online arts section: FrontRow. In early 2009, Wick wrote about the lack of arts criticism in Dallas—criticism that challenges us to engage with the art that is being performed and presented in our city and that stirs on conversation about what we make and what it means for Dallas.

We hope to provide that kind of criticism on FrontRow. We hope it will become a resource for finding out about what is going on in Dallas—a resource that helps bolster your experience of the work. We hope it will become a forum where you share your thoughts about what you have seen and experienced, where you challenge our critics’ opinions, and where we can shape a conversation about this city and its art that helps maintain our current momentum.

It is an exciting time to live in this city, to sit in the front row, so to speak, and watch what this place becomes. Like our city, our site will continue to grow in the coming months as we expand our content, increase the number of contributors, and respond to the needs we see and are made aware of. We hope you’ll join us for the show.

Write to peter.simek@dmagazine.com .