A Response to the Responses: Creative Time

In reading the responses to the Creative Time SMU Meadows report, we thought it would be helpful to add some context and clarity by defining our process during our Meadows residency over the past year. Creative Time may be best known for producing public art projects in New York City, but we also produce projects across the nation and now globally.  In addition to our projects, we have an advisory service that has worked with various cities around the country to develop civic art programs and master plans. When we were awarded the Meadow’s prize, it was suggested that we research the Dallas art community.  Given recent conversations and debate around the health of the Dallas art scene, we thought this would be a great time to participate and contribute to the artistic advancement of this city.

For us, participation meant listening.  We met with over 100 people from diverse geographic, professional, social, cultural and economic backgrounds.  These people worked in their studio, taught, or led organizations that served both large and small groups of constituents. We conducted tours, events, group and individual discussions with participants including artists, curators, arts administrators, gallerists, collectors, city officials, architects, urban planners, educators, and community advocacy groups. Our report is part of this larger process and is meant to be inclusive, not exclusionary.  We are grateful that people were extremely generous with their time and their thoughts.  As we listened to this broad range of sources we took copious notes, which now take the shape of the recommendations in the report. We debated whether to focus on a small group of specific strategies rather than addressing the cultural environment as a whole, but ultimately felt that approach would have limited dialogue, action, and ownership of the outcomes from this process.  No group exists entirely independently from others in a city, and we hope the document outlines this interconnectivity among all participants in the artistic community of Dallas.

This report is not meant as a static conclusion or a grand hallelujah moment, but instead as a catalyst for future individual and collective action. For this report to have success, it is essential that people recognize that inaction is a kind of action in and of itself. Furthermore, it is imperative that members of the Dallas art scene continue to have discussions on multiple platforms. Rather than pointing fingers about inaction in others, or expecting someone else to do the heavy lifting in supporting the advancement of the arts, we all need to take ownership, responsibility, and invest in personal steps to improve conditions and develop new models of working that impact the city.

What would you propose?  What changes will you implement?  If you think there are important topics that were left out, please chime in. Spread the word about what issues in Dallas you want to address and do something to bring visibility to those issues in a constructive way. If you have examples of successful programs in other cities that Dallas could learn from, write about them and find ways to include those examples in the greater dialogue of the city. There are more opportunities created for artists and audiences when a city supports innovative thinking rather than privileging one approach for change over another.

We anticipate announcements of new actions from Dallas’ arts community in the coming days and months.  Dallas needs more action and greater focus on the issues laid out in this report, rather than debate on who has ultimately penned it. Those reading and responding to this report have the opportunity to play a role in the larger process by leading its next steps. It is exactly this call for new leaders that we heard repeatedly in our conversations in the community, and it is new leaders taking voice that we hope this report will incite.

Meredith Johnson, Curator and Director of Consulting
Creative Time


  • EdwardSzabo

    “For us, participation meant listening. …Our report is part of this larger process and is meant to be inclusive, not exclusionary. …What would you propose? What changes will you implement? If you think there are important topics that were left out, please chime in. …”

    With all due respect, this is exactly the problem, not merely with this report, but with so much of the warm-fuzzy happy-clappy kumbayah discourse that surrounds the arts. We might call it “Yay! the arts!” discourse.

    Analysis and leadership, thinking and doing, reflection and action — however you frame it, these are PRECISELY about drawing distinctions, about deciding what is important and what is not, about saying yes to some things and no to some other things. Some art activities are more valuable than others. Some art activities will be valuable for Dallas now; others will not. There are things Dallas can do and things that it can’t. Genuine courage and leadership requires making difficult judgments.

  • Helen

    Listening is not happy-clappy. We could all benefit from a bit more of this action. It’s good practice.

    Asking people if they missed anything is vital as well. Creative Time is an outsider organization, which provides a fresh perspective but also means they couldn’t possibly reach every nook, every issue in Dallas. Especially in just one year. An example: Benito Huerta and Steve Cruz have brought up a very important topic that is not in the report – diversity in the arts. This issue deserves attention, action, and change.

    I completely agree with you, Edward Szabo, about analysis and leadership, thinking and doing, reflection and action. But those are our responsibility, not Creative Time’s. We live here, it is our city. We need to own this, bust out that genuine courage and leadership, and make some changes.

  • EdwardSzabo

    Helen, respectfully, I disagree.

    Perhaps unlike some other commenters, I am thrilled that Creative Time was here and thrilled that SMU invited them, precisely because they are outsiders. Precisely because they are not enmeshed in the delicate web of reciprocal favors and obligations that is an inherent part of any art scene, they are ideally placed to speak the hard truths that no local person could possibly do. Unlike any local person, they can size up our local efforts in the cold light of reality and say which ones are working and which ones aren’t working. They can say which of our efforts are yielding prestige, excellence, and glory, and which ones are just embarrassing.

    My criticism comes from a sense that they backed off from this opportunity.

    My position is that listening is not a good in itself (as some seem to think), but should be followed by thinking and critical evaluation. It just would have been nice to know which of our many local initiatives are working, and which ones are not. Can it possibly be the case that all of them are working? This scenario seems extremely doubtful to me. It could only be the case if you take the view that art is always and everywhere a good in itself (“Yay! Art!”) which to me seems “happy-clappy.”