Recapping “Radical Regionalism:” Heated Panel Tackles Issues of Race, Education

Last night, Centraltrak hosted “Radical Regionalism,” a panel discussion organized by Leigh Arnold to address issues, races, and genders missing from the Dallas Museum of Art’s now infamous State of the Arts panel discussion.

In direct opposition of the ‘four old white guys’ who led the State of the Arts conversation, this panel consisted of artist Matthew Cusick, UT Arlington architecture professor Wanda Dye, artist and UT Arlington professor Benito Huerta, artist and South Dallas Cultural Center director Vicki Meek, and academic and critic Charissa Terranova.

Diversity being the key here, it proved to be the primary topic of the discussion from the beginning. It was clear from Huerta’s opening remarks that people had things they needed to get off of their chest. After pointing out that we don’t need to look toNew York for answers and instead cultivate our own unique identity, he discussed the lack of diversity in our museums and institutions.

Cusick (the lone white guy) replied that he did not feel this was always the case. He pointed to what and who museums around the world were exhibiting and also referenced the recent Mark Bradford and current Glenn Ligon shows. Being a young white male artist myself, I cringed when I heard Cusick make this defense. The issue of race in Dallas relates to the collective whole, and no matter how good our intentions are, Cusick’s line of argument just sounds wrong. To Cusick’s defense, he is recently transplanted from New York and is not aware of the storied regional history behind this conversation.

From here things heated up. Meek jumped in and spoke of her experiences as an African American female artist and to the fact that there were only three black female artists present in the standing room only audience. She pushed on by stating that nobody in the room (I think she meant the white people) comes to the South Dallas Cultural Center. She gave a hard sale on why we need to go check out the high quality artwork there and not just the jazz. I’m sold, so I’ll see you all there next weekend.

Dye then revealed that she is currently in line to be the first tenured female member of the UTA School of Architecture. She related her experiences fighting the old guard on not only gender issues but their outdated Modernist methodologies that are prohibiting educational growth in our schools.

Here moderator Arnold steered the conversation to education and asked what our local universities are doing to foster development. Terranova physically pointed out Michael Corris (the only member of the DMA panel in attendance, ouch), saying that he and SMU are not doing enough to raise the level of art education in the area. She also talked about the need for more artist-initiated endeavors that bypass the established institutions.

In the end, this was a conversation that needed to happen. Although there were intense moments, the general consensus was that Dallas-Fort Worth has an art scene that needs to be less self-conscious and stop looking to other cities for all the answers. We live in a very large, diverse metropolitan area with all of the ingredients for success if cultivated with boundary breaking partnerships and projects.

Image: Raphael’s The School of Athens (detail)


  • The panel discussion seemed to be yet another “feel good” session; long on stating the obvious and short on analysis. Charissa, as ever, was happy to instigate dramatic dissent. In that respect, I certainly went along with her! But that’s about the limit of my concordance with this “event”.

    We never did get to learn about the “holy grail” of radical regionalism, let alone hear anything new or startling about “the local” or “the regional”. For much of the discussion following the panelists’ introductory remarks — which veered from the highly-scripted and self-regarding (Huerta) to the incoherent (Terranova) — there was a regrettable absence of analysis. There was also much misinformation bandied about on the subject of what SMU should do, hasn’t done, or did do badly (e.g., the George W. Bush Institute). I guess anger and other high emotions were the order of the evening. I guess people are sore that they are being “left out”. I guess the worst thing that can happen to an artist is that he or she doesn’t get a chance to be “exploited”.

    There were many calls for “permission”: permission to be “exploited” like all the other highly-visible international artists who (presumably) are getting all the shows at the DMA, the Nasher, etc., etc. I noted that few of the panelists had ever been to the many visual arts events initiated and supported by my colleagues and myself over the past 2-1/2 years. Just last week, we hosted Theaster Gates for two days. For an entire year, we’ve supported an artist in residence at the West Dallas Community Center (Bernardo Diaz). The Meadows Forum brought in Will Power, who will now be a member of the faculty of SMU. Our new PhD program — RASCa — focuses on the rhetorics of art, space and culture. We also run programs for high school students during the entire academic year and the summers, too. We host Big Thought’s art program every summer. I could go on, but I won’t. You get the point: it’s all very very local, indeed.

    Some on the panel suggested that there was no need to listen to “middle aged white men” because they couldn’t possibly have anything new or interesting to say. With that sort of open-mindedness and expansiveness, there is certainly a case to be made for “radical regionalism”. Except I would give it its proper name: provincialism.

    As I stated at the conclusion of the DMA panel discussion, artists should stop asking for permission and take the situation into their own hands. Terranova remarked, when a similar sentiment was voiced by a former Houstonite now transplanted to Dallas, that one cannot ask people to do that. Well, you can’t, then, ask collectors, curators and gallerists to exhibit your work, either, just because you think they should. Since when is the art market a forum for equity and diversity? It’s a market, for goodness sake, not a community. But then this sort of confusion percolated throughout the entire event. We all love a good bitch session. But one’s credibility is strained when complaining is all one is able to perform.

    How about moving beyond that and beginning to talk about resolving some of the chronic problems as they are perceived by Dallas artists? Not one individual raised the prospect of an artists’ organization, or a coalition of “alternative” spaces, like the one that exists for the commercial sector (DADA). Perhaps, though, alternatives are not the answer. Perhaps — shock, horror — the same thing that is wrong with art in Dallas is the same thing that is wrong with art in New York, art in Los Angeles and art in London. In a global context, what’s the point of demonizing a fantasy “center”?

    Yes, there is potential for “boundary breaking partnerships and projects. In fact, if people knew where to look, they would see that is it not merely potential, but actual. And Meadows/SMU is forging a path. If we’ve been remiss at tooting our own horn, pardon me. I’m sure we can remedy that. I say this not to close the book, but to turn the page.

  • Charissa Terranova

    I think that the reportage is a little off here. Things didn’t exactly unfold as reported in either of the reports above. Perspectives vary and, of course, each of us has our own take on the evening.

    I applaud the people — everyone — who came out and contributed to the heated debate on diversity, the DMA, and the local art scene.

    And, for the record, I believe Dr. Corris is a positive, progressive force in the Dallas art world and I support all of his efforts in the Metroplex, at SMU and beyond. We would be far worse off without his expertise and influence.

  • AT

    We need that energy…..