I hate to disappoint you, but this week we’re going to leave aside the usual number-driven picks approach to rounding up the weekend’s events and instead offer a brief overview of what’s going. Some highlights include a couple of Mai-Thu Perret performances at the Nasher Sculpture Center, which are being presented as part of the Soluna Festival; an exhibition by Giovanni Valderas, whose multi-media work wrestles with issues of cultural identity and economic and racial displacement; and new paintings by Alexander Paulus at Ro2.
The week also brings the arrival of the ArtSmarter Prize, the latest of Christopher Blay‘s art-minded satires that was originally conceived as a spoof aimed at Art Prize Dallas. That Art Prize Dallas never materialized hasn’t dissuaded Blay from following through with his own version of the event, an installation that will include work from 18 Texas-based artists whose pieces will be auctioned off with starting bids of just 50 cents. Blay — appearing in character as his alter ego Frank Artsmarter — as well as jurors Cris Worley and Danette Dufilho will choose which artist will win the dubious distinction of receiving the first “ArtSmarter Prize.”
Finally, I anticipate that the most talked about cultural event of the weekend will not be an art show or performance, but rather this Thursday’s Cultural Affairs Commission meeting. At the meeting, assistant director David Fisher will present the Office of Cultural Affairs’ budget for the coming year. Over the past decade or so, the Cultural Affairs budget hasn’t meant all that much to local artists, but in the past couple of years new granting programs, such as grants for individual artists and the new cultural equity program, have finally worked to close — or at least narrow — the gap between Dallas’ public cultural funding and the cultural producers — artists — who have long struggled for a share of that funding.
As interim director, Fisher has been instrumental in helping to create those programs, which is why he was rumored to be one of the front runners for becoming the director of the Office of Cultural Affairs. Some saw the only obstacle for Fisher as another strong candidate gunning for the job, Margie Johnson Reese. But, in the end, neither got the job. Instead, Jennifer Scripps, a executive with the Perot Museum — someone who is considered largely unknown in the local arts community — was hired by out-going City Manager A.C. Gonzalez. That prompted a scathing critique of the politics around city government and Dallas’ cultural scene by former South Dallas Cultural Center director Vicki Meek. Writing in the Dallas Weekly, Meek pulled no punches in her breakdown of what she sees as some of the underlying conditions that led to Scripps’ hiring:
The fact that A.C. Gonzalez opted to hire a Jennifer Scripps over the ultra- experienced Margie Reese recalls a pattern of bias towards anyone other than a Black woman in Dallas City Hall staffing politics. How can someone who is local but unknown to the cultural community and who hasn’t had any significant experience managing anything be considered a viable candidate to run a City of Dallas agency? What would make Gonzalez think the years of running not one but two large city local arts agencies is comparable to being a staff person at a newly opened science museum? There is a history behind this kind of ill-conceived choice that starts with Mary Suhm’s tenure as Assistant City Manager and later as City Manager when she objected to Reese getting the position of OCA Director even though Frank Poe, the man who would be Reese’s supervisor, wanted her. It continued with Suhm’s denial of Reese’s request to hire Betty Switzer as her Assistant Director because Suhm said she wasn’t qualified due to her lack of credentials only to see Suhm hire Switzer as OCA director a year after Reese resigned to take the position as General Manager of the LA Department of Cultural Affairs! Oh did I mention Switzer was a white woman and did I also mention that she was hired at a significantly higher salary than Reese? This was followed by another bad hire by Suhm when Switzer proved inexperience is a pretty big liability when running a city agency and Maria Munoz Blanco was hired. Once again, the scrutiny Margie Reese faced when being hired was totally scuttled given that Munoz-Blanco wasn’t vetted worth a damn a point that would have been easily gleaned had anyone bothered to poll the Houston arts community.
This is the backdrop against which Scripps will make her first public appearance as the new head of the Office of Cultural Affairs during this Thursday’s Cultural Affairs Commission meeting. Some politically minded Dallas artists plan to be there, and it will be interesting to watch how Scripps handles her transition into a department that seemed to have finally found its feet while Fisher had his hands on the reigns, albeit in a limited capacity.
Here are all the events:
Cultural Affairs Commission Meeting at Creative Arts Center — June 2, 4:30 p.m. 2360 Laughlin Drive, Dallas, TX 75228.
Figures: A Performance by Mai-Thu Perret at Nasher Sculpture Center — June 2, 7:30-9 p.m. 2001 Flora St, Dallas, TX 75201.
The ArtSmarter Prize! at Cris Worley Fine Arts — June 3, 7-9 p.m. 1845 E. Levee St. Ste. 100 Dallas, TX 75207.
Giovanni Valderas: Forged Utopia at The MAC — June 4, 6-9 p.m.
Alexander Paulus: The Morning After at Ro2 Art — June 4, 7-10 p.m. 1501 S. Ervay St. Dallas, TX 75201.
Art Conspiracy presents ANONYMOUS at Life in Deep Ellum — June 4, 7-11 p.m. 2803 Taylor St. Dallas, TX 75226.
O: a Performance by Mai-Thu Perret at the Nasher Sculpture Center — June 4, 7:30-9 p.m. 2001 Flora St, Dallas, TX 75201