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Arts & Entertainment

Carolina Alvarez-Mathies Talks About Her Plans for the Dallas Contemporary’s Future

The museum's executive director created a new senior role for Lucia Simek to play a big part in it.
By Lauren Smart |
Courtesy of Carolina Alvarez-Mathies

If a museum can hit rock bottom, the Dallas Contemporary was dangling on a ledge near it earlier this year. After a decade of highs and lows, the non-collecting museum in the Design District had appointed an exciting new executive director in Carolina Alvarez-Mathies, only to then set its sights on a curator with a problematic past. But the museum narrowly dodged that decision, just weeks before Alvarez-Mathies assumed her duties, leaving her with the task of pulling the museum up and back into a functional institution. 

The Dallas Contemporary could be, and arguably should be, the most exciting and progressive art space in Dallas. Because it functions as a kunsthalle, it doesn’t have the constraints of a permanent collection. This means the museum has the potential to bring in work from some of the most interesting artists making work today. Sometimes, the Contemporary has done exactly that. But much of that work has been overshadowed by reports of museum mismanagement, from misappropriated funds, unreturned exhibition works, and unpaid vendors. 

Alvarez-Mathies has the daunting task of both righting the ship and sailing it into the future. And last week, she made a choice in her first hire that hints she has some big ideas for the museum. 

In September, Lucia Simek, a longtime fixture in the Dallas art scene, will become the museum’s first Director of External Affairs, a role that Alvarez-Mathies tailor-made specifically for her skillset. Simek is leaving a post in the Nasher Sculpture Center’s communications department, but she is a multi-hyphenate talent who also works as an artist and curator. She brings with her a savvy understanding of the international art world, historical knowledge of the city of Dallas, and community goodwill—all of which Alvarez-Mathies says make her the perfect “thought partner.” 

Alvarez-Mathies spoke to D Magazine more about why she wanted to bring Simek to the museum and what we can expect from the Dallas Contemporary moving forward.

Tell us a little bit about what you anticipate Lucia’s specific role will be at the museum, i.e. projects she might work on, external programming she might undertake. 

Lucia is stepping into the newly created role of Director of External Affairs, providing vision and leadership for all aspects of the museum’s communications, development, education, and public programs. Her deep, respected ties to both the regional art community and those farther afield internationally will fortify the museum’s connections and impact, fostering existing partnerships and creating new relationships and alliances. 

We will work closely together to shape and strengthen Dallas Contemporary’s local and international presence and curatorial ambition. Her broad experience is a brilliant combination of the strengths I sought in a thought partner as I began my tenure as Executive Director. 

Lucia has a penchant for ideating exciting ancillary exhibitions programs, and we look forward to what she will devise for our fall shows and beyond. On a broader level, we will be working to create a road map for the new vision for Dallas Contemporary. 

Lucia brings multiple talents and expertise to the table, can you explain what made you choose her for the role?

An artist/curator, communicator, and programmer Lucia brings a wealth of knowledge and well-rounded perspective to Dallas Contemporary. If there was an art world equivalent of a triple threat Lucia would be it.  

On paper alone she would have been a terrific hire for DC, but then you meet her and you immediately can see that combination of incisive passion, generosity and strength. 

At Dallas Contemporary we are a small but deeply committed group of individuals who truly believe in the power of art to transform society, and Lucia not only shares that vision, but brings forth two decades of experience to the table. 

For a bit of context, since commencing my tenure as Executive Director we have been working with a team of five full-time and seven part-time team members. So you will see that expanding the team was necessary, but my hire for the most senior role needed to be the right fit, and we are excited to have found that in Lucia. 

Lucia Simek Nan Coulter

How does her hiring fit into the overall objectives you have for the museum itself? What changes or growth do you have planned that you imagine she will be a part of? 

Our mission remains to present the art of our time to the public, and our commitment to remain free and accessible to our visitors has become more important than ever before. With my tenure comes a reimagining of the role Dallas Contemporary has within our community and rethinking several aspects of how we engage with our public; Lucia’s role will oversee all outward facing aspects of Dallas Contemporary, helping connect what happens within the museum with that public—a vital part of how we are envisioning the future of Dallas Contemporary. 

It is no coincidence that Lucia and I share a background in communications and recognize the power and influence of language as it relates to art. We aim to build bridges and make art more accessible to our publics, to expand on programming and outreach—within our walls and beyond. 

The fall schedule contains both an artist we saw at the DC 10 years ago and an artist whose work will be new to Dallas audiences. As you envision the curatorial path forward is this balance of familiar and new what we should expect from the DC? Or do you have a new vision for the museum?

My vision is a Dallas Contemporary that is generous, deeply relevant and provocative—a space for art and culture that places equal value in critical dialogue as it does in the community and people it serves. 

Both Shepard Fairey and Gabrielle Goliath’s practices contend with some of today’s most pressing issues—in Texas especially, I believe these two artists are more important than ever to present as solo exhibitions. 

In Shepard, we have one of the world’s most visually iconic artists who appeals across geographies and generations and in Gabrielle we have a force, her voice is one of the most important artistic voices working today, especially as it relates to victims of gender-based violence. I saw her work at Kunsthaus Baselland over the summer and it was one of the most powerful experiences art has afforded me in recent memory. I cannot think of a better artist to show at Dallas Contemporary during this culturally fraught time and am grateful to our curator Emily Edwards for her vision in bringing Gabrielle’s work to us.

Ten years ago, we saw a very different project with Shepard Fairey—a series of murals across the city. This September, curator Pedro Alonzo surveys three decades of Shepard’s career with an exhibition of approximately 90 works. An artist and activist, Shepard presents works that address some of today’s most pressing issues, such as climate change and gun control, in a state where there is much work to be done to address them. 

We aim to be a space where artists’ voices are championed and given a platform to expand upon their practice, and are supported by programming that is incisive and provocative. 

 A question a lot of the Dallas art world has right now is: who the museum is hoping to bring in to fill the curatorial role at the museum? What kind of answer might you have at this point for that?

As a kunsthalle, we have the opportunity to explore alternative exhibition and curatorial models, and we look forward to shaping those curatorial goals alongside our extraordinary and well-rounded existing curatorial team, which includes Assistant Curator Emily Edwards and Adjunct Curators Alison Gingeras and Pedro Alonzo. At this time we have no additions planned.


Lauren Smart

Lauren Smart

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