uring 1983, Fort Worth proved its artistic and cultural acumen worldwide. The banner year saw two of the city’s home-grown fine arts groups perform in international arenas, a palace of the avant-garde open downtown, an old courthouse receive a facelift, a local museum obtain a masterpiece American painting, and a native son return home to premier a jazz work. All this activity left many people wondering what in the world is happening in Cowtown.
Although Fort Worth retains and eagerly promotes an image as the place where the West begins because of the Stockyards, Pioneer Days, Billy Bob’s and the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show, the city of 400,000 is cultivating a new persona. For years, Fort Worth has taken pride in its arts district with its internationally acclaimed Kimbell Art Museum, Amon Carter Museum and the Fort Worth Art Museum. Indeed, art observers and critics say that the new Dallas Museum of Art is as much a response to Fort Worth’s lead as it is a first in Dallas’ arts district.
But Fort Worth was slow to promote its performing arts (importing ballet companies doesn’t count) until last year. Suddenly, in April 1983, the city gained headlines and recognition as a goodwill ambassador to China with its Fort Worth Chamber Orchestra, the first chamber orchestra to visit in that country. A hot new theater group, the Hip Pocket Theater, took its flair for the unique and its Southwestern flavor to an international festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. And, last fall, the Caravan of Dreams opened in a renovated warehouse in downtown Fort Worth in an effort to help stimulate the nightlife in that area, while adding a new dimension to the city’s artisticrange with its promotion of innovative theater, music and dance.
All of this is not to say that Fort Worth has in the past ignored its artistic culture; rather, Fort Worth has recently learned to market what is unique
about its style-whether that style is cowboy, classic or avant-garde.
THe ARTS DISTRICT
Certainly, the art museums have been the biggest cultural draw in Fort Worth. Although the Amon Carter Museum and the Fort Worth Art Museum have long been established as art institutions, it was the opening of the Kimbell Art Museum in 1972 that caused people to sit up and take notice of Fort Worth’s role in art.
The Kimbell showcases the art collection of Fort Worth industrialist Kay Kimbell, who left his fortune to a private foundation to build the museum and to expand his collection. The museum is considered a masterpiece of 20th-century architecture (it’s the last design completed by Louis I. Kahn), and has received the top award given by the American Institute of Architects. The museum is internationally known for its collection, which surveys European art from prehistoric sculpture to the early 20th century, with emphasis on the Old Masters. You can view Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Young Jew, Georges de La Tour’s The Cheat With the Ace of Clubs or Picasso’s Nude Combing Her Hair among others by El Greco, Gainsborough, Velazquez and Cezanne.
The Kimbell is located on land that was once owned by the late Amon G. Carter Sr., and is across the street from the museum that bears his name. The Amon Carter Museum was built to house Carter’s collection of Western American art-mainly works by Frederic Remington and Charles Russell-but also includes landscapes by Martin J. Heade, Winslow Homer and Frederic Church. The museum recently obtained Thomas Cole’s The Hunter’s Return, which reportedly sold for just under $2.75 million. The 19th-century landscape had remained in obscurity for the past 100 years before the Carter acquired it.
But the museum has progressed beyond merely collecting art depicting cowboys and Indians or 19th-century pastoral Americana; the Amon Carter has assembled a diverse collection of 20th-century works by such artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, Arthur Dove and Stuart Davis. The Amon Carter also houses one of the country’s major collections of American photography, with more than 120,000 prints and negatives by such notables as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and the Laura Gilpin estate.
Just south of the Amon Carter is the Fort Worth Art Museum, established in 1901 as the city’s first museum. The Fort Worth museum complements the other two museums with its collection of 20th-century works by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Robert Rau-schenberg, Frank Stella, Picasso and others.
Adding to the diversity of the arts district is the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. The museum, formerly the Children’s Museum, has been adjacent to the Fort Worth Art Museum for 30 years. It houses more than 100,000 artifacts and scientific specimens as well as an extensive collection of pre-Columbian, African and Asian objects. The museum also includes the Noble Planetarium as well as the futuristic Omni Theater, which projects 70mm film on an 80-foot-wide dome-shaped screen.
All four of the museums are within walking distance of one another and, most importantly, all are free to the public. The larqe endowments from Carter, Kimbell and the Sid Richardson Foundation (through the Fort Worth Art Museum) have made art available on a broad scale to Fort Worth and Dallas residents both.
“Dallas benefits for several reasons,” says Bill Marvel, art critic for the Dallas Times Herald. “Those museums belong to the whole area. . . [ballas] people tend to treat them as if they were in Dallas. They augment the Dallas Museum of Art, which is weak in Old Master paintings. The Kimbell is one of the three or four best-endowed museums in the UnitediStates. It can buy a Velazquez at $6 million.”
“There is a good, active art community in t-ort Worth, says Dutch Philips, owner of the Fort Worth Gallery, which is located in the arts district. He shows such cohtemporary artists as printmaker Kevin Marshall, Ron Watson (chairman of the art department at TCU) and Bror Utter (a painter and watercolorist who, at 70, has been selling his works in Texas for 50 years). Even nationally known artists such as Vernon Fisher and Ed Blackburn (who both show in Dallas and New York galleries) have remained in Fort Worth because of the comfortable, receptive atmosphere.
Long before Fort Worth attained international prestige through its chamber orchestra last year, the community was known in music circles for the Van Cli-burn Piano Competition, which is now ranked among the top four piano competitions in the world. The competition originated in 1962 (four years after Van Cliburn won the international piano competition in Moscow) and is sponsored by the Van Cliburn Foundation, the TCU music department, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce and the Fort Worth Junior League. The grand prize winner of the Van Cliburn competition receives a $12,000 cash prize as well as almost $200,000 in engagements and managerial services.
“It’s an incredible way to launch a career,” says Andrew Raeburn, executive director of the Cliburn Foundation. Those who have gained musical notoriety include Andre Michel-Schub (the 1981 winner), Radu Lupu, Jeffrey Ka-hane and Steven De Groote. The foundation also presents an annual concert series and has brought Fort Worth such widely respected chamber groups as the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra under Pinchas Zukerman, the Cleveland String Quartet and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans.
The international Cliburn competition led to a cultural exchange with China. In 1981, John Giordano, music director of the Fort Worth Symphony and the former Texas Little Symphony (now the Fort Worth Chamber Orchestra), was the guest conductor in Hong Kong. He went to Peking and Shanghai to audition young Chinese pianists. With him, he took tapes of the chamber ensemble of the Fort Worth Symphony. He played them for China’s minister of culture, who was “thrilled with the idea of a smaller orchestra” and invited the group to tour the country. As a result, the 35-member Texas Little Symphony took works by Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Respighi and a repertoire of other Western composers to China, hoping “to learn about Chinese music as much as possible, but also to teach them about Western music,” Giordano says. After the tour, The Little Symphony changed its name to the Fort Worth Chamber Orchestra, and the group produced a recording of its tour, which includes traditional and contemporary Chinese music and The Birds by Re-spighi.
The Chamber Orchestra is considered to be the strength of the 85-member Fort Worth Symphony. Giordano, who began performing with the symphony part time in 1972, has built the organization to its current $2.2 million budget and a 26-week concert season. The season includes the symphony’s “Pops” series, which helps support the classics. This season, guest artists and conductors have included flautist James Galway, Doc Severinsen and Maxim Shostakovich.
“We want to be the cultural ambassadors for Fort Worth on a worldwide performance level,” Giordano says, “and not just to hear people say, ’Oh, gee, they’re pretty good for Texas.’ We want to be just as good as, say, a Rembrandt at the Kimbell Museum.”
The symphony stretched its repertoire last September at the opening of the new Caravan of Dreams, an emporium dedicated to the mainstream of contemporary arts. Fort Worth native Ornette Coleman wrote an avant-garde jazz composition called The Skies of America, which the symphony performed with him at the grand opening.
In addition to its regular season, the Fort Worth Symphony will be performing April 13 and 15 with the Fort Worth Opera in Verdi’s Requiem.
The Fort Worth Opera, founded in 1946, is the oldest continuing opera company in Texas, according to Dwight Bowes, general director and artistic director of the company. I he opera imports its principal singers and conductors for four annual productions. Bowes was recruited for the current season after Rudolph Kruger directed the company for 28 years. Since the management is new, the company is still a bit weak at times, but ticket sales “are what I’d describe as respectable,” Bowes says.
The Fort Worth Opera produced Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in January and is staging Verdi’s Masked Ball this month. Bowes is staging a new work next season: The Postman Always Rings Twice by American composer Stephen Paulus. He also plans to do a new production of Verdi’s Aida, featuring soprano Wihelmenia Fernandez, star of the movie Diva.
Fort Worth supports other non-professional musical groups, such as the Fort Worth Civic Orchestra, Schola Can-torum (a choir that performs classical, baroque and chamber music in its reperfoire), the Texas Boys Choir, and the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra.
Even Caravan of Dreams has added another dimension to the range of music available in Fort Worth: It imports good jazz talents such as McCoy Tyner and Betty Carter, although the jury is still out on its overall contribution to the music scene.
“Any city that has the Hip Pocket Theater is kind of interesting,” says Dan Hulbert, theater critic for the Dallas Times Herald. Hulbert, who has never written a bad review about the theater troupe, calls its unique brand of theater, a “Wild West” version of comme-dia dell’ arte (the improvisational street theater of Renaissance Italy). Most of the material performed by the group is original, created by artistic director (and Fort Worth native) Johnny Simons. His wife, Diane, is producer of the Hip Pocket.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram Theater Editor Perry Stewart, who has covered the arts scene in Fort Worth for 1 7 years, says that the city is witnessing a burgeoning of live theater. The Hip Pocket, he says, may be a catalyst in the current boom.
The slapstick, boisterous and colorful tales spun by the troupe in its open-air Hip Pocket Theater (located at 1620 N. Las Vegas Trail) earned the group the honor of being among a handful of American theater troupes invited to the prestigous Edinburgh Festival in Scotland last summer. More than 500 theater companies were represented at the international festival-which is considered the granddaddy of all theater festivals. (The Hip Pocket was the sole entrant from Texas.) The troupe toured five weeks in Europe, and upon its return, Michael Mezzatesta, European art curator of the Kimbell Art Museum, conceived the idea to have the group perform at the musuem this winter. The Hip Pocket’s first performance at the theater was an Old West version of Beggar’s Opera. This spring, the troupe willreturn to its open-air theater in west Fort Worth.
This joining of cultural forces is just an example of Fort Worth’s democratic spirit, Hulbert says. The working man has input into the arts. That has always been a tradition in Fort Worth-earthi-ness.” Theater has long been a staple force in Fort Worth’s cultural arts. In fact, the Fort Worth Theatre (formerly the Fort Worth Community Theatre), founded in 1957, is the oldest continuing theater group in the Metroplex, according to William Garber, artistic director for the theater and managing director of the Scott Theatre. Along with the Fort Worth Theatre, Casa Manana Theatre (home of the summer musicals and winter children’s theater) has been a bulwark for theater in Fort Worth; many movers and shakers in the theater community got their start there. When it was built in 1958, the theatre was the country’s first theater-in-the-round for musical comedy.
During the past four years, theater has become a more important force in Fort Worth, says Garber. “We’re very proud that at least two of the newer theater groups were outgrowths of our theater: Stage West, under the direction of Jerry Russell, and Circle Theater, under Rose Pearson.”
There seems to be an aggregative attitude among theaters ana patrons alike. “It’s a very cooperative effort,” says Garber. “We see each other’s work, support each other-even lend each other props.”
The efforts of the Hip Pocket and others to bring new, original work to Fort Worth has resulted in an adventurous climate. An example of this spirit is the newly opened theater at Caravan of Dreams, the $5.5 million downtown shrine to the avant-garde built by Fort Worth multimillionaire entrepreneur Ed Bass. The first production was Kabuki Blues, an avant-garde touring production that opened in late October to mixed reviews. Star-Telegram critic Perry Stewart is still undecided about the theater’s future: “They cast themselves in the role of avant-garde, almost experimental theater. It’s totally external; everything comes from outside Fort Worth. The only thing ’Fort Worth’ about it is its funding. It’s not going to be conventional; you can rely on that.”
Although the Fort Worth Ballet is almost 25 years old, the professional ballet company is less than two years old. Artistic director Anthony Salatino has built a professional troupe of 13 members and plans to expand the troupe to 16 next season, making this the third largest professional group in Texas (behind Houston and Dallas). This growth is a change in the philosophy that guided the Fort Worth Ballet from 1975 through 1982, when it presented 13 Texas debuts of guest artists and companies including the Russian greats Makarova, Baryshnikov and Goaunov -all in Fort Worth. Under the direction of then-artistic director Fernando Schaf-fenburg and then-general manager Tom Adams, Fort Worth and Dallas were exposed to the best of the New York companies and dancers, thus building an audience for ballet.
In February, Salatino choreographed and presented a new work, Ballet! Texas Style, which incorporated Western and swing music for the last of the two repertory performances the company presented during its season. Salatino says that he wants to make the work a signature piece for the company.
Also among the Fort Worth Ballet’s five season presentations are performances by three outside companies: The Hartfora Ballet was brought in at Christmastime to dance The Nutcracker with the 13 company members (who toured with the Hartford for 28 performances); on March 23 and 24, the Houston Ballet will perform Sleeping Beauty-, and in May, the Tokyo Ballet Group will present its American premiere.
The foundation for the Fort Worth Ballet began 35 years ago at TCU through the work of David Preston, the first chairman of TCU’s dance department. Schaf-fenburg was hired in 1964 to direct the group and to head the dance department after Preston died. Schaffenburg began the modern dance training at TCU in 1968 and brought in Jerry Bywaters Cochran.
Cochran believes that “Fort Worth is a strong example of what’s occurring in many places in America in dance.” She points to the infant Fort Worth Ballet Company and to the TCU dance groups (the TCU Ballet Ensemble and the TCU Modern Dance Lab Company) as well as to students who have gone on to perform professionally, such as Gregory Osborne (of the National Ballet of Canada) and Amy Ernst (of the Bella Lewitzky company of California).
“The Southwest has fantastic dancers,” Cochran says. “If we don’t support our own-as well as the New York companies-then we’ll be out of balance. Where else can you go see dance or art museums and get good enchiladas like you do at Joe T. Garcia’s?”
The completion of a $9.5 million restoration of the Tarrant County Court house capped the numerous revival projects occurring in downtown Fort Worth. The courthouse, located at the north end of Main Street, was built of red granite in 1893 for $500,000, a cost that so enraged taxpayers that they voted the Tarrant County Commissioners out of office. This time, taxpayers again paid most of the renovation costs, except for about $200,000 that was raised in private donations. But today, Fort Worth residents don’t seem to mind paying for the costly renovation; they are conscious about their heritage and culture. That much is evident in Bass Brothers Enterprises Inc.’s $40 million restoration and reconstruction project known as Sundance Square, a two-block stretch on Main Street, south of the courthouse. The 12 buildings that have been restored to their furn-of-the-century appearances now house specialty shops, art galleries, restaurants and offices.
Anchoring the south end of Main Street is the Hyatt Regency Fort Worth, formerly the Hotel Texas, which was restored by the Woodbine Development Corp. The hotel, with its red brick-and-stone-ma-sonry facade with Texas longhom skulls, was the center for business and social activities during the Twenties, according to Duane Gage, chairman of the Tarrant County Historical Commission.
The irony in this push to restore FortWorth’s architectural heritage is that thesame businessmen who invested moneyinto the old have also put money into thenew. Bass Brothers and Woodbine havebuilt three glass high-rises of 33, 38 and40 stories, which sit adjacent to their historic projects. The Space Age, hi-tech architecture has irreversibly changed thedowntown skyline while moving FortWorth into the 21st century.