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Artfests' Departure From Fair Park is Shortsighted

The Dallas Morning News, January 29, 1993

We suspected once the Democrats took over the White House, the Art World would make everyone run for cover to avoid the government sponsored Maplethorpe images and other obscene art expressions popping up around the country. How could we have ever anticipated that a single gesture from 500 Inc. would be far more obscene than any of the art they could possibly be subsidizing?

Moving Artfest from Fair Park, the cultural center of the city, to a football stadium parking NEWBY lot is equivalent to moving a Dallas symphony cellist to the detergent aisle of Tom Thumb because more people go there than to Meyerson Hall.

Maybe the touring Pissarro exhibit should have traveled to the Philadelphia Art Museum, the Royal Academy in London and the fence along Six Flags Over Texas.

Artfest has publicly anointed the Texas Stadium parking lot as the center of the metroplex. Why couldn’t the Artfest board just whisper this same information into the ears of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board so we don’t have to have all those tunnels, fixed rail and transportation malls messing up downtown Dallas on the quiet fringe of the metroplex?

The Artfest spokesperson, Mary Morrison, stated that this decision was made completely independent of anything to do with Fair Park. That’s exactly the problem. Too many groups are making isolated decisions that ignore the common good.

It has been explained that 80,000 people coming to Fair Park for Artfest is good for Dallas, but Artfest co-directors Charles McMullen and Ms. Morrison explain their mission is not to support Dallas, but to support the arts. The city of Dallas contributes far more money to the arts than does 500 Inc. It would seem that these two entities have a common interest.

Let us forget, just for a moment, that outdated Dallas theme to work for the common good. How can Artfest say with a straight face that its mission is to support the arts when it is moving from the one internationally recognized architectural attraction in the metroplex?

Art and architecture are the principal attractions of Fair Park. From the paintings of world-famous artists to the mosaics of immigrant artisans and craftsmen, Fair Park explodes with wonderful art. Even the 10K run affiliated with Artfest went down Swiss Avenue and through the other older neighborhoods of historic homes. Is this 10K going to be replaced with running stadium stairs because it is better exercise?

Even if we accept the 500 Inc. mission is to raise money for art groups, not promote the existing art treasures in Dallas, what does this move do to Artfest itself? Decoupage toilet seats often sell better than fine pottery at art fairs. Which location is going to better inspire the participation of really good artists – a football parking lot with a stadium as the architectural inspiration, or Fair Park with sculpture by Marti’n, a member of the French Academy, in the background? Which location is going to encourage the artists to bring their best works?

If the only consideration of 500 Inc. is to raise money, then may I recommend better ways of doing that in a parking lot? A car wash seems appropriate. The many lawyers, accountants and bankers in the organization could give weekend clinics and sets up booths and charge discounted rates. A tent revival soliciting money for God and art, or your basic T-shirt sales and autographed sports paraphernalia are all more profitable than selling art. The poor judgment of 500 Inc. is not totally to blame for this ill-conceived move. The Fair Park auxiliary board’s politically expedient approach is to ask for support because this will generate money for the nearby minority neighborhoods, instead of focusing on how it will benefit all of Dallas. Event organizers are leery of what appears to be a shakedown by neighborhood leaders demanding part of the gate. The city has either never recognized, or never articulated, the full potential of Fair Park.

Fair Park has the potential to generate enormous revenues for the city, be an urban oasis of treasures and monuments, serve as a refuge of green space and flowers, and become the leading destination place for out-of- town visitors.

Dallas leaders must stop being so shortsighted and self-centered. We need to examine our resources, work together and adopt the same approach that created Dallas out of dusty prairie.

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