In the book, “The 12 Million Dollar Shark”, the author relays an oft-told joke about race and the New York auction house scene. The joke goes like this: the only black person you will ever see at an evening auction is the doorman.
At the Dallas Art Fair, I counted one black gallery director. No black press. A total of 5 people of color at the Preview Gala. And 20 black staff personnel. At Mayor Rawlings’ art panel, as much as I tried, I couldn’t get past the visual on the stage: 6 white men representing the city.
This is not a lament. It’s just that ever since writing “Where Are All The Black People”, I haven’t been able to ignore it. Once you acknowledge the elephant in the room, it becomes impossible to unsee it. I hadn’t written about or discussed race before because I thought it was enough that my events were diverse. It is one of the hallmarks of Green Bandana Group; from the very beginning we attracted a wonderful mix of everybody.
Also, I secretly dislike talking about things, especially race. I prefer to speak through actions over rhetoric. Dallas loves to talk about stuff. One of my clients calls it the “rah rah” moment. We all get together in a room, we talk about something, everyone goes “rah rah”, we feel good about it, then everyone goes home, back to their busy lives, and nothing really changes.
Honestly, the last thing I want to do in my life is to talk about race. I am trying to build an amazing social club called The 500. I am one of the producers of a creative education program, DaVerse Lounge. I’m working to expand it to an additional five schools next year. I am partnering with over 20 other arts and community organizations to curate a community art project called The Dallas LOVE Project that will produce and exhibit 10,000 pieces of art in response to the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. I still want to establish a live/work artist residency and I wouldn’t mind directing a gallery space again. I am writing more consistently, and lately I have even started to make art again. I really don’t want to spend any more of my time discussing race.
Yet, I have to talk about race. I have a moral obligation to talk about race. And so do you. We must talk about it in public. On Facebook. On Twitter. On KERA. In D Magazine. In The Dallas Observer. In The Dallas Morning News. In FD Luxe. In Arts and Culture. In Glasstire. Anytime we can describe an opening, a party, a panel, and the leadership of any institution, as “all white everything”- we are obligated to say something.
Dallas will not become a world class arts city until it becomes more diverse and inclusive. Dallas will not change its perception issue until it becomes more diverse and inclusive. Talented people of color often don’t feel welcome in Dallas and are the first to leave. And for people who are not from Dallas, the lack of diversity in our arts scene is very noticeable.
So, how do we make Dallas more diverse? First we must be willing to talk about the issue and pressure institutions, leaders, and board members to be accountable for diversity inside of their own organizations. While I am happy that there are many people of color employed at the Dallas Museum of Art as gallery attendants and security guards, what percentage are employed as curators, leadership, and mid-management support? Could you count them on one hand, on two?
Second, we must realize that as in every other aspect of American life, a disproportionate amount of minorities start off economically disadvantaged. This means that even for the rare overachievers, they have no familial safety net. They can’t live at home with their parents, while saving money to open and operate a gallery. They do not have that luxury. At the same time that we are wrestling up money to support our emerging artists, curators, writers, arts professionals, we need to find and assign specific resources to help attack our diversity problem.
Third, we need people who are willing to mentor and help talented people of color. Mentorship isn’t talked about publicly very often, but it is so crucial for professional success. A mentor provides encouragement, advice, feedback, and care. A mentor shapes and helps pave the way for professional growth. Your mentor participates in conversations that you aren’t yet a part of, and when someone mentions your name – they say “I know this person, they are really talented.” When someone says “We are looking for someone to do this” – your mentor says, “Oh I know just the person who would be perfect for that.” This is how people get jobs, get nominated for awards, get invited to be part of shows, get invited to curate shows, get invited to write and review. It is the strength of their mentors and peer group.
I won’t ever grow tired of talking about and thanking my mentors. When I came to Dallas, I did reach out to Vicki Meek and she sat down with me and helped orient me within the city. Karen Blessen is a huge mentor to me, incredible advocate, and very positive influence on my life. Roberto Munguia and Will Richey have been mentors to me since I was a teenager. Nancy Whitenack and Danette Dufilho taught me early on and continue to teach me what it means to be a gallery director. Charissa Terranova and Heyd Fontenot have always been advocates and supporters of my endeavors. When I first started my company, a lawyer, Craig Gant was a big mentor in helping me get Green Bandana off the ground. I could easily rattle off a hundred names of mentors and peers who have supported me over the last three years. And I thank all of you. The point is that no one does it alone. You don’t have to be black to mentor a black kid. You just have to care.
Finally, there needs to be a pipeline to increase and retain black people in the arts in Dallas. We need to figure out how to identify talented kids who are 7 or 8 years old, help them stay in school, help nurture their creativity, help them thrive in high school, help them get into college, help them get internships, help them travel, help them graduate, help them find jobs or apply to graduate schools, help them establish their personal careers, and mentor and financially support them every step of the way.
This is not easy or simple and will take serious resources, finances, and will to achieve. But it is not impossible. We can do this. We have an obligation to do this.
We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. One model is Baylor College of Dentistry, Texas A&M Health Science Center, which has the highest rate of diversity amongst all dental colleges in the US. Baylor does this through committed funding for grants to strategize and sustain a pipeline from elementary school right through to dental school.
I am well aware that race is not the only problem facing our arts scene. I am aware that many women and Latinos have similar inclusion issues at the higher levels of the Dallas arts scene. I am excited to be moderating a panel discussion next week called “Not Waiting For Permission” with five of our most talented emerging arts leaders, Sally Glass, Michael Morris, Lucy Kirkman, Francisco Moreno, and Brandy Michelle Adams. We will have a free flowing, wide ranging conversation about the state of the arts in Dallas, April 25th at 8 p.m. at UTD-Centraltrak.
Yet, after going to almost every visual arts activity during the biggest art week of our calendar year, and seeing only a handful of black people and very few minorities in general – I had to write this essay. I had to say something. I didn’t want to. But I had to. And I hope you feel the same way.