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Touring the Dallas Arts District


by Gail Sachson 16 Apr 2010

It’s true. For the 30-year dream to be fully realized, the Dallas Arts District does need shops and sidewalk cafes, but it also need YOU! It needs people strolling and sunning in the grass. It needs people marveling at the mural at the Catholic Foundation Plaza and pulling up a garden chair in the Meyerson’s sculpture garden. If developers see the area populated, they will be convinced that there would be good business for a bookstore, a coffee shop, a gourmet food shop and a gallery or two.

CTA TBD

The mural at the Catholic Foundation Plaza

The mural at the Catholic Foundation Plaza

Guest blogger Gail Sachson, MFA, owns Ask Me About Art, offering lectures, tours and program planning. She is Vice-Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the Public Art Committee.

It’s true. For the 30-year dream to be fully realized, the Dallas Arts District does need shops and sidewalk cafes, but it also need YOU! It needs people strolling and sunning in the grass.  It needs people marveling at the mural at the Catholic Foundation Plaza and pulling up a garden chair in the Meyerson’s  sculpture garden. If developers see the area populated, they will be convinced that there would be good business for a bookstore, a coffee shop,  a gourmet food shop and a gallery or two.

So come on down! Familiarize yourself with what the District has to offer, and then tell your friends. Take the 90-minute architectural tour offered by the Dallas Center for Architecture in partnership with the Dallas Arts District. Join a trained docent on the first or third Saturday of the month at 10 a.m and learn the history and histrionics of the area’s evolution.

I took the tour the first Saturday in April. I strolled Flora Street, the spine of the District, with Greg Brown, Program Director of the Dallas Center for Architecture. Beginning at the Ceremonial Entrance to the Dallas Museum of Art on Harwood, we walked east down Flora.  The streets are named after the daughter and son-in-law of Farmer Peak, the original land owner. More recently, Dallas Mayor Jack Evans (1981-1983), who advocated to acquire the land for an Arts District, was honored by the city in 2000, when Fairmount, as it cuts through the District,  was renamed Jack Evans Street.

Yoga at the Nasher

Yoga at the Nasher

We paused in front of the Nasher Sculpture Center to admire sculptor Jaume Plensa’s illuminated figures high atop poles, the only artworks to have graced the exterior of the building since it opened in 2003. We also marveled at the throng of children and their parents  who were eagerly waiting for the doors to open to be the first inside. Then, of course, we realized it was the Nasher’s incredibly popular First Saturday, when admission is free and day-long activities are planned with entertainment, games, give-aways and even yoga on the grass. Three thousand visitors were said to have had come through the Center during the First Saturday in March,  and by noon, April’s event had already drawn a thousand.

Greg mentioned the 1978 and 1979 bond issues, which  enabled the formation of the District and enticed several cultural institutions to relocate from Fair Park.  He reminded us that two consulting firms were hired to help plan the district. They suggested uniformity in plantings for continuity,  sidewalks without curbs to encourage pedestrian traffic,  rows of bald cypress trees to offer shade and bollards for security. The Nasher and the AT&T Performing Arts Center seem to have negotiated a variance in the landscaping, suggesting that cypress trees obscure the buildings and uniformity and dense foliage does not necessarily lead to an exciting ambiance or a vibrant street life.

As we walked, I learned that Ross Avenue was the first paved street in Dallas. I learned that in the  late 1800s , the Belo Mansion was the first private home to have indoor plumbing. It was owned by former Confederate Colonel Alfred Horatio Belo, publisher of The Dallas Morning News, and his now home to the Dallas Bar Association.

The Reflection Pool in Sammons Park

The Reflection Pool in Sammons Park

I was delighted to see that the vacant site across from the Meyerson Symphony Center, owned by developer Craig Hall, is finally going to be developed into a mixed-use 22-story high-rise by 2015.

And, of course, Greg mentioned the four Pritzker Award winning architects whose designs line Flora Street. The Nasher boasts Renzo Piano. The Meyerson, I.M. Pei. The Winspear Opera House, Norman Foster. And the Wyly Theatre, Rem Koolhaas. Only a few blocks west, Thom Mayne, also a Pritzker winner, has designed the  future Perot Museum of Nature and Science. So make that five!

After learning about the expanse, architecture and wireless connections available at the six-month old AT&T Performing Art Center complex,  we ended our tour at One Arts Plaza, the  development which has added the most street life to the area. The complex is home to five restaurants and a 7-11  (especially popular with the talented Booker T. Washington High School students across the street). There’s regularly scheduled outdoor entertainment, and if you’re tired of walking, take one of their free art-carts  to a performance venue.

“Do the District, and the developers will follow.

For tour reservations and pricing, e-mail: artstour@downtowndallas.org

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