Public Works Dallas: A Retrospective

I moved back to Dallas for graduate school, specifically to be a part of a changing landscape in the arts. I haven’t always been able to point to a particular influence in my artwork but I always see my work as a kind of place setting, in making works I sought to open doors and invite others into the story and as I have grown the table has expanded.

It happens often that people look at my resume and comment on the amount of travel I’ve done. I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to travel internationally, I also have a mother that was active in showing me a culture you couldn’t get without chasing it, something that has been impressed on me was just how far reaching blackness was and what it means to follow your goals.

What does it mean to want to connect people through creativity? What are the bonds that bring communities like but not the same into the center of a city trying to expand into an global market but still bound by the institutional underpinnings of a kind of cultural conservatism that keeps vision closed off to its inhabitants that live outside of the lines of poverty?

Dallas is a city of haves and have nots, a metropolitan area that boasts some of the best public education in the country but also has a history of redistricting that has driven out African Americans from its bound year after year. Urban renewal programs, redevelopment, whatever you want to call it is a kill switch for anyone below a living wage. Increasingly the wealth gap in cities has been allowed to grow out of control. The crisis of homelessness is being fueled by corporate influence driving people from their homes with promises of better employment coming in their wakes. These promises are never fufilled as prices rise and communities are gutted to make way for the progress of condominiums well above what is sustainable.

In the midst of this, Public Works Dallas has worked to renetwork the communities surrounding Downtown Dallas and create pathways for a richer public through community theater. In a recent talk at The Owens Art Center, the pilot year of Public Works Dallas was illuminated by speaker Shirley Brice Heath followed by a panel discussion between Ignite/Art Dallas director, Clyde Valentin, Dallas Theater Center Artistic Director, Kevin Moriarty, and Martha Rodriguez, Program Manager at Bachman Lake Together, one of the five community partners of Public Works Dallas.

The clarity of Public Works Dallas is public health in the realizations of the program. Participants in the program speak of it as being a life changing experience across the board. The formula is simple. Increasing the physical activity of the community, creating an environment for learning, and enabling members of the production to take responsibility for the success of the production, Public Works is setting out on a revolutionary path that is instilling a confidence in its members to build a better future for the city as a whole.

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