In the days immediately following Donald Trump’s election, a group of two-hundred artists, architects, scholars, writers, and activists gathered in Dallas, TX to launch New Cities, Future Ruins.
Participants were already invested in the defining issues of America’s Western Sun Belt—the crises of growth, demographic change, and sustainability unfolding in the region’s cities. Convening at such a turbulent moment, however, we found the stakes of our work amplified. For many at the heart of the event, the convening took on the feel of an encampment. It became a kind of roving think tank, carving an itinerary through the city, generating and testing strategies for action—both artistic and political.
After a first day dispersed at press previews, community events, and workshops, we came together Saturday morning on the SMU | Meadows campus. Standing amid the innovative maps of the exhibition New Cartographies: Visualizing Emergent Urban Forms, we began by orienting ourselves in the vast political landscape of DFW.
We boarded two charter buses for a tour that followed the metroplex’s great freeways and rivers, from Dallas’s affluent northern suburbs to the contested developments on the city’s West side and finally through the African American neighborhoods of South Dallas.
Arriving in Jubilee Park, we walked through this complex neighborhood—historically African American but increasingly Latinized, a place where multiple agencies have been working to develop affordable housing and multiple communities are engaged in a struggle to keep their place in a changing city. Temporary installations by bcWORKSHOP, Caitlin Berrigan, Lais Myrrha, Quilian Riano, Rodrigo Valenzuela, Jeff Williams, and lauren woods punctuated this landscape of surprising juxtapositions, where suburban-style infill and contemporary architecture are woven in among lovingly maintained ranch homes and vacant lots.
Moving inside the official grounds of Jubilee Park & Community Center, we settled in for a series of dinnertime talks—first from a fantastic roster of Texas-based artists and then keynote speaker Andrew Ross.
Finally, we moved to the art space Beefhaus in nearby Fair Park for the opening of the exhibition Visionary Sprawl, which positioned landmark studies of suburban growth like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s Learning from Las Vegas as a backdrop for more recent engagements with suburbanization and dross space by Mary Ellen Carroll, The Center for Land Use Interpretation, and others.
On Sunday we gathered back on-campus for an intensive day of presentations and roundtables featuring a host of speakers and discussants, including artist Sophia Al-Maria, architect Brent Brown, architects and activists Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman, curator Naima J. Keith, performance maker Aaron Landsman, and historian Elizabeth Tandy Shermer. Topics ranged from “Futurisms and Ruins: Techno-Utopianism, Romantic Apocalypse, and Ethno-Futurism” and “The New America: Immigration, Demographic Change and Political Power” to “The Suburban Frontier: Art and Design After the Myth of Suburbia” and “Borderlands & Boundaries: Producing and Policing Civic Space”.
Shifting gears in the evening, we moved back off-campus to the raw space of The MAC for dinner and a night of performances by Autumn Knight, Lee Escobedo, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and Postcommodity.
On Monday, those of us still in town came together one final time at the Nasher Sculpture Center for an invigorating morning of critical responses. Prepared comments from Roberto Bedoya, Emmanuelle Chiappone-Pirriou, and Aaron Levy laid a foundation for a robust and frank public discussion of the weekend’s proceedings and the possible paths forward for the NCFR initiative.
I am quite proud of what the convening accomplished, and grateful for the remarkable contributions of all the participants. It was inspiring to see how many participants maintained commitments to both social justice and cultural vanguardism—a braid we intend to keep NCFR centered on. We tested ideas and projects that can be built upon and expanded in the initiative’s coming phases and we were lucky to have participants, partners, and community members engage with us in this—at times challenging our frameworks and methods, always in a spirit of rigorous discussion. Perhaps most importantly, the weekend served to establish a network of committed stakeholders—based in Dallas, in the region, and beyond—and I look forward to having many of you involved as we take our next steps.
Much more could be said, but for now that seems the right note to end on.