ADAIR MARGO, CHAIR
PETER MARZIO, GIGI ANTONI, HENRY MUÑOZ
Ms. Margo: It is a privilege to be part of this panel on the “Art of the Arts.” After being involved with individual artists for twenty-five years, I’ve come to see just how much they can help us slow down and pay attention to things. And the greatest artist I’ve known—Tom Lea—said that what he tried to do was help people discover what was already inside them, but that they hadn’t realized before. He helped me see the place where I live through his paintings, and he helped me love our mountain—Mount Franklin.
Tom Lea also helped me discover the place where I live with his words too. He thought that his art and his words were all of one cloth. Some of his words that I love and have made my own are: “People ask me what in the world I could find so special about the dried up, bare, empty country I obviously prefer to live and work in. First I say I was born in it, and then I say, furthermore I love it for the intensity of its sunlight, the clarity of its sky, the hugeness of its space, and its revealed structure of nature’s naked primal form, without adornment.” Tom Lea’s words have helped me understand what it is I love about the place where I live. I didn’t have those words, but I’ve made them my own. I appreciate having been around artists, especially an artist like Tom Lea.
It was through the artists of Texas that I discovered my own state. I am from El Paso, but I attended university outside the state. When my family traveled, we usually went west to California. It’s closer than Houston, so we went to California. I never really knew Texas beyond what I read in books until Governor Clements appointed me to the Texas Commission on the Arts in 1987. It was then that I began traveling around the state, and that’s when I met many of you and visited your communities.
And everybody in each community was so eager to share what was theirs and what was specific about the place where they lived. They were eager to share the landscape and the things that their inhabitants enjoyed doing, both on an amateur level and a professional level. There was always a desire to share what was specific to them. And then there were museums like the Houston Museum of Fine Arts that were just filled with these vast collections from all over the world. Museums like Houston’s showed how much Texans were interested in other cultures in many parts of the world.
When I served President Bush as chairman of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, I was also appointed by Colin Powell to the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. I traveled with Laura Bush to Paris. And I went to those UNESCO meetings, and I would hear people talk about the United States in very unflattering terms, saying things like it’s all the same…it’s like McDonald’s… it’s crass popular culture…their wine is like Kool-Aid…and they made it sound like we were taking over the world. And I thought, well, I’m from the United States and I know something about it, especially my state of Texas. Texas and the United States are diverse and vast and wondrous. What’s more, we Texans and Americans are also very curious and interested in the diversity of your country, too. The words I heard at UNESCO and the reality of my experience just didn’t match, but then people can say funny things when they are competing.
Jim Billington, the Librarian of Congress, told me on the way to Paris that we needed to get better at communicating all of the United States to all of the world. I think the arts are a major part of that, and I couldn’t agree with him more. He also told me that we do no good when we go to other countries and agree with their criticism of us. It’s a much better approach to be proud of our country and to want to share it with others, while also being extraordinarily interested in their countries. Art and culture are fine ways to do this.
I often heard when I was in Washington those eight years, the words of Dana Gioia, whom I enjoyed very much as chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts. Dana would say that art education is not about creating professional artists; it’s about creating whole human beings. And I thought back to my days on the Texas Commission on the Arts and to some of my visits to your communities. One of these visits was to Del Rio, and I’ll never forget a specific story. A young man who had been a problem—he was one of many children that didn’t have a dad—always in trouble, always in detention, until a teacher, an art teacher, offered him an angel ticket to the symphony instead of going to detention. He said that he knew his cholo brothers wouldn’t see him there.
So he went to the symphony and he said—I’ve never forgotten it—he said, “You know, I’d never been in a room filled with beautiful music before, and I knew when I was in that room that I was not fulfilling all that I could be as a human being.” And I’ll never forget his quote, he said, “You know, when those cymbals clanged, it knocked the chip right off my shoulder.” And so he was there working in the arts in Del Rio. I’ll never forget him in arts education.
Today we have a very special panel, comprised of people I have known and admired. When I was chair of the Texas Commission on the Arts, I was amazed that the Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, would work so hard for a tiny little bit of money from the state when the vast private support of the museum was so huge and the state’s contribution was so small. But it was important for Peter and the Museum to have public support from the state. Our country is so different from others where the state has control. But in our system a little bit of state
support kind of says: good job, good and faithful servant, you are serving the public good. This generates greater private support. Peter was just spectacular.
And Gigi Antoni I know from the White House where the President’s Committee gave awards once a year called Coming Up Taller Awards. They were named for a program in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, run by Wille Reale, a theater artist. After watching children perform a play he said, There is no way to fast forward and know how the kids will look back on this, but I have seen the joy in their eyes and have heard it in their voices, and I have watched them take a bow and come up taller. So Gigi Antoni and Dallas were recognized at the White House with Laura Bush with a Coming Up Taller Award. Then when Ray Nasher, my vice chairman, hosted the President’s Committee in Dallas, we focused on all the great things in Dallas and Gigi was there. And we also have Henry Muñoz. My great friend Alice Carrington Foultz from San Antonio, who served on the President’s Committee with me, would always talk about her genius friend, Henry Muñoz, and how I needed to meet him and learn about his interpretations of mestizaje. She took me to a restaurant on the River Walk where he had molcajetes on the wall that created texture. Henry used these stone bowls that were used in pre-hispanic Mexico and continue to be used today, as a decorative component.
I’ve learned a lot from each of our panelists, and we’re going to start with Peter first.
• • •
I do not believe that art museums in Texas do anything that, in and of itself, is unique. Rather, the art museums here have a slightly different style of operation compared to other U.S. and European institutions, and this difference may be leading to a new type of art museum.
What do I mean? One key is to look at the annual admission fee totals of the Texas museums in the three largest cities—Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio—compared with their counterparts in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. During a ten-year period, the totals in Texas were less than half as much a percentage of their operating budgets as in othercities. Why is this so? There is a tradition in Texas of free admission. In Houston, the Contemporary Arts Museum and the Menil Collection are two examples. And many museums such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where I work, provide a generous number of free days. In addition, there is free admission at the MFAH for many kinds of groups, including schoolchildren and anyone age eighteen or under who has a city or county library card.
Most art museums in Texas are not located in areas where tourism is a significant part of the economy. San Antonio is the exception. In New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, visitors from other places are the ones who drive up the admission fee totals. Most art museums in Texas do not spend large sums of money on marketing or advertising. The exception, of course, is when there is a major blockbuster such as the Dallas Museum of Art’s wonderful recent Egyptian exhibition or the Kimbell Art Museum’s presentation of the Barnes Collection. This reluctance to advertise is traceable to two factors: So much of the wealth in our state comes from wholesale activities—upstream oil, agriculture, shipping, and medicine—that do not require expertise in marketing or advertising. Few of us in Texas really understand how the economics work in more retailoriented states. The second factor that discourages advertising is the lack of tourism. This seems to make advertising ineffective.
Another aspect that makes the operation of art museums in Texas different is that here we receive very little operational assistance from state or local governments. A recent survey revealed that Texas ranks last among states and territories in per-capita funding for cultural activities. Most counties in our state contribute nothing to art while Texas cities range from being moderately progressive to stingy. The absence of these two traditional forms of income —admission fees and government subsidies—ties Texas art museums closely to the people who live in the areas of the museums. Contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations are important to all museums, but in Texas they make up a larger share of the operating budgets. These gifts link Texas museums tightly to their communities, and as a result, the museums here reflect the values of their communities. The art museums in Texas could not survive without the communities’ approval.
Some critics complain that this is a dangerous situation. They insist that if a museum’s collections and exhibitions are controlled by the general population, then quality is threatened and professional standards are shattered. I suppose that could happen, but as I look around the state of Texas, I am confident that this bond between communities and art museums has made the institutions more dynamic and has driven their trustees to demand that the professional staffs find the best art and to present important exhibitions. This partnership between community and museum has led to cutting-edge art outreach and education programs for schools, libraries, hospitals, homes for senior citizens, parks, and so forth. Compare this motivation in Texas to reach out versus the priorities of museums in tourist-rich cities that do little broad-based community work.
Why is this aggressive posture of Texas museums so important? Because the primary mission of art museums is to present real works of art created by men and women throughout history. This may seem so obvious that I am sure that at least some of you just said silently to yourselves: “Well, duh.”
I submit that the real, original work of art is becoming a curiosity in a society that is living increasingly in a world of “virtual reality.” Why go to an art museum and look at an old painting that hangs restfully on a wall when IMAX® theaters and video games, bigger than life-size imitation monsters breathing smoke and make-believe fire, and enormous digital reproductions of famous artworks rush at our senses from every direction? Why look at a marble or bronze statue in a museum gallery when there are computerized learning environments ready to inundate us and our children with every fact about every subject? And why would anyone look at art that requires the viewer to move and think when in the virtual world, the viewer need not budge? This is not an attack on the technological wonders of our day. It is, however, a reminder that in the beginning of any creative endeavor, there is an original idea. Art is the product of that moment. Important art, hopefully the type that we aspire to present in Texas’s museums, represents only a tiny percentage of those special, original moments. It is the best of these creative moments that makes art museums important.
The original work of art requires the viewer to see with intelligence. Learning to look is a skill that everyone must master. In Texas, teaching this skill has fallen to museums almost exclusively. Most K-12 schools do not have trained art instructors. Beyond that, it is possible to go from pre-K to postdoctoral levels of education in our state without ever encountering a visual arts course. The result is that Texas is filled with brilliant people who have never learned about art. That is beginning to change, but progress is halting and it is small in scale.
Finally, I have one other vague notion that is rooted in my experiences in Houston. Like most art museums in Texas, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, rests upon the diverse communities that make up our city. We do not force-feed art to our audiences, but we try to listen to people in diverse communities, engage with them, and build collections of important works that reflect their cultures. In essence, the MFAH becomes their museum. This philosophy is different from that of the great museums of Europe. Imagine the Louvre in Paris without the boatloads of art that came from royal families, ecclesiastical collections, and military conquests, or the British Museum without the worldwide power that the British Empire exerted for three centuries.
European museums evolved into what they called Enlightenment or encyclopedic museums that represented cultures around the world. The people in charge controlled both the artworks and the information about them. Museum professionals believed in a hierarchy of fine art that was rooted in the art of ancient Greece. Beauty itself was judged by classical principles. Then, when societies changed in the nineteenth century from kingdoms to republics to democracies, museums emphasized more and more their educational responsibilities. The goal of these institutions was to share their knowledge of beauty with all citizens, to uplift them and to make these new nation-states civilized places. In Houston, the MFAH with its 60,000 works of art is encyclopedic, too, but in a much different way. More important than being encyclopedic is the simple fact that it is ecumenical. Although there are many different types of art museums in Texas, I would suggest that an ecumenical thread holds them together, and each, in its own way, reflects the vision of Texas’s citizens.
This distinction between encyclopedic and ecumenical may not seem so important, but I would suggest that it goes to the roots of American philanthropy. Encyclopedic collections reflect the desire of intellectuals in powerful nations to sample the beauty that exists throughout the world. This ambition was fueled and financed by kings and popes and national governments. It was a symbol of power. The ecumenical art museum was created in Texas and other American states by the people’s desire to define themselves. They looked for or created art that expressed what was important to them. Those works that expressed these visions most vividly became parts of collections in art museums. These museums and collections are symbols of communal identities. Their existence was financed by the people themselves. What does it mean to be a Texas American? A trip to your local art museums is a good first step in the quest for identity.
• • •
Hello, everyone, I am so honored to be here. I’ve been inspired all morning long by what I’ve heard and what I’ve learned. I’m really happy and honored to be here today and to talk with you. My name is Gigi Antoni. I live in Dallas, Texas. I grew up in South Texas and was educated in East Texas. I spent a lot of my childhood in Central Texas, but I’ve spent most of my adult working life in a wonderful city: Dallas, Texas. I’m going to talk to you today about the journey that
my community has made as we try to grapple with issues of the arts and their place in the lives of our young people.
We’ve heard a lot today about how fast the future is changing and the kinds of implications that change will have on how we build our education system and how we interact with our children. At the turn of the last century, Michael Cox at the Federal Reserve in Dallas published a study about the kinds of skills and capacities that were going to be needed to fuel our economy in the 21st century. As we think about the implications of what has been fueling our economy of this information age, we see that knowledge workers were really the currency. The sorts of skills that they needed were sequential, literal, functional, textural, analytic thinking skills which, at the time, were what was valued to be successful in our economy and in our society.
And as we move into the 21st century and begin to think about the new kinds of skills and the new sorts of jobs that our workers are going to need to be prepared to do, it’s almost impossible to imagine. I have a nine-year-old. By the time she’s my age, there’s no telling what sort of career or industry or job she might have. It probably hasn’t even been invented yet. And so how do we prepare her and children like her to be successful in a world that’s changing so quickly?
This is from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (illustration1). (Illustration1)
These are the personal capacities that the business community believes education should be preparing our children to do as they go forward in the 21st century. As you look at this list and think about the sorts of capacities that are built when children engage in creative acts, I think it’s pretty clear the connection between skills of creativity, invention, imagination, and new capacities that are needed for the 21st century.
In 1997, the Arts Commission in Dallas asked my community a very important question. They said, “We’re investing tax dollars in cultural institutions and we say that part of the reason we’re doing this is to promote and support education. Who’s really benefitting from this investment, who’s being served, and is it having any impact?”
And we actually did research to try to determine the answer to that question. The cultural institutions in our city were compiling numbers that looked as if we were serving hundreds of thousands of children. It was really the same 25,000 kids that were going everywhere and they all happened to live north of Northwest Highway—which is the more affluent
part of our district.
And so once that became obvious, we banded together our school district, schools, city council, and philanthropic community in an effort to change that reality. One of the impulses to do that was because we knew that there was a growing body of evidence that arts and cultural education was actually an accelerant for children in schools and in preparation for a successful future. And there was a good civic reason for us to have this conversation.
So we came together and we built a way, a system to distribute the city’s cultural assets equitably among all of our children in our public schools. We did it in such a way that we promoted and provided professional development for every classroom teacher in our system to use these assets in their classroom to encourage quality promote learning— and we measured these efforts. We did a longitudinal study with national researchers from Harvard and the Annenberg Center for School Reform at Brown to measure the impact on students when a city’s cultural assets are used specifically, and with knowledge, by classroom teachers to promote learning.
I’m going to share just a little bit of that with you. This is a writing sample of a first-semester 1st grader with an open court lesson plan in Dallas Independent School District (illustration 2). The drawing features one sentence. It says, “If I were a nurse, N-E-R-S, I would be feeling happy because I get to hold the baby and I like this child.” Also you can see the visual expression that partners with the sentence, which is a part of early learning literacy as well.
Within five days of this Arts Partners program (I don’t know which happened first or second because it was a random sample), the same child produced this piece of work after a docent tour of the Dallas Museum of Art (illustration 3). The tour described how artists use line, color, and texture in 18th century portraiture to express feelings, which was the curriculum. Now the child says, “Being playful makes me feel like going to the park. You can see the way I look. Being happy makes me feel like I’m made up of all different kinds of colors on the inside.”
This child is actually, within five days of these two writing samples, using metaphor, using complex ideas in her writing. And the reason is because she has a context in which to think and express what she’s experiencing, and not just an abstract concept from a classroom, reading a sample of curriculum.
Over five years, K-6 graders provided writing samples that were triple coded by teachers in three different places in the country on this scale of ideas, content, word choice, voice, organization, fluency, and convention (illustration 4). This is the same scale and the same tool that most standardized writing tests are created out of.
We found statistically significant increases in ideas, content word choice and voice across all grades, across all years.
We studied these children for five years. At the end of that five years, students were longer receiving the treatment, the infusion of arts in their classroom. So we followed them three more years and we still found that they outperformed in both writing and reading on standardized tests. This is why, as we observed these same children in the classroom, we found that when the arts were in schools and in the classroom, children were showing more high-level engagement in the way they were learning, in the kinds of activities that they were engaged in while the arts were in the classroom, and also in their own personal intrinsic investment in the quality of their work (illustration 5, 6, 7). These are all indicators of highly engaged children in public classroom learning.
The arts are absolute academic accelerants for learning in all areas, both in the arts and across the curriculum, because they engage children at every level, spiritually, intellectually, cognitively, kinesthetically. On every level there are so many ways that children can enter into learning when the arts are present.
So when I listened to the wonderful presentation this morning about transforming schools and I saw that picture of the Tour de France cyclist lighting the cigarette of his teammate and how we were laughing, 80 years later, about that image. So I imagine in 50 years that we might laugh at the idea that learning only takes place in a school building and it only takes place between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., and that it’s only the responsibility of schools to educate our children. When, in fact, all of our assets, our cultural institutions, our businesses, our universities—all have an important part to play in educating our children. Because when children go out into the community and have real experiences with important works of art, ideas and concepts, they come back into the classroom with positive results that we can expect to see.
Illustration 5. Illustration 6.
So, there’s a myth that 30 years ago we took the arts out of our schools. We really didn’t. We only took it out of someof our schools; we took it out of our schools where children were behind, so we decided to focus on basics and built in time for those kinds of artistic and cultural activities. But what was taken away, in many instances, was the context of the enriched curriculum which supports the basics that matter for children.
This becomes much more important when we talk about the future, because now these capacities aren’t just about being engaged and intrinsically motivated to learn; they are actually the capacities that are the currency of success for the 21st century. And so it begs the question: Who are going to be the kids will have the capacities to make new knowledge, make new meaning, and really shape the landscape of the future if we don’t give our kids these kinds of rich, creative learning experiences as a basic part of their education?
So the organization that I work with, Big Thought, has the mission to make imagination a part of everyday learning. We envision communities where every learner in our city is immersed every day with opportunities to imagine, create and succeed through a variety of media and in a variety of environments.
Today, in concert with hundreds of private and public partners, we serve more than 300,000 children. More than half of those children receive services through this partnership every single day—so this is 150,000 children that are getting high-quality, creative learning experiences daily as a part of their basic education in our public school system.
We do this through a very wide-ranging partnership. This is a list of the kinds of folks that are engaged in our community in creating this system and in shaping it and managing it, financing it, and providing instruction in it. We know that our community believes that it’s the relationship between a variety of experiences over a child’s life in multiple environments in school, in fine arts classrooms, in general classrooms, in neighborhoods and in their community that result in these kind of outcomes that I’m talking about.
We think about the three different learning environments (illustration 8) in which kids have creative learning experiences in three different ways: one is sequential fine arts instruction in school provided by certified arts teachers every week; the other is arts integration with the city’s cultural assets integrated into the classroom every day; and the third is out-ofschool time learning through families, in neighborhoods, in recreation centers, libraries, after school programs, weekends and summer—covering all the time that kids are learning outside of school.
This is our strategy. We have re-established fine arts as a staple of a quality education in our public schools; we have the policies and the funding in place. Every child in Dallas receives 45 minutes of visual art and 45 minutes of music instruction every week as a part of their minimum standards of instruction. And we’re building now an out-of-school-time creative learning system embedded in our cultural institutions and our city agencies.
As we enter this new time that calls for dedicated innovation across the board, creativity is, in fact, our children’s next essential literacy. I met Susan Marcus not too long ago and read her book, The Parents’ Guide to Creative Thinking. This quote, which is on the back cover, really spoke so deeply to me about the urgency to engage in making sure that not just some children have these kinds of experiences as a basic part of their education, but they all do.
Thank you for having me here today and thank you for thinking so deeply about the future of our children, and I appreciate it.
• • •
I’m not a genius; I’m not even a scholar. I never went to architecture school, and when I found out the history and traditions of this organization, I was a little intimidated. So on Monday I called Adair and I said, “Are you sure you have the right Henry from San Antonio?” And she said she wasn’t sure but we’d give it a chance anyway. I speak a lot and I don’t get nervous, but I must have been nervous because I had a nightmare last night. I don’t know if I was naked or not, but I was in a room kind of like this and when I walked up somebody said, “I thought you said Henry Cisneros was speaking today.”
I’m Henry Muñoz from San Antonio, Texas, and I am a person whose story is very much like the story of Texas over the course of the last several years, a generational story. My grandfather was born in Nuevo Laredo and he moved just a few blocks because he couldn’t see an economic future for his family. But the few blocks was over the river and he moved to Laredo, Texas. He provided for his family in a new American industry at the time, which was the motion picture industry, so he taught himself how to be a motion picture projectionist.
And when my father got to be 17, he learned that trade and he supported his family, this time now moving about 150 miles up the road to San Antonio, Texas, by being a motion picture projectionist and a printer. But he had the opportunity to be the first person in his family who got to go to college. He graduated from St. Mary’s University and went to St. Mary’s Law School and decided that he would spend his life as a labor leader and an activist.
And his son went to college and had the opportunity to not only be an activist, but also to be a business owner and to be given opportunities to affect conversations that are taking place not only about how the State of Texas will look in this new century, but how the United States will look in the 21st century as well. So for me, the idea of how Latinos or Hispanics will imprint the State of Texas began as a personal adventure in the 1990s after I had spent about four yearsin state government serving in a volunteer position as well, during a time in the history of the state when South Texas and the border region felt like it had been underfunded and underserved.
You might remember that there was a period when the South Texas Border Region struggled to encourage the state that more investment had to flow to infrastructure and to schools and to universities. During that period of time, I looked at the buildings we were built and thought they didn’t look like who I was or who the children were that we were hoping to inspire to walk in the doors. The buildings we were built didn’t look like them either. So how would you deal with an issue of how the universities of the state might have a responsibility for inspiring their market before they ever even walked in the door of those schools?
I looked around trying to find examples of where that existed, and to be honest, I didn’t find a lot. But where I did find a lot of inspiration was in the neighborhoods of South Texas along the border. I fell in love with this building, which is not that far from where Ricardo Romo grew up and where his family had a grocery store, and I just loved the idea that this building was painted this bright color of green and was a combination tire shop and fruteria. The way that people went about displaying things and the blurring of the space between the indoors and the outdoors was a very Texas phenomenon.
I found so many beautiful examples of this kind of thinking, aesthetic thinking that happened outside of the proper buildings of Texas, that I decided maybe there was an opportunity to do that within the doors of these institutions. I also found that while it wasn’t being thought about a lot in architecture, it was being thought a lot by individual artists.
This actually is a botanica, a performance arts space that no longer exists that existed for a number of years in San Antonio that was curated on a daily basis by an artist named Franco Mondini-Ruiz, a guy who would consider himself a mestizo because he’s half Mexican-American and half Italian. He was chosen shortly after this botanica was started to become one of the artists in the Whitney Biennial of that period, and so this is a picture of Franco actually recreating that botanica experience outside of the walls of the Whitney in the 1990s. This is a picture of the botanica reinstalled three years ago within the walls of the Museo Alameda in San Antonio. Within the period of ten years, an informal kind of individual idea that then was accepted not necessarily because he was a Latino, but because he was one of the dynamic emerging artists to be recognized on the international arts scene then transitioned into being formally accepted, honored, and elevated within the walls of a museum.
That was a part of what I will call this great act of cultural activism that is known in San Antonio and South Texas as the Alameda, that really began in the 1940s by a man named Tano Lucchese who built this theater at a time when San Antonio was segregated. If your last name was Muñoz or Guerra or Romo and you wanted to go see a movie in downtown San Antonio, you had to sit in the colored balcony. But Mr. Lucchese believed in that period of time, particularly with the return of veterans, that in the future nobody should be denied access to a place to live or to sit next
to the rest of his neighbors in San Antonio. So he created the Alameda, which was intended to be one of the movie palaces that was on a par with the great movie palaces of the United States (figure 1). This theater became the gateway to create a museum in San Antonio which was opened three years ago. I’m very happy to say it was the first formal affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution outside of Washington, D.C. Today there are about 140-plus affiliations in 40-plus states round the country, and it all began here in San Antonio. I say it’s the second time that Mexicans pitched a tent in front of the Alamo and won.
Figure 1. Alameda Theater.
We brought the secretary of the Smithsonian at the time to San Antonio when the Smithsonian was celebrating its 150th anniversary. You may remember there was this wonderful opening of that exhibition in Houston with the president of the United States, and then the secretary came to San Antonio. The purpose of that conversation with him was to say that not every child in the United States will ever have the luxury or the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to experience their museum, and so why does everything that the Smithsonian does have to happen within the beltway? He got up that night at this beautiful dinner that the Daughters allowed us to have on the grounds of the Alamo and he announced that there would be a permanent physical presence of the Smithsonian in San Antonio, and that’s the Museo Alameda.
Today, three years later, as the museum struggles to sustain itself, the kinds of issues that Peter has brought up are central to our existence. We feel that the Museo would be wrong to charge admission—to take an object out of a neighborhood, to install it in a museum, put it in a case, and then charge people $8 to come and see that object. For us, when we read the logs that exist outside of every gallery of this museum, we see comments like, “This is the first museum I’ve ever been to,” “Thank you, this is the first exhibit where I can see myself in this exhibit.” The comments describe so many changes generationally for people who understand that there is a beauty about the way that we live and the huge impact that it has had on the State of Texas, but who have never had it formalized within the walls of a museum such as this.
And this has given way now to the establishment of a charter school in San Antonio that is called the Alameda Academy of Art and Design, the first art and design high school in San Antonio. It is a charter school that actually doesn’t compete with the inner city school district in San Antonio, but is in partnership with the inner city school district, the San Antonio Independent School District. It is the first charter school in the State of Texas to have that kind of partnership because they both need each other. The inner city school district needs to be innovative in the way that they are thinking about retaining attendance in these schools and the charter school needs to have access to the kids who live in these neighborhoods.
But that wasn’t enough either, and so it became a cultural activism to look not only at formalized institutions, but also the kinds of conversations that could happen in communities, in particular along the Texas-Mexico border where these issues of cultural identity are so important to our future.
So this is a performing arts center in a little town called Edcouch, about 20 miles from Edinburg, Texas. It was a very inexpensive project, but in this case the idea of allowing the students and the teachers and the communities to themselves design the identity of the school was central to the building, In this part of South Texas there is a phenomenon called corridos; there was a gentleman by the name Americo Paredes who was the foremost scholar of this kind of phenomenon. Corridos are basically stories set to music. They have a very specific structure and they are very much a part of the folkloric history of Texas. This community had the idea that because they have their own corrido which is called La Machina Amarilla, The Yellow Machine, that the building’s artistic statement ought to look like this corrido, and so the mural is actually the sound waves that are emitted when you play La Machina Amarilla (figure 2).
Figure 2. Edcouch performing arts center.
This is Birth, a project with the National Design Museum, the Cooper Hewitt in New York City, which is now taking this building and using it as the centerpiece of a program called A City of Neighborhoods that allows students to understand that there is beauty in all of the things that are in their own neighborhoods, even when it is a poor neighborhood.
A few miles down the road you talked a lot about the responsibilities of universities in playing a role in the artistic development of young people. This is the University of Texas Pan American; this is an education building. On the exterior walls of the building it looks very much like the rest of the university, but when you get inside of the building, it is symbolic of the main mission of the building. This school educates more bilingual educators than any other school in the United States. And so the building is a conceptual piece of architecture that has two languages, and that at its centerpiece actually takes dichos that were curated by the professors themselves and makes it the central experience of the building. It has this beautiful light chimney so that it is illuminating and it is transcended from one floor to the next with the light becoming brighter as you reach the third
floor (figure 3).
Figure 3. UT Pan American education building.
I believe that what is happening all over the State of Texas 2.0 is an activism that in many cases is formal and in some cases is informal, that the attitudes of Latinos are shifting from that of outsiders to insiders, and that what we do in the State of Texas is important not only to our own state but to the dialogue of identity in the future. When I first started this, we started talking about it as a mestizaje, or a blending of people, because one of the things that makes Texas different is that we recognize, in a friendlier fashion, that we are blended. Adair probably drives down the block and has her breakfast tacos and listens to Tejano music, but her last name is Margo. Texas is different and the way that we display that to the rest of the country is incredibly important.
My new job is to chair a presidential commission to study whether there should be a National Museum of the American Latino on the mall in Washington, D.C. There is a very, very vigorous conversation about whether there should be any distinction and one more ethnic museum of the Smithsonian or whether the Latino experience should be integrated into all of the museums of the Smithsonian that already exist. And so in our initial meetings, what we have decided is that whatever happens, our efforts will end up in a place that will illuminate the American story for all people. And that is the Latino Experience of Texas 2.0.
Audience: Peter, I think you made the point that the major institutions in Houston are primarily funded by foundations and the individuals that are there in the community, which is all well and good, but do you think that the institutions wouldn’t benefit more by some additional public funding? And if so, how can we engage the major institutions in helping making that happen?
Dr. Marzio: I’m probably not the right person to ask. As Adair mentioned, in the ’80s we worked really hard here in Austin to see if there were ways to get the state to take arts funding seriously, and we tried setting up an endowment fund which since has been taken away, and it was too hard a battle. It wasn’t worth the time to me to do it. It was more productive for me to spend time in New York and Chicago and Los Angeles to raise money than it was in Austin. And it’s a weird thing to say, but it may not be bad. That’s the other thing. Just because there’s a model elsewhere that has a lot of state tax-based funding—it’s worked there; the citizens seem to agree with it. Even in severe economic times, in California, for example LA County, while it got a reduction in its county funding, it still got enormous amounts of money. So it’s just a matter of values. And what I’ve found in our state is that private citizens want to keep government small. They also understand that the responsibility, therefore, on their part is to provide funds in many areas, where in other states it’s the state that provides the funds, and they do it and they do it seriously. So I basically backed away from trying to work real hard. Now, there are lots of other people still working at it and I hope that they succeed, but I thought it was in the DNA of my fellow citizens, making it very difficult to overcome, Many of you may disagree with me, but that was my instinct.
Audience: One of my favorite quotes is from Dante who said, “Nature is the art of God,” and I wonder if in this emphasis on arts for children, which I’m very supportive of, if attention has been given to current interest of getting more children out into nature, the nature-deficit disorder that’s been identified by Richard Louv. I’m particularly interested if in Dallas they’re incorporating nature as a source for not only inspiration and creativity in children, but also that they would be involved with their art program.
Ms. Antoni: We actually had a conversation as a community about what we meant by arts and arts education and fine arts—it’s complicated. We’ve taken the approach of a much more expanded sort of definition of what we call—we don’t even actually call it arts education—creative learning, and we think about it in this way that you’re describing. Everything that I’ve heard here today and anyone who could hear anybody who has spoken at this podium today would say the root of everything every speaker has said has been an impetus to imagine something new, to pursue and solve the problems, to create it, and to make it real in the world. And for us, it’s that process that we want in many different ways, whether it’s through science, through nature, through the arts, through studying other cultures, through service learning, through a variety of ways that we want to give kids that opportunity every single day to exercise that muscle in as many different ways as we can. So we definitely include partners like the Arboretum, the Nature Science Center, our new Audubon Society facility, beautiful things that help us move forward.
Ms. Margo: One thing I’ve heard from artists is that when you’re always trying to create in your own head, sometimes you can run dry. But in looking out at nature, how it’s always renewing itself and it’s always alive and it’s always changing, you get inspiration. I think that’s really a very, very good point that we don’t want to forget the main inspiration for art.
Audience: I want to commend you all very much. We all know that creation and recreation is really the highest level of thinking, so very important. But I wanted to ask you about the children. How do you engage the parents, when maybe this wasn’t part of their world, to instill art in their children?
Ms. Antoni: In our work we engage parents at every level of our partnership, both as influencers to activate them to understand why it’s important and they should ask for it and ask our public officials for it, also training parents to access these sorts of experiences for their kids in out-of-school time. Every option from parent classes and engagement to family creative learning experiences where kids and families have these experiences together, and also through schools, through engagement during the school year should be used. We talk about children and families as our target beneficiaries. That’s who we want to engage at every level, understanding that it isn’t just kids; it’s families as well. And kids live in families, so it isn’t just schools that have to change; it’s all of the places that children learn and a big part of that is at home.
Dr. Marzio: I think the other part of it is that from a museum point of view: when you visit a museum, you can’t fail the museum. A visit to the museum is not a test. A child’s observation about a work of art is every bit as legitimate as an adult’s, so you don’t have that hierarchy of superiority that comes with so much of teaching. Good museums all through the state have so many tools for visitors, from simple cards that adults and children play with as they go around the museum to find works of art to endless workshops. I think if you look around at the membership enrollment of most museums around the state, many of them have the equivalent of family membership categories, and I’ll bet you anything that that is the highest enrollment within the categories of each museum. I think Texas museums are, frankly, doing a pretty good job. The key is to reach the middle income and lower income families. Most of us have to work for a living and you can’t go with your child during the day. Being open in the early evening some time during the week gives parents a chance to visit the museum with their children. I know in Houston it’s this way. You will see construction workers with their kids in each hand, still dressed like they were on the job site, coming to the museum. It happens all the time.