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April Is The Month To Decolonize Dallas 12

Decolonize Dallas is a month-long series of art installations designed to draw attention to many issues around cultural equity. The project is organized by members of Michelada Think Tank, and funded in part by the Embry Family Foundation and the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs.  Art&Seek invited the organizers and artists to guest blog here, to share context and commentary about specific works and their thoughts about ongoing efforts to make art and arts opportunities available to artists and communities of color. First up is Darryl Ratcliff, co-founder of Michelada Think Tank and co-organizer of Decolonize Dallas.  

My first few attempts at cultural production in Dallas ended because of direct racism. Once in the Arts District, once in Knox-Henderson, and once again in the Design District. It is a strange feeling to know that you have failed not because of your talents or your work ethic, but because of the color of your skin and the skin of your community.

Decolonize Dallas art projects are ongoing throughout April.

In the early part of this decade, it was even more radical than it is now to have young black and brown people in these white spaces, and for some, our very presence was a personal affront. It didn’t matter that most of us were very talented, reflexively used words like sir and ma’am, had college degrees, and wore suit jackets and blazers. Our respectability did not save us from being kicked out of these spaces.

These early experiences drive my work – it is why I am so passionate about dismantling the white supremacy that is propped up by our existing cultural systems of galleries, museums, arts and entertainment districts. In 2014, I had the pleasure of meeting four other like-minded people, Carol Zou, Shefali Mistry, Noe Gaytan, and Mario Mesquita. Together we formed Michelada Think Tank to achieve cultural equity in the United States. After projects in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, we had the opportunity to do work in Dallas. We convened 27 institutions and over 120 artists for a series of think tanks on cultural equity over a period of four months. There was a lot of learning, shared language was developed, and the capacity to act was broadened.

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Notes from participants in a Michelada Think Tank session.

In fact, the phrase cultural equity had even become a bit of a buzzword. Seemingly every museum, conference, festival, and lecture wanted to deal with this idea of cultural equity. Yet, we noticed something very peculiar – artists of color seemed to still be left behind; they were still being asked to perform intellectual and emotional labor for free. The structural inequities seemed to be very intact, and in fact, the same people and organizations advocating cultural equity were often themselves inequitable. Somehow cultural equity had become just another way for white people and white organizations to gather more resources at the expense of people of color.

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Brent Ozaeta and Darryl Ratcliff (right) at Superfantasy Mercado.

So, we decided to launch this project, DeColonize Dallas, for a number of reasons. One, we wanted to provide a platform for some of the talented artists of color we knew who were having trouble accessing institutional resources. Two, we wanted to work in places where there were real stakes, communities undergoing, or at risk to undergo, gentrification, where people of color were in danger of being displaced. Three, we wanted to work with artists who had deep ties to these places, and would be able to respond to them via their art in a way that might illuminate the past or sketch out a possible future. Four, we wanted to create a citywide conversation on what it would mean for Dallas to undergo a project of decolonization and what that would mean for cultural institutions. Fifth, we wanted to create a platform and a model that could be expanded in the futureI have no idea if we will be successful in any of these things. As we say in our curatorial statement this is not new work, or a new conversation. We also see this month as a pilot project – we know we don’t have the time or resources to decolonize Dallas. However, hopefully, we can learn from this process, we can demonstrate the value of undertaking a decolonial project in Dallas culture, we can spotlight the number of talented creatives who are being left out of the current mainstream cultural system, and we can inspire future action by those who have the power to help change.

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Inspired by Michelada

I am inspired by all of our artists, by their creativity and their resilience. They have been a joy to work with. I am also inspired by our supporters, who are investing, believing, and supporting our vision of making Dallas a culturally equitable city. This is not always easy – we often have to learn together. Yet, I appreciate that our institutional supporters have been willing to learn and evolve and continue to support us, and they are a model for their peers, many of whom are still on the sidelines of this important struggle.

I have seen many talented artists of color leave Dallas, or abandon their creative pursuits altogether because it is almost impossible for them to succeed in the current creative ecosystem. The work of DeColonize Dallas is to transform the city of Dallas into a place where artists of color can thrive. To achieve this we must dismantle the current system and create a future where whiteness is no longer centered. This is our work, and we invite anyone who believes in achieving social and racial justice in our community to join us. It is going to take all of us, especially those who are still sitting on the sidelines.