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Q&A: What Can We Expect From The New DMA Director? 15

The Dallas Museum of Art just hired a new director.  Agustin Arteaga will be the museum’s first Latino director and one of the very few Latinos heading up a major arts organization in North Texas, period. Local All Things Considered host Justin Martin sat down with Art & Seek’s Jerome Weeks to talk about what all this might mean.


Justin Martin: So Arteaga is the DMA’s first Latino director. Is that significant?

JWIt can be. It could be.

First, the Dallas Museum of Art is supposed to be culturally diverse. That’s its mission. It’s not a museum of nothing but European Old Masters. It’s got a terrific African collection, for instance. So hiring someone from outside the United States should fit right in.

Second, Arteaga has serious qualifications. He’s run three art museums in three different cities, Mexico City, Puerto Rico, Buenos Aires. [A fun fact – or a pedantic point, depending on your point of view: Both the Dallas Morning News and The New York Times mistakenly reported that Arteaga’s job at the DMA was his first in the U.S. or ‘the continental U.S.’ Actually, Puerto Rico is officially part of the North American continent — as are all the Caribbean islands — and its citizens are U. S. citizens.] And he’s a proven fundraiser – which the DMA needs after the previous director Maxwell Anderson launched his very ambitious projects.

But I put the whole question of diversity in hiring to Melissa Fetter, the chair of the DMA’s board of trustees – and I should add, she’s also a former chair of KERA.

“We need to be clear that Agustin comes with a resume and a list of qualities that make him exceptional,” she said. “The fact that he is of Mexican descent is an added bonus. But that is not the single reason he was hired.”

Agustin-Arteaga_Credit_Paloma-TorresWhat can we expect from him?

JWWell, you’re not making just a symbolic, politically correct gesture when you actually put someone in charge. He can make some real changes. Look at our own history. After the Dallas Symphony hired Eduardo Mata as its conductor in 1977, Mata, who was from Mexico, began programming more Spanish and Latino composers. He didn’t dump Mozart or Bach, but composers like Manuel de Falla started popping up. The same thing has been happening with Miguel Harth-Bedoya at the Fort Worth Symphony.

What’s more, new arts leaders bring their professional connections with them. A few years after Jaap van Zweden was appointed by the DSO, they hired Alexander Kerr as concertmaster or lead violinist. Just so happens, Kerr followed van Zweden at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. So, in effect, van Zweden was bringing in some of ‘his own people,’ musicians who thought the same way he did about classical performance. Those kinds of hires can slowly change the nature of an arts institution. And whats one ‘re of the first decisions facing Arteaga? Replacing the DMA’s head curator, Olivier Meslay, who’s leaving next month.

Tapping into these kinds of professional connections is precisely one reason Arteaga was hired. Again, Melissa Fetter: “Obviously, with Augustin’s experience in Buenos Aires and Puerto Rico, we think this brings us an opportunity to collaborate with museums in those parts of the world and hopefully bring some new exhibitions.”

OK, so we’ll probably get to see more art from Mexico and Latin America.

JW And Europe – let’s not forget Arteaga was a curator in Paris, too. In fact, he’s a chevalier – it’s like he’s been knighted by the French government for his work in the arts.

So is more art from Mexico and Latin America such a big deal?

JW, it is for the DMA. I deliberately asked Arteaga about the DMA’s Latin American collection. Frankly, I was trying to see if he’d address the fact the museum has extremely little in the way of modern or contemporary Latin art. [the featured image above is of the giant mosaic, ‘Genesis,’ by Miquel Covarrubias, which stands at the DMA’s entrance — and is one of its few major works by a Mexican modernist].

So what’d he say?

JW, he rightly praised the pre-Columbian art as truly exceptional. But obviously that’s not what I was looking for. But after he repeatedly made it clear that his aim is inclusiveness, the DMA is a museum for all the communites in the city, he said this: “Mexican art and Latin American art would be a key component of our programming.”

And Melissa Fetter described hiring Arteaga as a kind of pivot for the DMA – into a more international frame of mind.  So yeah, Arteaga may not try to set out to buy a Leonardo da Vinci, the way Maxwell Anderson did, but at the DMA he may prove to be  — as they say – a significant agent of change.