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Art and Culture Thought Leaders Converge in Dallas

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Next month, Dallas, Texas hosts The New Cities Foundation (June 17-19), and launches the Foundation's Global Cultural Districts Network (GCDN). In the same week, Dallas plays host to the Annual Meeting of the US Conference of Mayors (June 20-23).

Dallas boasts the largest Art and Culture District in the nation. But more, it has become the epicenter of rethinking the vital role of arts in fostering economic development. As such, it has become the center of thought leadership about the future of the City and about the growing recognition that art and culture play a vital role in "reimagining cities", the theme of the Dallas conference.

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Art and Culture Districts - with museums, opera houses, performance spaces, restaurants, coffee shops, offices and housing - all nurture, attract and retain the "creative class," as author Richard Florida describes them. Such districts are vital to the new workplace ... a workplace in which creativity and innovation are the benchmarks of the most successful regions.

It all began in the 70's as Dallas leaders began musing about the advantage of an art and culture district "within a tight geographical area in order to reap maximum economic, educational and cultural benefits for each art entity and for the city of Dallas."

The Dallas Arts District spans 68 acres with no less than three museums, and the AT&T Performing Arts Center comprising the Winspear Opera House, the Wyly Theater, Perot Museum of Nature, Strauss Square, and Sammons Park which itself covers 10 acres. They additionally, showcase world-class buildings designed by Pritzker Prize winners I.M. Pei, Renzo Piano, Norman Foster, Rem Koolhaas and AIA "Gold Medal" recipient Edward Larrabee Barnes, display public art throughout the district, and have any number of restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, offices and residential housing within the District.

The Arts District also operates a Foundation which is a "catalyst for cultural activity within the Distinct ... (which) supports a broad range of cultural programs including outdoor performances and events and new works that demonstrate creativity and innovation."

Maxwell L. Anderson is Chair of the Dallas Arts District and The Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art where he recently launched a "free general admission and a no-cost friends membership" program, to encourage broader involvement and interest among people who might not otherwise go to museums at all.

While only assuming his position a little over two years ago, Anderson has created an Institute for Islamic Culture, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Republic of Turkey--and preparing MOUs with other nations -- as part of an art-for-expertise exchange program. He has also founded a Laboratory for Museum Innovation to develop collaborative pilot projects in the areas of "collections access, visitor engagement, and digital publishing."

Clearly, Anderson and the Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, honorary President of the GCDN, are major forces behind GCDN, but Anderson modestly says Adrian Ellis of AEA Consulting and John Rossant, Founder and President of the New Cities Foundation, are playing leadership roles breathing life into the idea that the future of cities will depend on nurturing successful art and culture districts.

In large part, all those involved in the New Cities Foundation believe that reinventing cities for the "new economy" depends upon successful art and culture districts. In fact, as Maxwell has said, "The Reimaging of Cities (as the Dallas event is called) demands insight into the distinctive character of a place through its cultural heritage, creative industries and built environment."

Not surprisingly, the Dallas Museum of Art, and many other museums with the Arts Distinct are supportive of one of the most progressive art integration education programs in the nation.

Called "Thriving Minds," Dallas has an "initiative that brings together organizations that believe in the power of imagination, creativity and innovation to change the way children learn"... "that promote creative thinking, project-based learning and experimentation, students become adaptable problem-solvers who are better able think critically, express themselves and collaborate with others." Thriving Minds serves more than 115,000 students and families.

An organization called, "Big Thought" serves as managing partner of Thriving Minds. According to Big Thought, "the partnership includes the City of Dallas, the Dallas Independent School District (Dallas ISD) and more than 100 arts, cultural and community organizations committed to making creative learning a part of the education of every Dallas student--in and out of school. To accomplish this goal, Thriving Minds supports:

• Fine arts instruction in schools;

• Curriculum development that integrates the arts into traditional classroom subjects;

• Professional development for educators, teaching artists and cultural providers; and

• Free after-school and summer programs in neighborhoods throughout the city.

Given the realignment of power in the world - from nations to cities - what the city does or does not do, as Dallas is proving, can determine a community's success and survival, or its demise.

The city is and has been the crucible of civilization; the center of commerce, and in this new age, can and must be the incubator of creativity; the place where people and cultures and ideas wash against one another, producing the inventions and innovations the world needs and wants, and the finance and marketing plans to support them.

The city, of all our geopolitical institutions, needs to reinvent itself for this new global age. The New Cities Foundation will certainly help. The meeting in Dallas is an auspicious start.