Best of Texas: Dallas Arts

For years we’ve heard that the Dallas arts scene could never live up to Fort Worth’s. Thankfully, the times have changed.

By and Comments

Illustration by Lorenzo Petrantoni

Do you remember the old, familiar complaint about downtown Dallas being the most boring place on the face of the earth? Then get ready. In October the nineteen-block, 68-acre Dallas Arts District, which was already home to the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, the Nasher Sculpture Center, and the Dallas Museum of Art, unveiled the AT&T Performing Arts Center. The complex includes the 234,000-square-foot Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House and the six-hundred-seat Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. In time, the Performing Arts Center will also open the City Performance Hall, for smaller performing arts organizations, and the Annette Strauss Artist Square, for outdoor performances. The venues will eventually be linked by the lush 10-acre Elaine D. and Charles A. Sammons Park, which was designed by the noted French landscape architect Michael Desvigne. Boring? Not on your life.

What’s more, the 24-story One Arts Plaza, which includes office space, condominiums, and restaurants, has also opened on the eastern edge of the Arts District, along with the newly renovated Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. In 2011 the 5.2-acre Woodall Rodgers Park is scheduled to open, built on a deck that will cover a busy expressway and connect the Arts District with the Uptown retail area and the ultra-urban Victory Park. Just like that, the once staid downtown will be home to the nation’s most comprehensive planned arts development since the opening of New York City’s Lincoln Center, in 1962.

Promoters believe the self-contained, pedestrian-friendly “village of the arts,” with world-class facilities for opera, musical theater, classic and experimental theater, ballet and other forms of dance, and first-run Broadway productions, will catapult Dallas into the list of top destinations in the country. Besides being home to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Arts District will include the Dallas Opera, the Dallas Theater Center, the Texas Ballet Theater, the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico. It will also be the only place in the world with buildings on the same block designed by four architects who have won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the profession’s highest honor. Let’s take a closer look at what it all means.

Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House

It has been a long time since a major opera hall has been built in North America. And now comes the 2,200-seat Winspear Opera House, which will be known not only for its surprising ruby-red exterior but also for its glass facade, which wraps three quarters of the way around the building. Spreading out from the sides is a giant steel-and-aluminum portico with canopied louvers arranged at fixed angles that are designed to provide optimal shade for the outdoor spaces throughout the day (translation: those hot summers will be a little more bearable). But that’s not the best part. The principal performance space within the opera house itself is a twenty-first-century reinterpretation of the traditional “horseshoe.” It features a spacious fly tower and an acoustical system that can be adjusted to maximize the quality of the sound for each performance. If you get to take a tour, make sure you visit the backstage dressing rooms. They’re big enough for a family of five. Thank God divas still rule! By the way, there’s already buzz in the opera world about the Dallas Opera’s performances this season. After it goes through the usual suspects next spring—Verdi’s Otello, Mozart’s Così fan tutte—the facility presents the premiere of Jack Heggie’s Moby-Dick. That’s right, a world premiere of a world-class opera in Dallas. Who would have imagined that just one year ago? 2403 Flora, 214-880-0202 or

Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre

This is without question one of the world’s most unusual theater facilities, an architectural oddity that will make you ask, “They’re holding plays inside there?” For one thing, the top portion of the twelve-level building features prefabricated aluminum panels that look like some sort of high-tech vertical blinds. The bottom of the building features acoustic-quality glass that will allow pedestrians standing outside to look into the theater, as well as give the six hundred theatergoers a view of the outside. Who ever heard of a theater with windows? Those aren’t the only tricks. In a traditional theater, long wings next to the stage hold up the props and scenery. But this building features an unprecedented stacked design, which means that the sets won’t be pushed onto the stage, as is usually the case, but lowered or raised by a superfast pulley system. Artistic directors will be able to rapidly change the look of the stage itself, even move the floor to a different angle if they want. And what if you don’t really like theater? The cocktail bar looks as hip as any in Dallas, so don’t fear those invitations to attend. You may discover that going to the theater suits you. 2403 Flora, 214-880-0202 or

One Arts Plaza

The $125 million building rises 24 stories, with more than 650,000 square feet, and the majority of the floors are leased to businesses and corporations. But there are 61 spectacular condos on the top of the building, many of them filled by wealthy longtime Dallasites who finally decided the time had come to leave their big-lawned Highland Park mansions for the urban life. The Plaza’s giant patio, adorned with a lavish modernistic fountain, is home to one of Dallas’s most interesting restaurants, Screen Door, which serves upscale Southern food (just try the fried chicken if you don’t believe Southern food can be upscale). There’s also a wine bar and oh-so-fancy Italian, Japanese, and Tex-Mex restaurants. And if that doesn’t quite satisfy your appetite, in the coming years there will be two more buildings going up—Two Arts and Three Arts—which will include additional parks, fountains, and yes, restaurants. 1722 Routh, 214-451-0313 or

Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center

Designed by renowned architect I. M. Pei and opened in 1989, the Meyerson Symphony Center is still a place of breathtaking beauty for both the first-time visitor and the veteran ticket holder. From its spacious, circular lobby and its grand marble staircase to, of course, its cherrywood concert hall (with an 85-foot ceiling and gigantic organ), the center remains one of the best in the country, if not the world. By many accounts, the acoustics are unmatched for an American symphonic concert hall. And if there is ever a time to get a ticket to hear the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, it’s now. Since his arrival last year as music director of the DSO, 48-year-old Amsterdam native Jaap van Zweden (pronounced “Yahp vahn Zvay-den”) has been getting glowing reviews. People who’ve been going to hear the symphony for decades say the sound is now completely transformed. And what if you’re one of those dilettantes who don’t know the difference between good classical music and great classical music? It makes no difference. Van Zweden’s presence is so mesmerizing that you’ll think you’re watching a young Leonard Bernstein. 2301 Flora, 214-670-3600 or

Nasher Sculpture Center

Open since october 2003, the Nasher Sculpture Center, dedicated to modern and contemporary sculpture, is now a Dallas institution, filled with rotating exhibitions of works from the Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection as well as special exhibitions drawn from other museums and private collections. Many of the sculptures are located outside in the 1.5-acre sculpture garden. Others are within the center’s 55,000-square-foot building. Created by the late Raymond and Patsy Nasher, who traveled the world together and were both avid collectors, the center includes masterpieces by Borofsky, Brancusi, Calder, de Kooning, di Suvero, Gauguin, Giacometti, Hepworth, Kelly, Matisse, Miró, Moore, Picasso, Rodin, Rosso, Serra, and Turrell (obviously, we could go on). One of the grandest acquisitions is Jonathan Borofsky’s signature 2004 piece, Walking to the Sky, which depicts seven life-size figures defying gravity and climbing a one-hundred-foot pole that reaches toward the clouds. It’s a favorite of kids and adults alike. At different times during the year, the curators stage salons on topics pertaining to popular culture and urban living, which have become popular among the Dallas smart set. And to think, the Nasher occupies a space that used to be a surface parking lot between the Dallas Museum of Art and the Meyerson. My, my, how things have changed. 2001 Flora, 214-242-5100 or

Dallas Museum of Art

For sentimental reasons, we still miss the massive 53-foot orange spike-and-rope sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen that greeted visitors as they entered the main gallery of the DMA. Designed specifically for this building, which opened in 1984, that grand artistic statement was removed eight years ago in an effort to allow greater flexibility in displaying different pieces and exhibitions (read: the museum was moving in a new direction). We fondly remember it because it reminds us of the days of high school field trips with our art history teacher, the estimable Ms. Barrett, who once commented that “the DMA is trying hard to grow up.” Well, consider the evidence that it has: Over the past two decades the museum has added the Nancy and Jake L. Hamon Building (an additional 140,000 square feet for exhibits, offices, and a cafe); refurbished the third floor’s galleries, which feature the arts of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific; and redesigned the Flora Street entrance. The changes worked—the 2007 fiscal year marked the facility’s highest attendance ever. The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection remains a favorite (with more than 1,400 works from impressionists, postimpressionists, modern painting, and sculpture), and though the museum began charging admission in 2001, the sculpture garden, with its high walls, gentle fountains, and hidden nooks, remains free, just like in the old days. 1717 N. Harwood, 214-922-1200 or

Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art

Speaking of Ms. Barrett, she would be proud to know that one of her former students, Amy Lewis Hofland, is the director of this gem of a museum that sits across from both the DMA and the Nasher. The museum showcases more than six hundred pieces from China, Japan, Southeast Asia, and India, and many are taken from the private collection of the Crows, who began purchasing art in the sixties. In fact, the exhibit that runs through January 3, 2010, focuses on items from the family (an event that takes on an added significance given Trammell’s death, in January of this year). As you walk through the elegant rooms, marvel at delicate crystal spheres and jade carvings. And don’t forget to visit the Lotus Shop, which offers gifts and other items that allow you to take a piece of Asia home. 2010 Flora, 214-979-6430 or

Woodall Rodgers Park

City leaders hope that residents will one day refer to this development simply as “the Park”—which we’re willing to try at least until the long-discussed Trinity River Project springs to life. The planned addition to downtown (construction was scheduled to begin at press time) will cover the Woodall Rodgers Freeway, which currently carves a deep concrete canyon that divides downtown and Uptown. The park would be built over the highway between St. Paul and Pearl streets, directly west of the DMA and the Nasher. A key addition to the Arts District, the 5.2-acre park, at an estimated cost of at least $80 million, will feature a landscaped lawn, a dog park, a performance pavilion, a stage, fountains, a cafe, and a playground (if anyone asks, we’d love to see a sculpture honoring Raymond Nasher). It’s the kind of project—a mix of ambitious vision and commitment to quality of life—that makes us proud to be from Dallas. The only downside is that we’ll have to wait until 2011 for the grand opening. Above Woodall Rodgers Freeway, between St. Paul and Pearl;

Annette Strauss Artist Square

More than ten years after her death, Dallas residents continue to have strong feelings for the popular former mayor, who was known as a passionate supporter of the arts and the Arts District. That’s why it is so fitting that the city has returned the favor by naming the new home for outdoor productions—including concerts, plays, recitals, and festivals—for her. When the venue opens in the spring of next year, we’ll be among the five thousand fans enjoying the festivities in the heart of downtown and thanking Mayor Strauss once again for her leadership and love for Dallas. 2403 Flora, 214-880-0202 or

Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University

We will make an exception for this spot, which remains on our must-see list of Dallas arts destinations. No, it’s not part of the Arts District. Instead, it’s located on the campus of SMU, just a short drive north on Central Expressway. The museum recently closed a stunning exhibition on Diego Rivera and opened a new show called “Face and Form,” a study in modern and contemporary sculpture, in early October. The permanent collection features one of the strongest holdings of Spanish art outside Spain, including paintings, sculpture, and altarpieces. Given the number of masters represented here—Velázquez, Goya, Miró, El Greco, Gris, and Picasso, to name a few—you might be tempted to think that you’re standing in a gallery in the Prado. And don’t miss the Wave sculpture outside, by Santiago Calatrava (the Spanish artist and architect who is designing some of the signature bridges for Dallas’s never-ending Trinity River Project). SMU recently unveiled its new entry plaza, which features a sculpture garden, nine thousand square feet of green space, and a stunning terrace. On the SMU campus, 5900 Bishop Blvd.; 214-768-2516 or

Related Content