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How the Arts Are Transforming Dallas

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Photo: Martha Camarillo

The Women's Museum: An Institute for the Future, at Fair Park, is an institution that understands Dallas: despite all the cowboy-capitalism posturing, Dallas is a city run by women, an empire of estrogen. At the annual "Wine, Women, & Shoes" benefit auction, an I-am-woman-hear-me-roar army swarms through visual salutes to local icons Calamity Jane and think-pink cosmetics magnate Mary Kay Ash, then into the gift shop to buy T-shirts printed with well-behaved women rarely make history—a favorite item of the museum's director, Wanda Brice, a retired businesswoman who was on the powerful Citizens Council. Across town at the Latino Cultural Center, a graceful burst of color designed by the renowned Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta, Dolores Barzune, chair of the Friends of LCC, points to a series of commemorative plaques and dryly notes, "As you can see, I pretty much got money from anyone who would stand still long enough."

Women in Dallas work hard and shop hard; those from the Bubble—what the old guard call their insulated life in such North Dallas neighborhoods as Highland Park and Preston Hollow—joke that in the past the city didn't offer much else to do, so shopping came to be practiced with the ardor of devotional exercises. "These women love to shop, and they've shopped all over the world," says Brian Bolke, owner of the Uptown boutique Forty Five Ten. The fashionable go to salons that refuse to do big hair, and favor Bolke's store for doo.ri knits and Dallas designer Jan Barboglio's home furnishings. Dallas has more shopping centers per capita than any other U.S. city, including the oldest outdoor retail complex in the country—the 1931 Highland Park Village, now on the National Register of Historic Places.

The most sacred mall is NorthPark Center, built in 1965 by the late Ray Nasher of the Nasher Sculpture Center in the Arts District and surely the only mall in America with a 48-foot-tall Mark di Suvero sculpture. Last fall Barneys New York relaunched here with a benefit for Big Thought, an arts education program, and Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts, cochaired by Catherine Marcus Rose, granddaughter of Stanley Marcus. ("As with all things wonderful, there are burdens that come with that," she says. To grow up as a Marcus in a town where women dress up to go to a 7-11 is to be always on display.) Catherine's sister-in-law, Lela Rose, daughter of Dallas Museum of Art patrons Deedie and Rusty Rose, took her local sensibility to New York and became a fashion designer. "In Dallas, I learned my sense of color, which has been very important to my work," she says. "Women here have their own style and never followed the fashions in the rest of the country."

Dallas apparently doesn't follow fashion in arts patronage, either, and the recent gift to the DMA of some 1,100 pieces of art is a good example of how quickly the destiny of the city is changing. Last spring saw the DMA's second installment of a two-part exhibition drawn from the donation, and many more shows are planned. The idea for the gift came when two couples—Marguerite and the late Robert Hoffman, Cindy and Howard Rachofsky—started talking on New Year's Eve 2004 and woke up in 2005 deciding to donate their art and all future purchases. They were joined by several other contemporary collectors, including Rusty and Deedie Rose, and long-time benefactor Margaret McDermott (the widow of the late Eugene McDermott, cofounder of Texas Instruments, she donated Monet's Water Lilies—The Clouds) and her daughter Mary Cook.

The breadth of art that was given—spanning work by such postwar masters as Joseph Beuys and Jasper Johns and the Rachofskys' sizable holdings in Arte Povera and Minimalist art—is remarkable, but what's really innovative is the cooperation between the museum and its benefactors. The Rachofskys even moved out of their Richard Meier–designed place and gave it to the museum as a satellite exhibition space—now called Rachofsky House and open by appointment to groups of 10 to 25.

It's not surprising that John R. Lane, the Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art, would be in an expansive mood. Even when compared with the much-publicized gifts other American museums are enjoying lately, the DMA is on a roll. "The Dallas story is truly special and, in contemporary art, very significantly bigger and more institutionally transforming than any of the others."

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