Big D a State of the Art City

Big D a State of the Art City

DALLAS – History will forever record that on February 6, 2011, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in brand spanking new Dallas Cowboys Stadium to win Super Bowl XLV.

The game was a classic!

But the real “winner” that cold, blustery winter’s day wasn’t a football team or its fans but rather this oil-energized city whose motto of “Live Large, Think Big” is played out every day.

Dallas, known simply as Big D, put itself “out there” for the world to judge when it bid to host the coveted Super Bowl, America’s premier sport’s event whose fan base stretches around the globe.

Oil man Jerry Jones, owner of the legendary NFL Cowboys and one of Dallas’ most prominent citizens, even built a billion dollar stage (that’s what new Cowboys Stadium reportedly cost him) to show the world that Texans really do “Live Large and Think Big.”

And thousands came — there were over 10,000 international journalists accredited for the Big Game alone. But those arriving from Europe and Asia hoping to get a taste of cowboy culture got a culture shock instead.

Oil-rich Dallas, they quickly realized, is one of the most sophisticated cities in the world, boasting a fashion scene as vibrant as New York’s; an arts scene that rivals London and Rome; a food scene that mirrors Paris; and its modern skyline is as dramatic as Shanghai’s or Singapore’s.

The international visitors were impressed.

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Left: Dallas is one of America’s great art cities. Right: Public dominates the downtown core in Dallas.

And now Dallas, like its American cousins New York, Chicago and San Francisco, is globally accepted as a “world city” because it’s world class in every way.

There’s no better proof of that than Dallas’ commitment to the arts.

The city even created a downtown Arts District — the largest continuous urban arts district in the U.S. — and lined it with award-winning buildings designed by a Who’s Who of world famous architects — I.M. Pei, Renzo Piano, Sir Norman Foster and Rem Koolhaas.

And they filled those privately funded buildings — each a work of art in its own right — with some of the most treasured museum pieces in the world.

The impressive Dallas Museum of Art, established in 1903, anchors this vast district that covers 68 acres and spans 5,000 years of history. The Dallas Museum’s walls hang heavy with 23,000 impressive works from the ancient Americas, Africa, Indonesia, South Asia and Europe. And each year the museum holds world-class events — the recent Tutankhamen and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibition drew over one million visitors; demonstrating just how supportive the people of Dallas are about the arts.

Along the 19 city blocks that make up the Arts District, you’ll also find:

The Nasher Sculpture Center:

This is an institution dedicated to the exhibition, study and preservation of modern sculpture. Its stark interior is filled with abstract works (the yellow balloons exhibit was a real treat for me) from some of the most creative minds — including Picasso. But it’s the sculpture-filled garden at the back of the Nasher that truly impresses. Its lush lawns and man-made ponds sit in the shadow of some of Dallas’ most imposing buildings and it provides a great escape from the hustle and bustle going on outside.

The Crow Museum of Asian Art:

Here you will see an impressive collection of Chinese, Japanese and Indian artifacts usually reserved for national museums. The 750 Asian works that make up this museum — some dating back to 3,500 BC — are truly remarkable but the intricate pieces made from a single slab of jade are what impressed me the most.

The AT&T Centre for Performing Arts:

This $354 million entertainment complex, made up of two remarkable buildings — one whose exterior is covered in organ pipes — is where symphonies, operas and theatre are performed before appreciative audiences in near-perfect acoustics. No wonder world-renowned conductor Jaap Van Zweden was lured here to direct the Dallas Symphony at the AT&T Center.

Booker T. Washington High School:

Dallas kids are immersed in the arts at an early age and Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts is their training ground. Graduates of this remarkable school include Grammy Award-winning artists Norah Jones and Erykah Badu and local buildings appear to be the student’s blackboards — the incredible murals they create bring new life to old buildings. This city’s graffiti is a work of art.

By the time you finish soaking up all the culture along this art walk you’ll need to soak up some refreshment. So may I suggest you pull up a chair at Jorge’s Restaurant in One Arts Plaza — it’s located at the far end of the Arts District opposite Booker T. At Jorge’s, the southwestern food is spicy good and the Mexican beer is always bone-chilling cold. And, if you don’t want to walk the 19 blocks, the city provides free transportation aboard cute bubble trams that you can hop on and off.

Dallas’ culture is not confined to the Arts District, either. The city has many other museums that are spread throughout the downtown area and neighbouring districts.

There’s the African-American; the Museum of Nature and Science; The Women’s Museum, the infamous Sixth Floor Museum – the city’s former Book Depository Building from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal shots that killed President John F. Kennedy and changed the course of history; the Old Red Museum — it’s made of red sandstone and houses the city’s history; and the Museum of the American Railroad.

But the most impressive of all Dallas’ museums is the Meadows, located on the campus of renowned Southern Methodist University (SMU), where the largest and most comprehensive collection of Spanish art outside Spain has been assembled.


Above: The best designers were hired to build city’s museums at art galleries.

Texas oilman Algur H. Meadows ventured off to Spain in the 1950s in search of oil but came up empty. However, he did drill into Spanish art and brought home oil paintings (many of which were later determined to be forgeries) that formed the foundation of the spectacular museum that bears his name.

Now, “real” Spanish masterpieces painted by the brush of geniuses like El Greco, Velasquez, Ribera, Murillo, Goya, Miro and Picasso hang on the walls of the Meadows Museum, whose collection also features Renaissance altarpieces, monumental Baroque canvases, exquisite Rococo oil sketches, Impressionist landscapes, a few Henry Moores and a massive moving sculpture known as the Wave designed by Santiago Calatrava which greets visitors at the entrance.

But what really makes the Meadows Museum a world-class facility are the major exhibitions it’s able to attract. There’s no better proof of that than the recent Lost Manuscripts from the Sistine Chapel exhibit that was featured at the Meadows this past spring. Manuscripts painstakingly etched in gold by monks from the 11th and 12th centuries that have rarely been allowed out of the Vatican vaults were on full display at the Meadows for the enjoyment of its patrons. Amazing!

Dallas is also in the midst of creating an overpass garden that will connect all the art galleries in the downtown area with the city’s business and entertainment districts.

Dallas’ art scene even shows up in its biggest shopping mall, the NorthPark Centre, which features 30 modern pieces from the Nasher collection. The art is scattered about the massive mall that features all the European designer boutiques an oil millionaire could want. NorthPark, by the way, was the first mall in the U.S. to offer its shoppers air conditioned comfort when it opened in 1965. It’s been remodeled and expanded and looks as modern as the art pieces that fill its corridors.

But for all its worldly sophistication, Dallas retains the “small town” charm that makes it one of America’s most livable and likeable cities.

Its neighbourhoods are as varied as its museums — Hispanics, Asians, Europeans, gays and lesbians have all found a home here — and their presence is reflected in the great ethnic dining options offered here.

25dallas5 Left: Local high school students turn buildings into works of art.

And Dallas dispels the perception that most people have about Texas being a red neck state. Dallas’ gay and lesbian neigbourhood, known locally as “Gayborhood” is one of the most colourful anywhere — the city actually hosts more gay and lesbian festivals (Pride Week, Razzle Dazzle and major celebrations at Easter and Halloween) than any other U.S city.

Major hotel chains have certainly taken notice of what’s going on in Dallas and most of the 5-star groups have pitched their tents here, including W, Fairmont — the Fairmont Dallas where I stayed borders the Art District and is a great property — and most recently the Ritz-Carlton. But for my money, the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek is where I want to stay on my next visit to Dallas.

The elegant Rosewood — its distinguished rooms are cloaked in dark wood panelling, ornately decorated twisted columns, stained glass windows and recessed painted ceilings that look out on stunning gardens — harkens back to a more gentle time in Dallas history. The restored home that occupies five acres of prime property is one of the finest I’ve ever seen. The 300-room hotel that now stands beside it looks pretty good, too, and the vertical addition doesn’t take away from the original charm.

The Rosewood is also noted as a testing ground for some of Dallas’ best chefs. The most recent graduate was Dean Fearing, the celebrity chef lured away from the Rosewood by the Ritz-Carlton.

Fearing’s at the Ritz is casual dining at its best — it offers seven dining venues within relaxed rooms — and cowboy boots are welcome at this upscale eatery. The southwestern offerings at Fearing’s are simply amazing — the shrimp tacos were my favourites.

Fearing is just one of the celebrity chefs who have taken the food world by storm. Others, like Stephen Pyles, Kent Rathburn and Sharon Hage are now darlings of the Food network and their “neighbourhood” restaurants have all won awards and rave reviews from media and patrons.

Pyles’ restaurant, located next to the Fairmont Dallas, is another southwestern kitchen that is hot right now, and for good reason, I discover, after sampling some of Pyles’ offerings recently.

For noon-time fare, the previously mentioned Jorge’s in the Art District and Patrizio’s in Highland Park Village — the first shopping mall in the U.S. which now has been designated a National Historic Landmark — were my favourites during a recent tour.

Art, food, great museums, electric nightlife and colourfulneighourhoods — Dallas has it all.

Now, if only the Cowboys could win a Super Bowl and become a champion like the city they represent.



- Dallas is the 9th largest city in the U.S.

- It's the favourite place to visit in Texas with visitors – take that Houston!

- Dallas has over 200 golf courses.

- There are over 9,000 places you can eat in Dallas.

- The combined population of Dallas and Fort Worth equals 6.5 million.

- United/Air Canada run daily code share flights to Dallas from Toronto.






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