Dallas, Fort Worth Battle For Cultural Supremacy
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Now the latest on an old rivalry between two big-city neighbors in Texas: Dallas and Fort Worth. Lately, they've been competing on a new front, the arts. They're jockeying for bragging rights over which one has the best theater, music, museums - the list goes on.
As you're about to hear, even NPR's two resident Texans got a little competitive just telling this story.
John Burnett has the view from Fort Worth, and Wade Goodwyn gets us started in Dallas.
WADE GOODWYN: People from Dallas are too polite to tell you the truth to your face. But ask somebody like Turtle Creek Chorale artistic director Jonathan Palant, who's from out of state and who recently moved to Dallas, and he has no problem identifying the essence of the town that calls itself Big D.
Dr. JONATHAN PALANT (Artistic Director, Turtle Creek Chorale): You know, everything's bigger and better in Dallas. You've got to understand that. Everything's bigger and better in Dallas.
JOHN BURNETT: Wade, there's an old saying that Fort Worth is where the West begins and the East peters out. They're proud of their Western heritage over here. They're proud of their art museums, and they think that maybe the biggest thing about Big D is its ego.
GOODWYN: Well, I think they call that skyscraper envy, John, and looking at the city of Fort Worth, I can see why. Speaking of stunning views of downtown, the view at night from the city's new arts district is magic. It's 6:30 p.m., and the patrons at the Wyly Theater are buzzing. They're about to see a world-premiere musical comedy in Dallas's new state-of-the-art playhouse. George and Jean Coleman(ph)...
(Soundbite of laughter)
GOODWYN: ...are walking down a steep ramp. One descends into the facade. It's misting, and the sharp angle of the concrete glistens as light from the lobby pours upward. It looks like if you slipped, you wouldn't stop until you rolled up to the lobby bar, but it's an illusion.
Mr. GEORGE COLEMAN: As I said to Jean, I hope there's no ice on this ramp coming down.
GOODWYN: It's Thursday night, and the Colemans are dressed to the nines. This is their first time to see a performance at the Wyly Theater. Their eyes sparkle. Theater and concert-goers park underground, but the architects designed it so that everyone emerges into a large, public space that spans two blocks.
Ms. JEAN COLEMAN: It's wonderful to see this many people walking, which is why the man behind us said, I didn't realize I had to come outside to get to the theater. And I thought, it's like the real world. You know, he's coming outdoors.
GOODWYN: The Colemans wave and stroll away, arm in arm, down the broad ramp.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Right now. (Unintelligible).
GOODWYN: Kevin Moriarty is the artistic director for the Dallas Theater Center.
Mr. KEVIN MORIARTY (Artistic Director, Dallas Theater Center): Well, this is a theater unlike any other theater building in the world.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Right now. Right now. Right now.
Mr. MORIARTY: We broke box office records with our opening production, which was "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The play happened in the audience, around the audience, with the audience. And we were able to do things we've never been able to dream of in 50 years.
GOODWYN: The Wyly Theater is directly across the street from the brand-new Winspear Opera House.
(Soundbite of song, "Adeste Fideles")
GOODWYN: The Turtle Creek Chorale, Dallas's gay men's chorus, was among the first to perform at the new opera house. In addition to the opera house and the new theater, the 68-acre arts district includes the Meyerson Symphony Hall, the renowned Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts - and soon to come, another, more-intimate venue called the City Performance Hall. It's all been $355 million and 30 years in the making.
It's long been a source of embarrassment that not only was Dallas behind Houston when it came to world-class venues; it was behind Fort Worth, too. It was humiliating. Ah, but now it's all different.
Turtle Creek Chorale artistic director Jonathan Palant hails from the Midwest. He's only been in Dallas three years, but already that Big D mindset has begun to infect him like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."
Dr. PALANT: I go to Fort Worth to see the cattle. I go to Fort Worth to go to Babe's Chicken.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GOODWYN: He's just kidding, John. He says he likes to go kicker dancing in Fort Worth, too.
BURNETT: Wade, there's a lot more going on in Fort Worth these days than boot scooting to a pedal steel guitar.
Last year, the Kimbell Museum, which already has works by Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso, scored a coup when it acquired a remarkable painting.
Here's museum director Eric Lee.
Mr. ERIC LEE (Director, Kimbell Art Museum): We're standing in front of Michelangelo's first painting, "The Torment of Saint Anthony," which he created when he was 12 or 13 years old. This is the first work of art for which Michelangelo received widespread recognition and even fame, according to his early biographers.
BURNETT: The 522-year-old painting shows a bearded Saint Anthony in his brown tunic, surrounded by winged demons. If you turn around and walk outside, there's more. Here on the western lawn, the Kimbell will break ground this year on a $70 million addition designed by world-renowned, Italian architect Renzo Piano. It will double the gallery space for the Kimbell, whose existing building, by architect Louis Kahn, is considered a masterpiece.
But there's something else about standing outside the museum that celebrates Fort Worth's uniqueness.
Mr. DOUG HARMAN (Former City Manager, Fort Worth): This morning, I stood outside of the building that houses Michelangelo's first painting, and I smelled cow manure. Well, you know, cow manure is a very special, positive smell in Fort Worth. Immediately, across the street from the Kimbell, are the horse barns and the stock show.
BURNETT: Former city manager and civic booster Doug Harman points out that the Will Rogers Coliseum, from whence I smelled the scat, is home to rodeos and cutting horse contests, and it's part of the same, thousand-acre arts district. After all, Fort Worth's civic slogan is Cowboys and Culture.
They say that Dallas looks east, while Fort Worth looks west.
Here's a 1944 radio broadcast from the coliseum.
(Soundbite of archived audio)
Unidentified Announcer: In the colorful and great city of Fort Worth, Texas, Fort Worth, a city made famous for the livestock industry, in fact known as the livestock capital of the West and which later became a leading oil center when the black gold was discovered under the ranches around Fort Worth.
BURNETT: The Forth Worth-Dallas rivalry had its heyday from the 1930s to the 1950s, when oil tycoon Amon Carter ran the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the city. Today, the Amon Carter Museum has an excellent collection of Frederic Remingtons, Charles Russells and Georgia O'Keefes.
The cultural district also includes the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art, the brand-new science and history museum and the new botanical research institute, which is under construction.
Dallas may have more shopping malls and Fortune 500 companies, but art lovers in Fort Worth believe their museums are superior, and the new Kimbell edition is more proof.
Again, Doug Harman.
Mr. HARMAN: I think they're still keeping score in a Fort Worth way, and they just smile to themselves, and they're proud of Fort Worth.
BURNETT: They're also a little resentful. Ruth Carter Stevenson is Amon Carter's daughter, and president of the museum that bears his name.
Ms. RUTH CARTER STEVENSON (President, Amon Carter Museum): You know, they turn up their nose at us, I think. Dallas has always had an ego that perhaps, Fort Worth doesn't.
BURNETT: So Wade, Fort Worth residents are happy that Dallas has a fancy new opera house and a theater center that have raised its cultural profile. They're saying, what took you so long, partner?
I'm John Burnett.
GOODWYN: And I'm Wade Goodwyn, in nicer-smelling Dallas.
ROBERT SMITH: Wait just a minute there, boys. It's NPR's Robert Smith in New York City - you know, a real performing arts town.
(Soundbite of music)
SMITH: From the home of Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Broadway, the Metropolitan Museum, some final words about the art scene in Dallas and Fort Worth: How quaint. Keep it up.
(Soundbite of applause)