Leslie Moody Castro is an independent curator and writer working out of Mexico City and Texas. Her resume is extensive and impressive, and her exhibitions thoughtfully acknowledge and integrate the audience and physical spaces they inhabit. This past spring, Moody Castro hit an unexpected wall when she arrived at CentralTrak, an artist residency that functions within The University of Texas at Dallas. Luckily, Moody Castro was fully equipped to scale that wall.
After spending two years planning and developing an exhibition featuring two international artists, budgetary issues proved to be a major obstacle. Unable to fully fund her project, Moody Castro couldn’t find a viable solution. “I didn’t totally understand why there were so many funding issues in Dallas,” Moody Castro said, “because there’s a lot of money and a lot of people that support the arts, and so many great institutions. There’s just no trickle-down.” Disheartened amid a city whose wealth can teeter on ostentation, her feelings were only solidified when she coincidentally arrived on the same day as the Dallas Art Fair. At the fair she witnessed the excess of open bars and catered meals, the dripping wealth of Dallas in full swing, and she just couldn’t fathom how the creative initiative of an amazing university program like CentralTrak was struggling with funding.
Feeling isolated, she described her dilemma and dismay to a friend who sharply responded, “Well, what does that say about your value? What does that say about the value the university places on CentralTrak?” This struck a major chord for Moody Castro, who resolved that it was certainly a conversation worth continuing—art and the value that’s placed on it or rather the lack thereof. This is a question faced not only by CentralTrak, Dallas, or even Texas; the cultural value and worth of art is placed into question virtually everywhere.
Feeling the deep need to investigate further, Moody Castro decided to cancel her initial exhibition idea and instead use the gallery as—to borrow a term from the curator—an “incubator” for conversations on art and value. These conversations expanded to explore the importance and trajectory of artists, curators, and cultural institutions. As a non-commercial art space, CentralTrak welcomed the alternate, experimental exhibition. “There may be shortages here,” said CentralTrak Director Heyd Fontenot, “ but also great freedoms, which allows for this example of institutional critique.” The physical space of CentralTrak remained completely empty for the duration of Moody Castro’s residency. Instead, the sharply titled “exhibition” I Should Have Been a Pop Star manifested itself outside the gallery in several abstract parts and through the politically bold absence of artwork within it.
Moody Castro wrote a series of six articles featured in The Dallas Observer (see below) that chronicled her observations, questions, and contemplations surrounding the problems she and the community felt they were facing. Along with these articles, there were multiple sessions and symposiums at which people could engage and speak their minds. Grievances, hopes, expectations, potential solutions, and goals were all discussed and listed on the white walls of the gallery in the hope of creating a proactive environment and dialogue within the microcosm of CentralTrak and Dallas. “It resembled something between a workshop and a town hall meeting,” said Fontenot. “It gave a lot of people the chance to ask questions and to be heard, which is almost always a remarkable thing.” (View all these sessions on YouTube below.)
As is so often the case, no grand solution was reached, though some precious progress was made in terms of community building—progress that Moody Castro doesn’t intend to let slip any time soon. Despite her residency ending, and without any dramatic victory within sight, Moody Castro, in concert with CentralTrak, has committed to returning to Dallas regularly in an effort to build on the momentum initiated by I Should Have Been a Pop Star. Every six months for two months at a time Moody Castro will re-engage with the community, keep the wheels of progress turning at CentralTrak, and with luck will eventually entice those with resources in Dallas and elsewhere to reconsider what they value—or, perhaps more realistically, find alternative modes for the arts to flourish in times of waning support.
I Should Have Been A Pop Star // Articles via The Dallas Observer: I Should Have Been A Pop Star | This Is Dallas | It’s Time to Make A List of What the Arts in Dallas Want | The Dallas Arts Need A Good Old Fashioned Call to Action | It’s a Big Moment for Dallas Arts | Leslie Moody Castro Isn’t Just Walking Away from Dallas
Rebecca Marino is co-editor of Conflict of Interest. She also works as a visual artist and curator in Austin, TX. While she has never worked with Moody Castro professionally, she looks up to her a great deal and considers her a wonderful friend.