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West Side Stories: Part Five

Music and journalism across the Trinity

In honor of the opening festivities surrounding the new Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, SMU Meadows brings you this five-part Web series exploring our connections with architect Santiago Calatrava, the new bridge and West Dallas. Stay tuned for a new story every day this week, leading up to opening celebrations on the bridge March 2-4. The bridge will open to vehicular traffic in late March or early April 2012.

Read Part Four: Bridging the gap — Art as social practice

Relationships between SMU Meadows and residents of West Dallas continue to broaden and deepen. The “Artspace: Mapping Sites of Social Change” and “Art as Social Practice” classes have been established; the Art Burst youth festival, led by adjunct professor Bernie Diaz and SMU students, will take place on Saturday, March 2, as part of the festivities surrounding the opening of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge; SMU alumni and students will show their work at the “Bridged” art exhibit March 2-4 at the old Quality Ironworks factory on Singleton Boulevard.

The new Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge will connect Dallas and West Dallas across the Trinity River.
Photo by Kim Ritzenthaler

But there is more.

Veteran journalist Gabriel Escobar’s new class, “West Dallas Beat,” takes SMU students into West Dallas to flesh out stories as experienced by local nonprofit organizations.

“The idea is to use the world of the nonprofits both to understand West Dallas and to then go into the neighborhood,” says Escobar, who is also an editorial writer for The Dallas Morning News and has held positions as metropolitan editor for The Philadelphia Inquirer, foreign correspondent for The Washington Post and associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center.

Students benefit from his journalistic experience as they learn how to collect information, thoroughly understand their subjects and write in a way that is compelling to mass media readership.

“We are in the first stage now, so students are still working on stories about their individual agencies,” says Escobar. “This, of course, requires them to leave SMU and spend time in West Dallas. All have done this very successfully. That experience alone has been very rewarding and illuminating for the students. I can tell both by the work they are submitting and by the excitement they express in sharing their experiences in class.”

The connection between Meadows and West Dallas via music is also blossoming. 2010 Meadows Prize winner Will Power, internationally known for his unconventional meshing of hip-hop and traditional theatre, devoted four weeks working with teenagers from West Dallas’s Pinkston High School on break dancing, rhyming and emceeing. Power asked the teens to build a deeper understanding of what they can do as hip-hop artists and to reflect on how they can use their art to inspire their peers and community.

On the other end of the musical spectrum, SMU Professor of Voice Virginia Dupuy brought classical music to Pinkston students through a field trip to the annual “Meadows at the Meyerson” fundraising concert, where Pinkston teens took in the Meyerson Symphony Center and listened to a great cross-section of musical genres, including the Meadows Wind Ensemble’s jazz-inspired Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs, followed by the blazing Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. The Meadows Opera Theatre, Meadows Chorale, Meadows Concert Choir and Meadows Symphony Orchestra rounded out the program with highlights from the popular hit operetta Candide, based on Voltaire's novella and conducted by Maestro Paul Phillips. After this musical feast, the Pinkston students visited with the Meadows musicians.

“I recently learned that Pinkston High has included a choral director in its budget for 2012-13,” says Dupuy. “We’re thrilled with this news and will determine ways for SMU singers to be involved in nurturing a viable program at Pinkston.”

Graduate student Kelly Vowell (B.M., Piano Performance and Pedagogy, ’12) brought her time and talents to the West Dallas Community School over the summer of 2011, where she had a six-week internship made possible through the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility. As she taught her 20 students, it turns out she, too, was learning.

“One student in particular was having difficulty understanding a concept that I was trying to teach her,” says Vowell. “We repeated an exercise to help drive this concept home, but she could not perform the exercise consistently right. I thought for sure that she would become frustrated and get tired of it – even I was starting to get frustrated – but after each mistake she just laughed and put her nose right back to the grindstone to try again. This was a good lesson for me, not only in persevering (cheerfully!) but in flexibility.”

Vowell kept a blog tracking her experiences, which culminated in her students giving a recital attended by nearly 100 parents, friends and school faculty. “I was so blessed to receive feedback and thanks from the parents,” she says. “The foremost question I received was ‘Where do we go from here?,’ meaning the parents wanted their children to continue their lessons. I could not be more proud of my students; from the moment they walked onto the stage to their final bow, each student exhibited confidence, dignity and a healthy sense of pride in the work that they accomplished over the summer.”

The opening of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge this weekend brings celebration for the city and promise to West Dallas. Developers are primed for opportunity; residents want progress but also want their culture and heritage preserved. Albert Valtierra, spokesman for the Dallas Mexican American Historical League, says that as West Dallas neighborhoods undergo change and urban renewal, the relationship between West Dallas and SMU has been helpful to both communities. “West Dallas benefits from the resources available at SMU,” he says, “and SMU benefits by the historical aspects we provide and the opportunities to apply art in its many forms.”

And according to the recommendations made by Creative Time, the New York-based arts incubator and 2009 Meadows Prize winner, it is this kind of collaboration, with arts leadership in the midst of urban renewal, arts education for grades K-12 and arts in unexpected and culturally rich places, that are key to creating and maintaining a vibrant Dallas arts community.

<>More information:

West Side Stories: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

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