The Dallas Arts District got its formal start in 1978 when Boston consultants Carr-Lynch recommended that the city relocate its major arts institutions from different parts of Dallas to the northeast part of downtown. This location would allow for easy access and lead into an area destined to become a concentrated, lively mix of cultural and commercial destinations. The district is a fascinating profusion of museums, parks, performance centers and breathtaking architecture, some of it historic and some of it tantalizingly modern.
Here for you is a brief excursion to just four places (an outdoor park and three very different museums). That will provide indoor/outdoor fun for all ages:
The Dallas Museum of Art
The Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) was founded in 1903 and, as the first arts organization in the Arts District, is revered as the “grandfather” of the area. This legendary institution ranks among the leading art museums in the nation and is distinguished by its ever-changing exhibitions, attention to artistic movements ancient and modern, educational programs and diverse collection. The DMA is located just across the street from Klyde Warren Park in a beautiful 370,000-square-foot building, and its collection contains over 24,000 works of art spanning 5,000 years of human creativity.
The DMA grabbed national headlines in January when – thanks to support by art patrons, increased memberships and generous foundations – it eliminated its general admission fee! That’s right: a visit to one of the nation’s top art museums is now free! Open every day except Monday, the museum is confident that its many members will continue their patronage and hopes new visitors will become sponsoring members also. Visit dm-art.org.
Klyde Warren Park
Klyde Warren Park opened at the end of 2012 and features a children’s play area, dog park, fountains, open space for strolling and picnicking, putting green, jogging trails and tables for dining.
You may wonder how an expansive five-acre park could possibly fit into a busy downtown area. Here’s the secret: it was ingeniously built directly over Woodall Rogers Freeway! It presents an amazing view unlike any other. If you look eastward to the end of the park you’ll see automobiles zooming along the freeway, the vehicles in westbound lanes appearing to head toward you before disappearing soundlessly into the tunnel underneath. (And note the prominent directional sign for US 75 reading “McKinney”.)
Lined along the side of Klyde Warren Park are food trucks offering deli sandwiches, Chinese food, barbecue, even sushi! You’ll see kids at play, businessmen taking afternoon breaks, art patrons out for a breath of fresh air, society matrons, dog-walkers and a host of other eclectic characters. People-watching is yet another reason to visit this remarkable, free oasis in the middle of downtown! Visit klydewarrenpark.org.
Crow Collection of Asian Art
Located a few moments’ walk from the Dallas Museum of Art, one will find a gentle oasis of beauty, with fountains and an Asian garden nestled together with another fine museum, the Crow Collection of Asian Art. In 1997, Dallas developer Trammel Crow decided to share his passion for Asian art with the community, and commissioned a unique, aesthetically-pleasing museum to showcase one of the most important collections of Asian art in the United States.
Like the DMA, this beautiful spot is free to the public and open daily except Monday. Of the places described in this story, the Crow Center is the quietest and perhaps most serene. The first floor of the Collection is devoted to the art of Japan and features scrolls, ceramics and paintings. Upstairs are treasures of jade and art from China’s Imperial dynasties. Crossing the sky-bridge to a third section, visitors discover the arts of India, Southeast Asia, Tibet and Nepal.
If one is especially taken with Asian art and culture, the Crow Collection offers programs for young and old alike: family days with art, theater, music and cultural experiences, and observation of Asian holidays with traditional food and games.
For adults, a series of ongoing discussions with artists, scholars, musicians and experts on modern Asian issues are sponsored by the museum. Visit crowcollection.com.
Perot Museum of Nature and Science
The newest attraction near the Arts District is the spectacular Perot Museum of Nature and Science. This state-of-the-art, highly entertaining and educational museum opened in December after years of buzz and national press coverage. Named in honor of Margot and Ross Perot, the Museum began to take shape in 2008 with a $50 million gift made by their adult children. Thanks to public excitement – from local parents and children to some of the wealthiest people in America – an additional fundraising goal of nearly $200 million was achieved more than a year before the museum’s opening.
The excitement was well worth it. The new 180,000-square-foot museum features 11 permanent exhibit halls, a children’s museum that must be experienced to be believed, five floors of public space, a 3D digital theater and a specially-designed hall for showcasing the world’s finest traveling exhibitions. It’s open every day and parking next to the museum is available at $6 per car. Still in the midst of its opening rush, the Perot Museum is quite crowded. It is highly recommended that you make reservations before you go. (You can pre-purchase tickets online at perotmuseum.org, and scheduled entry times help minimize waits.)
Even the Museum building itself is a wonder, designed to look like a large cube floating over a landscaped base. Some of the piping and wiring within the walls is color-coded and left in view to reveal the intricacies of how buildings function. A rainwater collection system captures run-off water from the roof and parking lot, satisfying 100 percent of the museum’s irrigation needs and nearly three-quarters of other non-potable water needs. Famed architect Thom Mayne, designed the structure, explaining that key goals were to preserve information and transmit ideas. He was insistent that it be a place of particular inspiration to youth, saying, “A main user of this building is young children. It’s vital that it be useful to them ... Compelling to them.”
Mayne’s goal has clearly been met, as has that of the Perot family and the Museum’s many investors and patrons. Along with the adjacent Dallas Arts District, a trip to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science adds up to an inspiring day that’s hard to beat. See you in the new and exciting downtown Dallas! Visit perotmuseum.org.
Christopher Foster is a writer and photographer who lives in McKinney.