As a contemporary artist in the 21st century, there are two paths to take: follow the inspiration, or follow the money. For Heyd Fontenot, director of CentralTrak, the nonprofit artist residency program of the University of Texas at Dallas, the goal of his job is to make sure the work comes first.
“I try to actually discourage students from becoming too commercially focused,” he says. “There’s a fork on the road, where artists have to ask themselves, ‘How serious are you about your art and giving it a spiritual nature, and how important is it you make 100 grand a year?’
“You can make the choice [for the latter], but then your art is a product, and you become a product designer.”
“Dallas is not on the map the way New York, London, Paris and Los Angeles are. This program could be really instrumental in making it more of an art center,” Fontenot says.
Helping artists follow the right inspirational path is just a small part of Fontenot’s job. Former Dallas Museum of Art director Richard Brettell, who is an endowed professor at UTD, created the 5-year-old program to have a twofold mission of promoting unparalleled artistic inspiration and encouraging critical engagement.
Cutting-edge national and international artists are invited to join a community of local talent, exposing both the general public and UTD students to work they might not otherwise have the opportunity to see.
“A lot of our [visiting] artists have never been to Texas. Dallas is a growing art center, but it’s not on the map the way New York, London, Paris and Los Angeles are. This program could be really instrumental in making it more of an art center,” says Fontenot.
Four participating grad students a year have an opportunity to work just across the hall from full-time professional artists, and the community benefits from such CentralTrak exhibits as “Painting of All Excuses,” from Havana Bienniale artists Raul Cordero and Michel “El Pollo” Perez, which premieres Saturday, January 19, at 8 pm, at CentralTrak’s gallery space on Exposition Avenue in Deep Ellum. The gallery is open to the general public on Saturdays and by appointment.
Fontenot brings a unique perspective to his role from being a working artist. As a painter, he specializes in nude portraiture in which “the personality is primary to the work,” and he has shown his pieces at one-man shows all across the state, as well as in New York, Oregon, Maryland, Florida, Canada and Germany.
Originally joining CentralTrak as an artist-in-residence, he curated the space’s “The Gun and Knife Show” in 2011. The event was enough of a success that Fontenot was approached to become the director of the program shortly afterward.
In his second year, Fontenot and his team are changing their focus from more frequent shows to exhibitions that are more thoughtfully curated. Up next is the March 9 “Failing Flat” group show, curated by former CentralTrak artist-in-residence Nathan Greene, which explores painting that moves beyond a 2-D surface, followed by the Fontenot-curated “That Mortal Coil” on May 11, which showcases art that rejects the notion of the ideal human body.
CentralTrak will also host artist’s talks and live musical performances, and it will serve as a performance space during the Texas Biennial this fall.
According to Fontenot, all it takes to create and sustain a city’s vibrant art scene is participation. “Were not expecting anything from you other than to show up and have an open mind.”
“Painting of All Excuses” runs through March 2 at CentralTrak. The gallery is open Saturday and by appointment.