Editor's note: After the coronavirus pandemic devastated Dallas' arts scene in 2020, this year proved one of comebacks for museums, theaters, musicians, and tours — even if it meant figuring out a "new normal." Challenges continued: Some venues closed again as COVID cases surged, and a winter storm wreaked havoc on a local amphitheater. CultureMap readers clicked on headlines about these struggles and setbacks, but also devoured announcements of new exhibits and shows (especially about painter Frida Kahlo, who appears twice in this list). Here are the top 10 most-read Dallas arts stories of 2021.
1. George W. Bush's new portraits of 43 immigrants include famous faces and everyday heroes. George W. Bush came back on the canvas in spring. On April 20, the former U.S. president, a self-described "simple painter," unveiled 43 new portraits of inspiring immigrants at the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University. "Out of Many, One: Portraits of America's Immigrants" is a limited-time exhibit that includes portraits of celebrities and everyday heroes whom Bush painted to "remind us of the countless ways in which America has been strengthened by those who have come here in search of a better life." It was open only a few months before the Bush museum closed again due to a COVID-19 surge; the museum fully reopened again in October. The exhibit will run until January 3, 2022.
2. 5 fascinating works by Frida Kahlo come to Dallas for a limited time. Dallas fans of Frida Kahlo got a rare treat last spring when a local museum displayed five privately held works by the renowned Mexican painter. The Dallas Museum of Art presented "Frida Kahlo: Five Works," March 7-June 20. The showcase included four paintings and a drawing on loan from a private collection, courtesy of the Galería Arvil in Mexico City. It ran simultaneously with "Devoted: Art and Spirituality in Mexico and New Mexico," featuring works from the DMA’s Latin American collection.
3. Dallas is going crazy right now with colorful outdoor statement murals. Dallas was going mural-crazy in March. Maybe it's that we were spending more time outdoors. Or maybe we were all about the 'gram. Or maybe we were just going insane after being inside for a seemingly endless pandemic-driven sabbatical. But in early 2021, outdoor murals had become a legitimizing statement piece that every company seemed to crave, whether it was a shopping center, mixed-use district, or convenience-store chain.
4. Wicked opens in Dallas as first Broadway tour in U.S. after pandemic. When Wicked opened at the Music Hall at Fair Park on August 3, it not only signaled the return of Dallas Summer Musicals but also was the first touring Broadway show in the country to open. "Wicked shows us there's no place like home — and we can't think of a better way to welcome home our Broadway shows at the Music Hall than with this long-running, award-winning fan favorite," said DSM president Ken Novice in the May 5 announcement.
5. Pocket Sandwich Theatre tossed out of Dallas home after 3 decades. Pocket Sandwich Theatre, which had called a Mockingbird Lane shopping center home for more than 30 years, was forced to move after the center's landlord refused to renew their lease, the Dallas theater group said in August. The complex — Mockingbird Central Plaza, at 5400 E. Mockingbird Ln. — was sold in 2020 while the theater was struggling to survive amid the pandemic. After meeting with the new owners, Pocket Sandwich personnel were told that the theater did not fit with the new owners' vision for the shopping center and would need to vacate their corner space at the end of their lease in December 2021. They've just announced their plans to move to Carrollton.
6. Dallas billionaire's Impressionist art trove fetches astounding $332 million at auction. Impressionist masterworks from late Dallas oil tycoon Edwin L. Cox valued at $200 million sold for a whopping $332 million through a Christie's auction on November 11. "The Cox Collection: The Story of Impressionism" helped power Christie's to its second-highest total for an auction ever notched in a single evening — $751.9 million. Cox, an oil and gas tycoon for whom the SMU business school is named, died November 5, 2020 at the age of 99. His collection featured works by Vincent Van Gogh, Gustave, Caillebotte, Paul Cézanne, and more.
7. Tragedy for Shakespeare Dallas as storm devastates park's amphitheater. First came coronavirus, then came Winter Storm Uri. The dangerous February weather that froze Texas and burst oh-so-many pipes was the latest hit for Shakespeare Dallas, which performs at the amphitheater in Samuell-Grand Park in East Dallas. The park was basically "inoperable," said executive and artistic director Raphael Parry. Fortunately, they made a triumphant return for the summer.
8. Hamilton, Wicked, and more big Broadway shows are Dallas-bound in 2021. Only a day after a comprehensive COVID-19 plan was outlined by the newly sworn-in President Biden in January, Dallas Summer Musicals felt optimistic enough to announce a 2021 lineup, with live, in-person touring musicals — including blockbusters Hamilton and Wicked — ostensibly coming to Dallas in August of this year. It was an ambitious announcement, as Actors' Equity Association was still mandating strict COVID standards regarding community spread and testing.
9. New immersive experience will bring the paintings of Frida Kahlo alive in Dallas. Proving that Dallas loves Frida Kahlo, she made a second appearance in our top stories list in November. It was announced that art lovers would have the chance to step inside the world of the iconic artist when the exhibition "Frida: Immersive Dream comes to Dallas" in spring 2022. The exhibition will take place from February 3 to at least April 17 at Lighthouse Dallas.
10. Firehouse Theatre's artistic director resigns after COVID-19 show scandal. Artistic and education director Derek Whitener resigned from The Firehouse Theatre in Farmers Branch, according to a notice that briefly appeared on the company's website. The announcement was dated two weeks after The Firehouse's production of Back to the '80s! was suddenly canceled in October 2020 due to a COVID-19 outbreak, and the theater lost it Equity status from Actors' Equity Association. The theater stepped up its safety protocols and released a 2021 musical season in April.