Cities of Learning

Dallas City of Learning Portrait

In the summer of 2014, the Chicago Art Department was invited to produce a series of videos for each of the cities participating in the Cities of Learning initiative—Dallas, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Chicago. We started in Dallas.


This was my first trip to Dallas, and our first day was a great introduction to the city. The day was hot (surprise)—in the low 100s with high humidity as we shot some of the city’s most famous features—Reunion Tower, the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, and the spectacular Klyde Warren Park in the Arts District.


Later that day, it was on to the Summer of Learning programs. Our first stop was the West Dallas Community Center where a robotics building demonstration and robot battle were underway. Teen mentors showed younger kids how to fine-tune their robotic machines. The battles pitted robot against robot in a (friendly) fight to the death, or immobilization, whichever came first. The intensity—and volume level—were high as young spectators screamed and cheered for their machine.


The next day we visited the Creative Solutions Program at SMU, where about 80 young people were creating art. But first, Latin dance to get the day started. The teens were fine-tuning their moves for a musical theatre production later in the summer. We moved on to the writing workshop where the youth were taking turns reading their poetry, slam style, on stage. The work was rich with personal experience. Passion overflowed from their words. A long line of personal composition notebooks were poised for the reading.


Further along, the art studios offered acrylic painting, spray painting, drawing, and ceramics. Outside, aerosol paint fogged the sunlight as the spray painting demo got underway. Nothing like one of the pillars of hip-hop to move people on a hot sunny day.


We moved on to the ultra-modern Dallas Theater Center where a spirited rehearsal of Les Miserables by 7-10-year-olds was underway. The summer theatre camp seemed fun yet intense. But it was clear the hard work was paying off in actors’ performances.


We spent our final day at Love Field for the Airport “TurnUP” event. Young people toured the behind-the-scenes inner workings of the airport. They climbed aboard large vehicles, saw a canine unit demonstration. The dogs would rocket out from the crowd to find objects in hidden spaces. And swag— a bunch of it. Kids were decked out in Love Field visors and Dallas City of Learning sunglasses and backpacks.


The Airport TurnUP culminated in a visit to the Frontiers of Flight Museum, a whimsical place with a Southwest 737 protruding from its facade and many planes housed within. Young people piloted the flight simulators and played in the faux cockpits. There was even a robot workshop using the leading edge MOSS system by Modular Robotics.


I flew directly out of Love Field that afternoon after our last shoot. It gave me a chance to think about the experience of the airport with fresh eyes. Even as an adult I’d never been behind the scenes at an airport. What it must have been like for a 10-year old. What a marvel a trip to the airport could be from the right point of view. An even greater marvel is to think about a city and all it has to offer. Dallas’ City of Learning truly opens up interest opportunities on a grand scale.
Dallas’ City of Learning in 2014 was a joint effort by the Mayor’s Office and Big Thought, a education nonprofit with deep roots in the city. More than 60 organizations took part.

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