The La Reunion years. It’s hard to know where to start with that organizational adventure. It was simultaneously one of the most serendipitous and yet alarmingly challenging projects I ever worked on. Within a month or two of my friend “C” asking me to start a artist residency with her, we concocted the name La Reunion. We felt that it encapsulated an international feel with a nod to all things Dallas and “Reunion” - Reunion Tower, Reunion Arena and so on. But we had no idea when we named it La Reunion that there was actually a colony of artists and musicians that had settled in Dallas in the mid-1800s that called themselves “La Reunion”! The Swiss, Dutch and French settlers brought the first piano, brewery, botanist and more to North Texas after a difficult passage from Europe. They failed miserably as a Utopian colony because they weren’t prepared for the difficult soil and harsh weather conditions, however they left a vibrant and artistic legacy in North Texas.
With serendipity as our guide, we somehow secured a 35 acre tract of land through an odd set of phone calls one day. The owners of the land loved our idea of an artist residency and invited us to explore establishing the La Reunion vision on their property in West Dallas (very near where the original colony settled!) As an organization with a proper Board of Directors, we went on to develop all sorts of programs on that land while we worked diligently behind the scenes on all the nonprofit infrastructure. We filled out the 45 page form 1023 nonprofit application with the IRS. We started working with artists almost immediately on environmental land art out on the site. We hosted community clean up days. As time wore on we executed an impressive architecture competition called Make Space for Art that yielded 69 entries from 19 countries around the world for what we envisioned: a totally green, almost off grid compound of live-work spaces for artists.
So many top-name collaborations too: Girl Scouts, Student Conservation Association, The Nasher Sculpture, The DMA, the local public media company where I would someday work. Art Con’s second event even filled the La Reunion coffers so we could have enough steam to launch everything. (Subsequent years the Art Con money went to other orgs. La Reunion got the money that year because I was essentially running both organizations. I'd go on to form and chair the board for Art Con, officially leaving after year six.)
During the La Reunion years I also hustled on the side like mad. I put on huge art shows in abandoned warehouses. I launched Pecha Kucha Night in Dallas with my friend Brian, which we ran together for several years together. I took on several paid curatorial events for small organizations that needed someone to “make the art part happen” for their event. Sometimes I even showed my own photography work.
I also somehow landed a top secret and super strange gig working as a personal assistant for an ungodly wealthy couple. Both were attorneys and they lived in one of those fancy Turtle Creek area high rises. I ran standard weekly errands for them but also executed several large projects. One time it was a complete overhaul of their entertainment technology - TV, speakers, wiring, cable, all that! (Not my strong suit, but I did it.) Sometimes I’d manage their private dinner parties and take coats from their guests and collaborate with the kitchen staff on meal service. And they had the most interesting guests for their dinner parties! I did all sorts of crazy things for this childless couple and they couldn’t have been nicer. I loved being a part of their lives, even though we only communicated through handwritten notes in the kitchen and I only saw them in real life like 8-9 times over the several years I worked for them. They were incredibly generous and probably have no idea how much that side money helped my family and me.
The La Reunion / hustle years were wonderful and challenging. Again, extremely lean times and the whole time we were also committed to homeschooling the children. Mostly Paul at this point though. At some point the challenges with La Reunion were too great for me to handle as Executive Director. There were land survey issues with the property that made it obvious I needed to step aside and let someone else run it. So I took a deep breath and after about 4 years of devoting my blood, sweat and actual tears to this project, I groomed someone else to take the reins.
I was moving on. To do what, I had no idea. I applied for a job with the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs, thinking this would be a good “next thing” for me but alas, I didn’t get the job because the other candidate had a Master’s degree and I didn’t. In German. A specialty not even remotely related to the position. Huh. All I would have needed was a piece of paper? I decided on the spot to look into getting a Masters degree.
But they’re tricky, you know? Masters degrees. So many programs to choose from, each with varying entry requirements, like the GRE. In the end, I settled on a program at SMU where I got to essentially create my own degree. It only mattered that I had a Bachelor’s Degree. No testing. Just a written entrance essay and a few other moving parts, but it wasn’t bad. Because if it didn’t even matter what the degree was in, like the recent job interview experience had taught me, then why not study exactly what I wanted to? And I would figure it out as I went along? The year was 2010.
Periodic updates from Aurah in the Field.