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Live TV Discussion of the State of Dallas’ Arts
by Jerome Weeks 16 Jun 2008

City Arts Festival Dallas iMedia Network hosted a special live program today at 2 p.m., a collective discussion of the state of the arts in the Dallas area, hosted by Lisa Embry, Dallas iMedia Network president/CEO. In the studio with her was an assorted dozen local arts leaders — from Jac Alder of Theatre Three […]


City Arts Festival

Dallas iMedia Network hosted a special live program today at 2 p.m., a collective discussion of the state of the arts in the Dallas area, hosted by Lisa Embry, Dallas iMedia Network president/CEO. In the studio with her was an assorted dozen local arts leaders — from Jac Alder of Theatre Three through Kirsten Brandt James of the Junior Players to Ann Williams of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

Part of the motivation behind the show — or at least the arts administrators’ participation in it — seemed to be a fear of possible budget cuts in city arts funding. Or arts support in general. Host Embry aimed the early discussion toward education programs, and straight off, James and Lisa Schreiner of the Dallas Children’s Theatre pointed out that city cuts would directly affect free or outreach performances for students.

Having participated in and hosted such arts summits, I can say that any give-and-take tends to turn into a series of separate pitches and pleas from the arts leaders. Embry introduced the program describing how she was helped in making certain that “each arts discipline is well-represented here today” — an admirably inclusive sentiment that can counter much depth of discussion. We got a blur of data, self-promotion and personal stories: how writing programs, for instance, have suffered along with arts programs (even though writing is considered a “core” subject in education), how young participants in the Video Association of Dallas have gone on to pursue it academically and professionally.

Among artists and arts administrators there’s a felt need to stand up for their art, justify their life’s work, against the general sense that they are sidelined from “the business of the city” — or the nation — sidelined from education requirements, sidelined from our electronic culture. It’s what arts administrators often do with great passion, after all. When they speak to boards, foundations or patrons, they defend their need for tax dollars, philanthropic dollars.

So we got some of that in this forum. The need to justify is also what motivates the argument that “arts are good for business,” an argument I have strong reservations about. It means that, rather than seeing the arts as a value in themselves, a human need, we will judge them on corporate terms. It’s a logical and practical argument for the arts to make and one that can be effective in the fundraising short run. But the arts can lose on those terms; ultimately, they’re not built that way.

Kim Campbell of the Dallas Wind Symphony: “Any city will be remembered by what we [artists] create in our time. … I don’t think anyone who will dig up the remnants of our society will say, ‘Woah, what a wonderful balance sheet this corporation had.'”

Other topics in the program included collaboration among cultural groups, scheduling, philanthropy, the lack of cultural coverage in much mainstream media and the financial impact of the arts (notably the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts as a kind of “critical mass” for attracting new businesses, new audiences). It’s often the seasoned veterans in such a gathering — such as Theatre Three’s Alder or Margaret Robinette of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs — who bring these subjects into a historical or expanded perspective.

What the gathering notably lacked in representation were any bigger groups: the Dallas Opera, Dallas Theater Center, Dallas Summer Musicals, Dallas Museum of Art, etc. The almost-Darwinian struggle between small and mid-size organizations for funding against the bigger ones, the ones with public facilities, took over a sizable portion of the program after Cora Cardona of Teatro Dallas expressed her fear that lovely buildings like the DCPA’s would drain away the funding resources out there.

“The Dallas Center for the Performing Arts is not the bad guy here,” countered Charles Santos of TITAS. “We have to find a way to bring home the needs of the artists — like health insurance. We have to find a way for supporters to understand the less sexy things” that are necessary for any organization to survive, like the core, administrative work. It was what he called “the Catch-22 of arts funding,”

In fact, as Bart Weiss of the Video Association of Dallas later said of the arts administrators present: “If it weren’t for the people in this room, many of the wonderful things that happen in this city wouldn’t happen.”

Dallas Cultural Affairs Commission Chair Judy Pollock asked for new ideas, new incentives — the way other states, for instance, have linked the interests of hunters and fishermen with arts funding. “We need to think big,” she said.

Embry ended the show with the desire that it would become a monthly “arts focus” program on iMedia: “We just really scratched at the surface. Next time: We’re going to invite some of you back along with some new faces.”

  • For those of you who missed it, this show will air again at 9 tonight on Dallas iMedia Network. And it should be streaming at http://www.dallasimedia.com.

    It was great to hear Art&Seek come up in the discussion. Thanks to both Cultural Affairs Commission Chair Judy Pollock and Bart Weiss, head of the Video Association of Dallas, a prof at UT-Arlington, and a regular guest blogger here.

    As they mentioned, we are indeed about community collaboration here at artandseek.org. If your arts group hasn’t created a profile or submitted events to the Art&Seek calendar, please do so by going to artandseek.org and clicking on the links at the bottom of the page. And feel free to join the discussion by commenting on the Art&Seek blog.

    • My 15 year old zine has spent more than one issue on this art center concept so for me the idea has developed over many years. And I’ve had time to think about it in some depth.
      The art center I envisage wouldn’t be forced on anyone, and certainly indie groups like yours that preferred their own space could opt out of it. But for hundreds of larger local groups, and thousands of local artists, musicians, writers, actors, architects, clothes designers, filmmakers, etc. that are not part of any group, and social groups that needed nothing but a place to assemble for speeches, talks, services, or anything else, PLUS countless traveling shows of more musicians, painters, theater groups, etc. etc. etc. from all over the country and the world, – it would be a big plus. And of course it would be heaven for anyone who loves arts and or wants to teach the value of arts to his family or any teacher who wants to show a variety of arts to his class.
      On my part I would use the art center to join other Dallas artists in local artworks display, to play my music in performances, to display and or sell my zine and other publications, to offer my plays to theater groups, show my videos, etc. etc. etc. For those artists like me an art center open to all would obviously be a great boon. And with some real competition for the better rooms in the art center at the better weekend times , you are more likely to end up with great art. Competition like that always has helped art in the past. And of course the prices – all minus building costs and maintenance would be very reasonable for anyone. But that is another post in itself.
      Also I add that there is no reason it would have to be just one in all of Dallas. Why not 5 or 6 – one for every major section of town. Then a theater group could do a circuit and play for all the city. Instead of one Dallas art center – you have five or six.
      But overall this idea would show city support for all arts WITHOUT them being the judge and jury of any art. And instead of a limited use concert hall for example – where the only use for the room is music concerts on weekends, we would have flexible art spaces that could be utilized almost every hour of every day.
      PS continued success with your theater!

  • There is an easy solution to all of this. But it takes a change of direction and attitude of all the artists, art groups, city government, and people involved. This is something I’ve written at length about in my 15 year old Dallas zine.
    Instead of the city being the judge and jury of what art groups get funding and a place for their art – we need to switch to an entirely new approach.
    Let the city spend it’s art money on a large OPEN TO ALL art center. Then let them get out of the way. And stay out of the way. No one seems to know less about what is good art then government bureaucrats.
    Once the art center is open. And make sure it has space for theater, music, exhibits, lecture halls, and all the rest. Then any art group can sign up for using its space. Also you now have a space for the best of traveling exhibits and artists from outside Dallas.
    AND because you have assorted sized places within the art center building – you can accommodate artists from the barely famous to the big-deal art group.
    Unlike the so called Dallas arts district – that is no more than a rich society playground as it is (a place that the bulk of Dallas doesn’t want anything to do with); this idea for a city built art center would be open to all. And it would not be dependent on any funding problems – they would be covered by the city. And the innovative artists would not have to bow down to the provincial attitudes that seem to head almost all the arts groups that I’ve known in Dallas.
    Imagine such a center. Each week changing art exhibits showcasing local and traveling art shows. Each week new theater in the theater. Each week assorted lectures in the smaller rooms, and music of all kinds daily.
    Also note the lack of bureacracy and politics.
    New century deserves new ideas.

  • Jac Alder

    What Tom Hendricks imaginative proposal leaves out is a way for organizations to be supported who don’t want to be fitted into buildings designed, operated and built by the city. As a former architect, part of the implications of that proposal make me shudder — deeply.

    Theatre Three, the Dallas Children’s Theatre, Kitchen Dog Theatre, The Contemporary Theatre and Addison’s Watertower Theatre need — in order to fulfill their mission — 100% of the use of a facility. It’s not that we’re not nice and won’t share facilities (in fact we do) but not on a city employee-determined schedule. Rather we share within guildelines/restraints of our our mission and performance schedule. Example: at Theatre Three The Writers Garret author presentations (which used to be recorded for play on KERA FM), play reading workshops for artists (like Tom Sime) or even Sunday morning church services for a neighborhood congregation are events we “house” as well as over 350 performances a year of our plays.

    Theatre Three’s long contribution to this city has only been possible because we fashioned (and built it all on our own without public funs) a building be house our year-round, theatre-in-the-round.

    But an implication of Tom’s blog that the city should provide facilities support for all — not just those in city owned buildings — would be a good core value which is, in my view, out of focus in the present cultural policy. Let me point out I am grateful for the programming support we get, but it doesn’t add up to the costs of facility.

    All this is going to take lots of working out. Public money in Dallas spent on the Arts (in whatever fashion) is a great investment giving the city huge returns. And I mean money returns, not only returns of entertainment and enlightenment. More people attend capital A arts events (museums, theatres, classical concerts, etc.) than attend professional sports events. The citizenry is paying attention. It’s up to our City Councilpersons and Mayor to reflect that attention and care and — even in a tough budget year — to protect the gains of the Arts in Dallas.

    JAC ALDER, Executive Producer-Director,Theatre Three

  • Response to Jack Alder. Some clarifications. The city would not determine who works at my concept of an art center. As I said:
    Let the city spend it’s art money on a large OPEN TO ALL art center. Then let them get out of the way. And stay out of the way. No one seems to know less about what is good art then government bureaucrats.
    It would be open to all with larger rooms for more established local theater groups like yourself.
    Also the center I envisage would surely be open to reading workshops, and church groups looking for a place to meet. It is hard to suggest all the uses for an open art center but they are all included though I can’t list all possibilities.
    Could your group share the facility IF all the cost of the facility was off your backs? Surely that trade off would allow Theatre Three to spend all its time on the art and not on the money end. And you could charge much less for tickets – because it costs you much less to put on productions.
    I think any inconvenience of sharing a theater would be more than offset by the financial benefits. Also having a general center would bring Theatre Three to all the other art groups and the other art groups to Theatre Three.

  • Jac Alder

    Tom Hendricks and I are driving at the same thing: let the city take financial responsibility for facility and facility maintenance for the arts. I certainly buy that part. And I even think it might be a realistic goal: there are decades of precedence for facility support for the very large and established organizations.

    It should be said, though, that these older institutions “earned” their way into those buildings by raising most if not all the capital that built (or rehabbed) their structures. Though I’m all for the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts being successful, most of the performances and exhibitions offered to Dallas and its visitors will still (thankfully) be all over the place, not just in one “center”.

    I’m personally pleased that there’s art, performances, rehearsals, classes etc. happening all over the city; in city-owned buildings like rec centers where Junior Players has 14 summer camps going, or the programming in the White Rock area at the Bathouse Cultural Center. Then there are the touring shows in the Majestic or at The Music Hall (still viable big-venues). There’s even McFarlin Auditorium on the SMU campus and the Meadows Museum there. Kitchen Dog and Theatre Three are in the Uptown Area. The Frank Lloyd Wright building is in Turtle Creek/Highland Park and The Dallas Children’s Theatre serves north of Northwest Highway. There’s the Bishop Arts Center in Oak Cliff. There’s Teatro Dallas over by St. Paul’s (an area which in the ’60s was also trying to be known as Uptown!). And lots lots more.

    Having arts all over — and depending, at least in part on individual and entrepenurial spirit to make it happen — is, I think, a good and important thing.

    One arts center couldn’t possibly embrace all the present activity let alone the future activities. Certain artists and certainly organizations (Theatre Three included) want a specific design of a space that reflects mission and core values. Some “room” at the Arts Inn certainly wouldn’t be desirable for us. We built the theatre we want for our purpose. I think that’s as worthy of support by the city as the Art Museum or the Meyerson.

    But back to what we agree about: relieving arts organizations of facility costs is a great boon — to those who get that relief. And I hope we agree that now we’ve got some arts momentum going in Dallas (gosh, six million people came to capital A arts events last year!), it’s short sighted for the city to contemplate Arts cuts — or for that matter shortsighted for individual philanthropists to cut back on arts programing support now that capital goals have been met.

    JAC ALDER, Executive Producer-Director