Several hundred people — and rows of dignitaries — courageously defied some low-hanging overcast to witness the official, secular dedication of the $354 million AT&T Performing Arts Center this morning. The religious dedication was Sunday, and it featured prayers by a rabbi, an imam, a Catholic bishop and a Methodist pastor. (Insert joke here.) On an elaborately built stage in Sammons Park — and with the speaker system bouncing echoes off the Winspear Opera House behind the audience — various city officials and arts administrators thanked and praised and extolled. Dallas stage artist Ellen Locy (Echo Theatre) was the graceful emcee, introducing AT&T Performing Arts Center CEO Mark Nerenhausen, Mayor Tom Leppert and the other speakers, right down to AT&T senior executive VP Cathy Coughlin. It all ended with the relevant artistic directors and real-live performing artists — dancers from the Anita Martinez Ballet Folklorico, for example — demonstrating their estimable skills in walking to the front of the stage and standing for pictures.
Highest Ranking Elected Officials Present: Rep. Dan Branch and Rep. Eddie Berniece Johnson, balancing Republican and Democratic Party connections.
Literary Citations: Two. Nerenhausen pulled out the requisite ceremonial invocation of Shakespeare with a line from Love’s Labor’s Lost about the arts feeding the world. But AT&T Performing Arts Center Chair Howard Hallam made a more impressive stretch, quoting W. Somerset Maugham about the arts encouraging goodness. Possibly not the first time an acid-tongued, gay/bisexual novelist-playwright-espionage agent has been quoted at a major Dallas ceremony but probably the first time he’s been quoted about moral uplift.
Necessary Invocations of the Future and How All Our Children Will Benefit: At least four from city council members, notably Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway and Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano.
Most Impressive Performing Artist(s) on Display: Keala Settle, the Dallasite who belted the national anthem and will appear in South Pacific at the Winspear. Runners-up: the Dallas city police who actually made the parking and traffic work. Otherwise, real performing artists were prominent by their absence onstage here. It was mostly about donors and board members and city officials congratulating each other after more than a decade of effort to get these buildings up and running. The artists get to show off in the next couple weeks.
Economic Benefits Most Extensively Touted: Mayor Tom Leppert, winner by a wide margin.
Reflexive Campaigning for Other Political-Economic Projects: The mayor also swept this race. Oddly, no one else seemed to think that promoting the Convention Center hotel and the Trinity River Bridges was particularly relevant.
That’s One Way to Wake ’em Up Award: Howard Hallam’s opening declaration that “the dream of a new performing arts center began with me.” After the dropped jaws were picked up and re-inserted in people’s heads, he explained that until 1997, when he was appointed Arts District coordinator for the city of Dallas, there’d been no organization and no real money for the development of the center.
For updates as this week unfolds, check out our new Arts District micro-site.