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by Jerome Weeks 19 Oct 2010

This morning’s arts news highlights: A new SMU literary mag online — aimed at Dallas stories from high schoolers — the Undermain entering its 27th season in fine fettle, the decline in giving to nonprofits doesn’t include a local university and tonight’s acclaimed Frontline program about Texas’ possible execution of an innocent man.


LOOKING FOR TALES OF THIS CITY: SMU students Rebecca Quinn and Drew Konow (above) have launched an online literary magazine, Tale of One City. Not exactly big news, but Tale is targeting Dallas high school students — writers and artists — to relate their experiences in Big D. Quinn and Konow were inspired by the city’s decades-long struggle over school segregation, and they hope to inspire “communication among different ethnic and socioeconomic groups.” First prize is $500, two runner-ups a runner-up gets $250 and the deadline for submissions is Nov. 7.

AND YOU THOUGHT YOUR NONPROFIT WAS HURTING: The Chronicle of Philanthropy has found that donations to the country’s top 400 charities — including arts organizations — have dropped by 11 percent last year, the worst decline in two decades. No surprise, but what’s worth looking at is the Chronicle‘s searchable database. None of the top arts organizations (Lincoln Center, John F. Kennedy Center) is in Texas, but they took some serious beatdowns (Metropolitan Opera: -35 percent). And among the leading non-profs that are in Texas (American Heart Association, Komen for the Cure), the ones really hurting are generally the universities. UT-Southwestern (-nearly 21 percent), UT-Austin (-16 percent). But the local anomaly is SMU: + 37 percent.

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE MONEY: Speaking of non-profs, hurting and not hurting, Lawson Taitte checks in with the Undermain Theatre, opening its 27th season this week with David Rabe’s The Dog Problem. Last season was one of the Deep Ellum company’s strongest (Port Twilight, The Black Monk) and Lawson points not just to the capital and endowment campaign that’s garnered the little basement theater nearly $1.9 mill so far. It has been the association with such artists as set designer John Arnone, costumer Giva Taylor and SMU drama head Stan Wojewodski Jr., who directed last season’s Endgame.

TONIGHT ON PBS: The New York Times reviews the new Frontline report, “Death by Fire,” about the Cameron Todd Willingham case of arson-and-possible-wrongful-execution, which is still simmering in Texas.

The stir created by the [latest] largely symbolic hearing confirms one of the points made in “Death by Fire,” which is that the central question in the Willingham case — Did he set the fire that consumed his house, or did it start accidentally? — has been overtaken by Texas politics, the emotions surrounding the death penalty and the pride of Corsicana, a small city in the oil fields south of Dallas.

Critic Mike Hale chastises the program for its occasional “condescension toward Corsicana’s small-town defensiveness,” but otherwise, calls Frontline exemplary for doing this kind of TV journalism. It’s at 8 p.m. tonight on KERA-Channel 13.