With the Arts District, and especially with the Performing Arts Center, Dallas has bought into using culture as an urban revitalization tool, as well as a prop for increased national prominence. We have bet on it to the tune of — what? — three-quarters of a billion dollars? A billion? (The announcement this week that the PAC has raised its final price tag/fundraising goal to $338 million seems to put us in that range, when one considers the DMA, the Meyerson, the Arts Magnet, etc.).
As a city, we started on this path well before the Guggenheim Bilbao ignited an international fervor for using culture to repair downtown and launch a city as a “prestige” arts center. But if every city of any size or ambition has a culture complex, how distinguished or life-changing can they be? Each town has its own infrastructure, cultural ecology, long-standing social tensions and audience make-up: We can’t just plug one of these in and hope it’ll work wonders.
So there are incredibly complex (and resistant) economic, cultural and urban design forces involved — as Richard Pilbrow, a leading theater consultant and an early advisor with the PAC, has said, raising $100 million for a new center is easy. It’s running one successfully that’s hard. One shrewd thing the PAC has done is include in its fundraising an endowment to cover operating expenses. Another is the hugely ambitious plan that Bill Lively, president of the Dallas Center, has for a nightlife-changing series of programs to keep the halls filled.
In the New Statesman, British theater critic Domenic Cavendish has started a regular column examining this entire phenomena of culture and urban regeneration (UK version). He’ll be “talking to people involved in regeneration schemes across the UK and reporting back about what they’ve said, and what I’ve seen. The questions asked will be broadly the same: what is it about ‘culture’ that’s driving urban change? Are there concrete examples of benefits? And if so, are those benefits lasting?”
We’ll check in as he does.