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The Latest on the Dallas City Budget Cuts and the Arts

by Stephen Becker 7 Aug 2009 3:19 PM

This afternoon at City Hall, Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm held a briefing with the media to go through the version of the 2009-10 budget that she will submit to the City Council on Monday — as the city attempts to deal with a $190-million deficit. Among the news for arts and culture types: Funding […]


This afternoon at City Hall, Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm held a briefing with the media to go through the version of the 2009-10 budget that she will submit to the City Council on Monday — as the city attempts to deal with a $190-million deficit. Among the news for arts and culture types:

  • Funding for cultural services will be cut by about 20 percent as the Office of Cultural Affairs is merged with the Library Department. Suhm says a sharing of administrative tasks will lead to cost savings. In response to a question about whether the move will lead to a loss in visibility for the OCA, Suhm said, “The presence depends upon the person in charge of the office maintaining that presence. I think the community is very supportive of cultural systems and services, and so I don’t worry about those things at all.”
  • The budget for library materials will be cut by about two-thirds. Richard Hill, a public information officer with the city, writes in an e-mail, “Fewer best-sellers will be purchased, and not being able to acquire the one-of-a kind materials that help establish a depth and breadth in our research collections will leave some holes in our collection. For this to happen to a library in an economy that curtails discretionary incomes is unfortunate.”
  • Hours for both the Central Library and the neighborhood libraries will be trimmed, but not as severely as proposed in the June 12 version of the budget. “We heard repeatedly across the community and from the council to do everything we could with those hours,” Suhm said. The branch libraries will be open 40 hours per week (instead of the current 47) while the Central Library will be open 44 hours per week (instead of the current 68).

The new version of the budget should be posted on the city’s Web site sometime after 7 tonight. I’ll be going through it with more thoroughly over the weekend to see if there are any other items of interest.

After the meeting, I spoke with Maria Munoz-Blano, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, about the steep cuts coming to her department.

“It’s not unexpected. When the budget goes down, you go down with it,” she said during a telephone conversation. “On the other hand, I think those of us in the arts are more prepared to make more with less. It is what people in the arts do.”

She also cleared up some questions I had about the opening of the new Oak Cliff Cultural Center. The actual renovation of the building that will become the new center is still on schedule to begin in September and take approximately six months. That would line up for an April 2010 opening. She cautioned, though, that when renovating a building from the 1920s, you never know what surprises you might find that could push things back.

The question that still remains is how often the facility will be open. It will have a full-time employee to run it, but with cuts coming to the OCA, there will be fewer part-time employees to fill in the gaps.

  • Kyle H

    Here is the website for the newly-published budget:
    Below are some items of interest that affect the classical music scene (i.e., the opera and symphony).
    CITY CULTURAL CENTERS (Sect. 4.4-4.5):
    A drop from $2.9 to $2.1 million
    Drop employees from 35.1 to 24.2
    CULTURAL FACILITIES (Sect. 4.7-4.8):
    An decrease from $6.1 to $5.8 million
    Same employees: 1
    NOTE: $800k is allocated for utilities
    at the new Performing Arts Center
    WRR BUDGET (Sect. 4.26-4.27):
    An decrease from $3.5 to $3.1 million
    Drop employees from 27 to 24.5
    NOTE: WRR needed a $4 million transfer.
    See budget for explanation.

  • charlotte

    Merging the OCA and Library will do more harm than any amount of money it will save. I read somewhere that VOLUME of calls/emails about this issue to the city council is important…. we need to let the council know how important it is for Dallas to maintain a city department devoted to the arts.

    Read the latest DMN article on the issue:


    this website is an excellent resource for “talking points” on the issue.

    also: google “Dallas Budget Cuts and the Arts”.

  • charlotte

    The city is holding about 40 Budget Town Hall Meetings between Aug. 10 and Sept. 8. Links to schedules for each week are on the main page of the city website:

  • Ms. Shum, all seem to agree, has a daunting task which she has met with a shrewd sense of politics as well as extensive insight into financial and operational workings of the city. It’s not a job I’d be good at. But Arts administration is something I know about, and despite my admiration for librarians (including Ms. Suhm who has a degree in this field), I believe Ms. Suhm has grievously erred by proposing that the Office of Cultural Affairs no longer be an independent department, but be administratively joined with the library.

    Arts organizations unanimously — I repeat, UNANIMOUSLY — oppose this move, understanding that the increased costs of remaining independent (estimated by Ms. Suhm to be $100K to $200K) would have to come out of the grants budget. (Even knowing that the grants budget will have to be reduced — hopefully proportionately — as other departments suffer their cuts.) That willingness is coming from the very Arts administrators who make daily choices — indeed minute to minute choices — toward sustaining programming while holding down costs.

    We need the Office of Cultural Affairs which has a grasp on the essential difference of the Arts as an economic generator in a way that other departments are not. For all the excellent and essential services provided by the library, that department is not an economic generator, and its administration is not congruent with the requirements of the Arts.

    JAC ALDER, Executive Producer-Director