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Arts Leaders Prepare to Fight Budget Cuts

by Danielle Georgiou 1 Jul 2010 10:25 AM

This time last year, I wrote about the status of arts funding in Dallas, and it’s time again for the City Council to debate the future of arts organizations in the area. Keep reading to learn how you can help fight proposed budget cuts.


Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a dance lecturer at the University of Texas Arlington. She also serves as assistant director of  UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble.

This time last year, I wrote about the status of arts funding in Dallas, and it’s time again for the City Council to debate the future of arts organizations in the area.

At Wednesday night’s Dallas Area Cultural Advocacy Coalition (DACAC) meeting, President Joanna St. Angelo stressed the importance of continued support for the arts and public involvement in city politics. “We are facing a 55 percent cut in direct funding,” St. Angelo said, calling it, “the worst situation we have ever faced.”

Ironically, Dallas was recently listed as the fifth best U.S. art city, and in 2009, Forbes magazine rated Dallas among the top 10 cities in the country for the arts, at No. 7. With more than 200 cultural institutions, including the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center and the AT&T Performing Arts Center, and the wealth of emerging artists coming out of revitalized areas like the Cedars District and Deep Ellum, Dallas is primed for an artistic and cultural explosion.

And with the arts comes economic windfall. According to economist Ray Perryman, for every $1 invested in the arts in Texas, more than $298 of cultural impact on the economy occurs. Having an effective and efficient arts base can boost a city’s economic prowess, and with the city pulling in nearly 20 million overnight visitors (in 2008) and tourism being a main commodity, the arts can only help to sustain our visibility as a vacation destination.

The arts also create jobs – the building of the AT&T Performing Arts Center opened opportunities for arts administrators – and the increased tourism has lead to increased programming at institutions such as the Dallas Museum of Art. Its recent exhibit “All The World’s A Stage” included more than 200 programs and events, such as gallery talks led by local artists and educators, after-hours programs and performances.

Additionally, these programs have increased the involvement of educational institutions in promoting student interest in the arts, and organizations like Big Thought are hosting summer camps to help children and their families imagine a better future through the medium of creative learning.

But we are “victims of our own success,” said Judy Pollock, chairwoman of the city’s Cultural Affairs Commission. For these programs to survive after the 35 percent cut last year, they had to raise private dollars. Many of the attempts were successful, and now, many believe that city services deserve city dollars over arts programs that can provide outside funding. But the only reason arts organizations pull from private sources is because they do not receive the same level of funding from public sources as they did in the past. Even though arts organizations have secured private funds, less investment by the city equals less economic development and makes corporate and private sector investors wary of donating.

What is up for consideration now is the impact of the proposed tax increase on cultural programs. Will a push to increase the property tax rate help such services as parks and recreation, libraries and arts organizations that have already been cut too deeply? Maybe the solution lies there.

The Dallas City Council won’t pass a final budget until late September, but some council members have already signaled that they are open to raising taxes. And with the arts having proven to be essential to long-term economic development and a connection with the construction of new buildings downtown, maybe there will be more for a tax.

But the biggest force for change will come from the grassroots level. You can spew economic and political talk all day, but when concerned citizens and patrons come forward and meet their council person face-to-face, they will listen. “It is important to get the public involved and to contact city council members and tell them why cultural programs are important,” St. Angelo said.

There is no denying that the forecast for arts organizations in Dallas is grim. A cut is going to come.

However, if history does repeat itself – last year, arts programming faced a 35 percent cut and the Office of Cultural Affairs was on the chopping block, but the council voted to keep the OCA freestanding and re-appropriate it under Library Services – then there is hope for success. There is an interest in keeping the arts alive in Dallas. It’s just a matter of acknowledging it and speaking up.

For more information on who your city council member is and how to contact them, visit the Dallas Area Cultural Advocacy Coalition Web site or the City of Dallas.

Arts Advocacy Day is Aug. 17, and registration is open now.

  • This article is a great summary of the serious situation facing the arts and cultural community. The proposed cuts to the arts budget are beyond Draconian. Many arts groups will not survive and for those that do survive, programs will be adversely affected. The Office of Cultural Affairs has received less than 1% of the City’s budget annually, and now the funding will be further reduced. I do want to make note of one correction. Last year we were able to convince the City Council to keep the OCA as a stand-alone department. It was not re-appropriated under Library Services as was proposed by City staff. It remains independent, but severely underfunded.

  • Danielle Georgiou

    Sorry for that oversight; it has been corrected. Yes, the OCA is now a stand-alone department. It is in independent and doing some really great work!

  • Maria Munoz-Blanco

    Danielle: great write-up on last nights DCAC meeting. Even after some 20 years in this field, it still amazes me to see how the arts are making waves in so many areas of our civil society. When it comes to the arts creating jobs, it’s not just arts administrators or the administrative and support staff employed by the arts groups themselves. The great thing about arts organizations is how they become magnets for economic growth in their neighborhoods. Restaurants and bars, hotels, parking lot operators… all those “ancillary” businesses are directly impacted by the success of arts organizations. Just look at the restaurants in the Arts District on the evenings when there are performances — busy nights indeed!

  • In a well-intentioned, well-led effort to build first class buildings for cultural performances, the City of Dallas and generous philanthropists have been understandably dazzled by the resultant architectural buildings in the Arts district. What slipped out of sight (and thus fell badly behind in terms of financial support) has been the programming support organizations all over the city need. This latest City of Dallas’ disastrous proposed budget cuts programming support yet again — and it cuts programming support out of proportion to the support for operating the new structures.

    The City has bond funds to continue to build yet another building in the Arts district: the so-called City Performing Hall is coming out of the ground now. The proposed programming cuts seriously threaten the existence of the very organizations that might possibly use the facilities. So we get a nifty new building and no means to produce in it.

    This out-of-proportion cut to programming support is short-sighted financial planning at its worst. Cuts heal. But cuts of this depth amount to amputations and amputations don’t grow back.

    Artists and arts organizations are more practical than might be supposed. Dallas arts organizations realize there must be economies devised to ride through this difficult downturn. This will slowly turn around — we all believe it. We expect other departments of the city to do with less, too, while things build back. But reductions must not be so deep as to destroy what’s taken decades to put in place — artists working for the public in stable, quality arts organizations.

    Hard work must be done by Council to prevent this programming progrom.

    JAC ALDER, Theatre Three