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Remembering Annette Strauss

by Gail Sachson 4 Oct 2010 5:55 PM

Guest blogger Gail Sachson looks back at the impact the late Dallas mayor had on the city’s cultural landscape.


Guest blogger Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art, an educational service offering  lectures, tours and program planning. She is Vice-Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the Public Art Committee.

Annette Strauss Square, the newest outdoor venue at the AT&T Performing Arts Center, was dedicated last week. Perhaps it was the sunny day, the enthusiastic crowd, the original music, the talented SMU dancers and the superb vocalists, but as the notes of “Because of You” reached a crescendo and enveloped the adoring audience, I was giddy with the spirit of Dallas as a  can-do cultural city. The feeling was akin to that experience almost one year ago, when the opening of  the Performing Arts Center was celebrated with a fiesta of music, camaraderie and dancing in the street.

When Dallas was deciding what it was in the 1980s, Annette Strauss – philanthropist, community volunteer extraordinaire, public relations guru, Dallas city council person and  mayor (1987-1991) – led the way.  She was the pied piper of Dallas’ cultural visionaries, helping to shape the city it is today. This is a city which supports not only the larger arts organizations (Dallas Museum of Art, the DSO, the Dallas Opera) that have cemented Dallas’ reputation as a world class cultural destination, but the smaller, emerging arts organizations as well.

Strauss helped found TACA, which still bestows grants to a multitude of performing arts groups, large and small. She supported Jac Alder at Theatre Three. As Mayor, she affirmed the city’s support of talent and diversity as she proclaimed Turtle Creek Chorale Day in 1989 and helped pass the ordinance to create the Office of Cultural Affairs, the Commission of Cultural Affairs and the Per-Cent for Art program, which secured a place for the support of public art. She worked with Dallas Black Dance Theatre founder Ann Williams to make DBDT a reality and applauded the efforts of Patricia Meadows when she founded D-ART, the popular showplace which nurtured local artists.

“Annette was supportive and a treasure for the Arts. We will miss her,” Meadows says.

Stan Levenson, well-known and well-lauded civic and cultural leader, friend and public relations colleague of Annette’s says, “Not only did Mayor Strauss support these growing organizations by attending their performances, but as you know, she was a strong advocate for an energized and diverse cultural community. Just look at how impressive and dynamic the DBDT has become under the direction of Ann Williams.”

Last week, Annette’s husband, Ted Strauss, looked over Annette Strauss Square from the podium, an open welcoming space with plans to host arts groups large and small, with audiences rich and poor, from all over the city. He declared, “Annette is home.”

And as I looked over the nodding, smiling audience of Annette’s friends and supporters  – the cultural community’s dedicated and generous leaders – I wished Annette would be here still to play her pipe and lead those same arts patrons to the smaller groups she nurtured with attendance, funding and applause. Those groups need their affirmation, so that they can have an “attitude” – an attitude of worth.

So What would Annette do? She would probably buy tickets to WingSpan Theater at The Bath House  Cultural Center, where two Edward Albee plays are on stage this month. She might arrange a theater party at the Quadrangle’s Theatre Three. And she would most probably be a season ticket holder of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre. We should too.