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Charles Wyly – Dallas Arts Patron

by Jerome Weeks 8 Aug 2011 4:09 PM

Charles Wyly’s cultural and community philanthropy may be his lasting legacy to North Texas. The $20 million he gave to the creation of the Arts District’s Wyly Theatre only capped several decades of extensive community involvement.


Dallas billionaire Charles Wyly died yesterday in a car accident outside Aspen, Colorado. Charles and his brother Sam made a fortune building companies and hedge funds and became the targets of an SEC investigation. KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports that his cultural philanthropy may be his lasting legacy to Dallas.

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At night, the name of Charles Wyly and his wife Dee light up the side of the Wyly Theatre in Dallas’ Arts District. It’s named for the couple because of their $20 million donation to the facility, part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center and home to the Dallas Theater Center. Wyly was determined that the building bearing his name would not be just another theater. And it isn’t; designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramos, its internal structural engineering, production facilities and stage capabilities make it one of the more radically designed theater facilities in the world.

But his involvement with the Wyly Theatre and his $20 million donation only capped Charles Wyly’s extensive involvement with the culture and community in North Texas. He served on the boards of the Dallas Museum of Art and the Dallas Symphony. He was a major contributor to the Dallas Childrens’ Theatre. He helped TACA and the Dallas Summer Musicals. If he donated millions to Republic Party candidates and helped fund the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry, he also chaired the Communities Foundation of Texas and served on the board of the Salvation Army.

As long ago as the 1970s, he chaired the board of the Dallas Theater Center.

Bess Enloe is vice-chair of the AT&T Performing Art Center.

Enloe: “He has always been extremely generous to the theater, so it was logical that he would be asked to be a leader in this new center. And he was, oh, more than joyful about being one.”

Charles Wyly was 77.

Responses from the Dallas Theater Center follow

From Kevin Moriarty, Artistic Director – Dallas Theater Center:

“For many decades, Charles provided great service, support and inspiration for Dallas Theater Center. He was a visionary who helped DTC grow and deepen its contributions to the community. He celebrated the power of the art itself and acknowledged that theater has always had an important place in communities: to tell truthful stories, including, at times, difficult ones.

He also showed great kindness toward me. I first met Charles during my initial visits to Dallas, during the interview process, prior to making the decision to come here and become DTC’s artistic director in 2007. His personal warmth, deep commitment to Dallas and his abiding love for the theater were instrumental in my decision to accept the job when it was offered.

During the past four years, I was fortunate to get to know Charles. I was inspired by his quiet yet powerful ability to lead, his love of family, his commitment to the community, and his ability to tell a good story. I was struck by his genuine interest in people, ideas and experiences beyond his own. He was a great listener. His generosity included personal friendship and institutional advice in addition to his deep financial support.”


From Frank Risch, Chairman of the Board – Dallas Theater Center:

“For so long, the Dallas Theater Center has benefited greatly from Charles’ wonderful quiet, modest approach to leadership and his and Dee’s long time generous support. Many of us will long remember opening night of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which formally opened our new home at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theater. Upon ending his brief remarks, in his typical modest way, he turned away from the podium to walk off stage, not aware of the standing ovation of a grateful audience of theatergoers who wished him to remain on stage so that they could thank him with their applause.

We at Dallas Theater Center, and indeed all of us in this wonderful community that he made so much better, have lost a great friend.”