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Good News/Bad News for the Arts in Dallas Budget

by Jerome Weeks 20 Jun 2012 4:12 PM

The Dallas budget contains A First for the City — which may well lead to a first for the AT&T Performing Arts Center. Light the fireworks. But then there’s that 15 percent cut.


Yes, once again, we’re straining our eyes speed-reading the numbers and charts in the City Hall budget workshop — a.k.a., the FY 2012-13 Budget Development Update briefing and ranking sheets.  The big (good) news for Dallas as a whole is that the city’s budget gap continues to shrink — from $40 million in May to $24.6 million today, which is actually a fairly small amount when you consider we’ve got a $1 billion-and-change budget.

But on pages 24-25, you’ll see the relevant figures for “Culture, Arts, and Recreation.” And in there, you’ll see: A Dallas First. For the first time, the city will support the AT&T Performing Arts Center for its “full contract amount.”

You may light the fireworks, Sidney.

That’s $2.5 million. You may recall that two years ago, just as the  center was opening, the economy tanked, and the city pulled a hefty $2 million dollars out of its support. That meant the PAC — for its opening year, mind you — got only 500 grand from the city. Everyone started  hollering about how badly run this white elephant must be, what with $40 million left to raise to pay for the joint, and now this annual operating budget hole needing to be patched.

The next  fiscal year, it got better, but the city still didn’t live up to the terms of the contract. (What was the PAC going to do? Move to Addison?). The PAC got $1.5 million, and had to raise the rest of its operating budget (although the city did find some quarters in the sofa cushions and tipped in a little more later in the year).

And now, according to the AT&T PAC’s Christopher Heinbaugh, with the $2.5 million coming from the city, next year’s budget submitted to the arts center’s board is Another First: The PAC should break even (given the vagaries of ticket sale projections, and whatnot).

By the way, in the world of new arts facilities and mega-centers, this is what often happens. No, not the city welshing on a deal. I mean, taking at least the first two years or so for the ship to get its bearings. People who absolutely hate seeing any public money spent on the arts often see the shaky maiden voyage of such centers as proof they’re complete wastes and badly run. Actually, arts operations tend to be frugal.  They’re non-profit, after all.

Now for the bad news. Almost immediately after that bit about how next year ALL the city’s cultural centers will be funded, including the Majestic and the new City Performance Hall, comes this line: “Cultural services contracts are funded at 85 percent of current year level.”

Which,  yes, sounds like a 15 percent drop in funding for the city’s “cultural services” — meaning the other arts organizations, the ones that don’t happen to be a permanent facility.  The one bright spot for them comes on page 26. That’s where it says such contracts “should be restored.” This is the wish list, the items that we will fund if we can.

Which could happen. This update, after all (as page 2 tells us), is a “snapshot” of the current figures as the city staff works toward “developing a balanced budget to present to Council on August 13th. Numbers included in briefing are estimates/projections and subject to further review and change.”

  • Lisa Taylor

    thanks for covering this!

  • Lisa Taylor

    thanks for covering this!