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Dallas Arts District Has New Executive Director

by Stephen Becker 1 Apr 2013 12:23 PM

The nonprofit organization has tapped Catherine Cuellar, a member of the city’s Cultural Affairs Commission, to replace Veletta Forsythe Lill, who retired in October.


Catherine Cuellar, a member of Dallas’ Cultural Affairs Commission, has been hired as the new executive director of the Dallas Arts District. She replaces Veletta Forsythe Lill, who retired in October.

As the head of the Arts District, Cuellar will be charged with marketing the district, coordinating events featuring its many arts groups and boosting its economic development. She comes to the position from Oncor, where she managed the utility’s public relations. In addition to jobs at The Dallas Morning News and Pegasus news, Cuellar was also once a reporter here at KERA.

We’ve got a call into Cuellar and will update once we’ve spoken with her. Until then, here’s the news release:

The Dallas Arts District (DAD) today announced the selection of Catherine Cuellar as executive director of the 4 year-old nonprofit organization. Cuellar, a longtime arts critic and advocate, is stepping down from her position at Oncor, where she managed public relations, employee communications and social media for the electric utility.

“Downtown Dallas has never been more vibrant in my lifetime — and it’s still improving, thanks to all the exciting things going on in and around the Dallas Arts District,” said Cuellar. “The District defies stereotypes of Dallas and Texans, while opening the minds of people who live here to new ideas and experiences. It’s a prime time to tout Dallas’ reputation as a regional, national and international destination.”

Cuellar will helm the 68-acre Dallas Arts District, which sits in the heart of downtown Dallas and is home to most of the city’s major cultural institutions. In addition to arts venues and organizations, its stakeholders also include high-rise office towers, corporate headquarters, restaurants, churches, residential properties, an arts magnet high school and more. As executive director, Cuellar will help bring together the District’s diverse stakeholders to create public events, market the district, handle public safety, traffic and infrastructure issues and attract economic development. Cuellar, who begins April 15, replaces longtime arts advocate and former Dallas City Councilmember Veletta Forsythe Lill, who helped create the organization. Lill stepped down at the end of October.

“With the great foundation laid by Veletta and our stakeholders, we are ready for the Dallas Arts District to move to a new level raising its profile, and the city’s profile even higher. And with her communications skill sets and cultural background, we feel Catherine is the perfect person to help us do that,” said the Dallas Symphony’s Debi Peña, who helped lead the search committee.

Cuellar is a familiar name to many in Dallas. Cuellar began her career as a freelance pop music critic for The Dallas Morning News. She later joined the newspaper’s staff as community arts columnist. After cofounding in partnership with WFAA, she moved to Los Angeles in 2000, freelancing for E! Online and Yahoo! Movies. After a period working for National Public Radio affiliate KCRW in Southern California, she returned to Dallas in 2003, working as a reporter for KERA and managing editor of She also hosted the literary series “The Writers’ Studio.” Cuellar also served on the city’s Cultural Affairs Commission as an at-large member, and then Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ appointee. Cuellar is also an author and chorister.

Catherine began her art education as a toddler at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in Fair Park, where her mother Susan was a docent. As a child, she saw the cornerstone laid at the DMA’s new home in the Arts District. Now she’ll lead the umbrella organization for the Arts District, which represents more than $1 billion in public investment and is setting new attendance records every year.

In addition to top-ranked museums and world class performing arts venues and organizations, new District stakeholders also include the neighboring Klyde Warren Park and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.