It last happened 15 years ago, at the dawn of the 21st century.
And that, says Jennifer Scripps, who runs the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs, was too long ago.
Dallas has changed dramatically since 2002, when the city last drafted a Cultural Plan, its road map for the arts in the nation’s ninth largest city, whose population now exceeds 1.3 million.
“Think about the way the world has changed,” Scripps says. “The audience has changed. The demographics of Dallas have changed. Uptown. West Dallas. Whole neighborhoods have been transformed.”
So, she says, moving forward, the city’s Cultural Plan needs to be a blueprint for the future – which looks nothing like its past.
It needs to address where the arts are headed in Dallas, who needs funding and why, and who’ll provide the capital with many of the city’s longtime philanthropists aging or dying off. The stalwart of that generation is Margaret McDermott, who is 105.
Going forward, where should the emphasis be?
“We have so many assets,” Scripps says. “We have the building blocks, and yet, we’re nowhere close to our full skyscraper potential.”
It’s not that the news is bad. A recent study gathered locally by the nonprofit Business Council for the Arts found that North Texas now has the third-largest arts economy in the nation, one whose economic impact has tripled in five years in the Arts District alone, going from $128.6 million to $395.8 million. That’s an increase of more than 207 percent. The city as a whole showed an increase of almost 300 percent.
“We are almost a $1 billion-a-year arts economy,” Scripps says.
But change is in the air.
Dallas is now more than 40 percent Hispanic. More than 25 percent of its residents are African-American.
“We have one of the largest Hispanic populations in the country,” Scripps says, noting that the Dallas Museum of Art welcomed 125,894 visitors to its recent Mexico exhibition, including more than 37,000 who attended on Sundays when the exhibition was free.
The DMA was one of the first bedrock institutions to recognize the need for change. Already, it’s paying dividends.
Its Mexico exhibition was the first major undertaking of director Agustín Arteaga, an import from Mexico hired in 2016 by a board whose 73 members include 14 percent “people of color.”
The increasingly evident truth, Scripps says, is that Dallas’ “white population is a minority.”
And yet, the city’s most powerful artistic boards come nowhere close to reflecting the changing demographic.
The lack of minority representation on boards offers striking evidence, says David Lozano, executive artistic director of Cara Mia Theatre, that the Cultural Plan needs to serve as “a catalyst for diversifying the arts ecosystem in Dallas.”
Otherwise, he says, the diversity of the city’s arts ecosystem will remain in peril. It’s like a once-thriving business faced with a changing audience and having no idea what to do about it.
A majority of the city’s residents, he says, “live in a cultural desert,” a reality he hopes the Cultural Plan can and will reverse.
“If artists of color don’t have opportunities to work professionally, they won’t stay in Dallas,” he says. “They won’t continue to create. They won’t come here, and they certainly won’t stay here.”
Scripps takes it a step further, disagreeing with those who say the arts in Dallas are on the threshold of a golden age.
Yes, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra improved dramatically under conductor Jaap van Zweden, but he’s leaving, for the New York Philharmonic.
Yes, the Dallas Theater Center was recently named the best regional theater in the country, but as Lozano points out, it’s the city’s only member in the esteemed League of Resident Theatres, or LORT. Texas has two such theaters, the Alley Theatre in Houston being the other.
California has 10.
“So, maybe we’re entering a platinum age,” Scripps says. “If we coast along, however, it won’t even be that. My hope is that, yes, we can be a golden age – in two years, five years, 10 years. We are not there yet. What we’re hoping is that the Cultural Plan will help us get there.”
Advocates for small-arts groups say the city has a track record of favoring the so-called heavyweights, such as the AT&T Performing Arts Center, which recently received $1.5 million from the city to shore up its sizable capital debt. ATTPAC hopes for nine more annual payments of $1.5 million to liquidate the debt.
For that reason and others, Scripps and her team want people throughout Dallas to be involved in the process. A series of community meetings will begin at 6 p.m. Monday at the Dallas Museum of Art. Others are scheduled for the Dallas Children’s Theater (6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday), the Walnut Hill Recreation Center (6 to 8 p.m. Thursday) and Southwest Center-Redbird Mall (10 a.m. to noon Saturday).
“This is the big chance for the residents of Dallas to tell us what they want,” she says. “This is their chance to ask, ‘What should our city be culturally?’ “
The Cultural Plan, she says, is separate from the city’s upcoming bond issue, which asks for $14.2 million for the arts and an additional $20.7 million for improvements to three arts buildings at Fair Park – the Hall of State, the African American Museum and Fair Park Music Hall.
The 2002 Cultural Plan called for the finishing out of the Dallas Arts District, which has been done. It called for building the Latino Cultural Center, which has been done. It called for the building of City Performance Hall, which now exists as Moody Performance Hall.
Scripps calls the Cultural Plan “a road map for the arts going forward, one that will help us set priorities. We want a deeper understanding of small arts groups and neighborhood arts dynamics.
“We’re really interested in: How do you grow our small theaters? How do you nurture visual artists? What do they need to become arts professionals? How can we nurture the artists, the small arts groups that really are flourishing but have certain things that they need – places to present their art, more black-box theaters, those ingredients.”
In January, the city received an initial proposal from the New York office of Lord Cultural Resources, which describes itself as “a global arts consulting firm dedicated to creating cultural capital worldwide.”
Lord partnered directly with the Office of Cultural Affairs, whose budget for the Cultural Plan is $600,000, half of which is paid by private donors.
Lord officials say their approach seeks to enhance culturally driven revenue, cultural tourism and neighborhood vitality.
In its initial findings, Lord cited 378 “distinct neighborhoods” in Dallas, which it described as an “increasingly multi-cultural city” that is undergoing “a renaissance of art and culture.”
But the report also cited troubling signs:
“Even as neighborhood cultural hubs are growing in number and scale, significant real estate market growth threatens to price out cultural users (e.g., North Oak Cliff, which includes Bishop Arts; West Dallas; Old East Dallas; Deep Ellum; Expo Park; Design District; and Cedars) … Simultaneously, culturally rich, significant neighborhoods such as the Tenth Street Historic District and Vickery Meadow are chronically under-resourced.”
When community input is complete, the city’s new cultural policy will proceed to the Quality of Life Committee of the Dallas City Council before moving on to the council for “full adoption.”
Lozano calls it a “big deal,” a pivotal moment, in which the city’s cultural future hangs in the balance.
If the city can alter its arts profile, it may then begin to compare with “the great arts cities of the country,” he says, citing New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Otherwise, he says, “it won’t.”
Originally Published by DallasNews.com on September 22, 2017
Michael Granberry, Arts Writer
Photo Details: David Lozano, the executive artistic director of Cara Mia Theatre at his home in Dallas on Sept. 22. (Credit: Nathan Hunsinger/Staff Photographer)