Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a Dance Lecturer at the University of Texas at Arlington where she serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble. She is also a member of Muscle Memory Dance Theatre – a modern dance collective. Danielle is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Arts and Humanities at UT Dallas, and her first book, The Politics of State Public Arts Funding, is out now.
Imagine Dallas without any actors, dancers, musicians or artists. Can you? I can’t, and neither can René Moreno, a local actor and director.
Moreno addressed a crowd of more than 100 arts professionals and artists Thursday at Dallas’ second annual Arts Advocacy Day and reminded us all of why Dallas is the Big D. It’s because of its heart. Here, people work together to build a better community, both socially and artistically. As a working professional in the arts district, Moreno has seen first-hand how the arts in Dallas have created a welcoming environment. He had a successful theatrical career, gracing stages across America, but he ended up losing his way after a paralyzing accident. It wasn’t until he came back to Dallas that he “learned how to love again.” The Dallas “art” scene, Moreno said, “gave me back my life.” The community of trust and acceptance that exists in the city allowed Moreno to hit the stage again and has created opportunities for many other artists. There is a shared human experience among Dallas artists – they have fought for their preservation together, shared funding, provided homes away from homes – and this experience puts Dallas in a wonderful position to move the arts into the future.
After instilling a sense of camaraderie among the audience, Moreno passed the mike to guest speaker Douglas Sonntag, Director of Dance for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), who expanded upon the importance of a humanistic approach to the arts. Sonntag invited us into his time machine as he took us back to the beginning of civilization.
From the beginning of time, the arts have been a “crucial element of human life,” and all civilizations included some form of choreography. Dance provided skills useful in everyday life: coordination, group-work and general social skills. Everyone participated in some form of the arts, either directly – as a painter or dancer – or indirectly – as a viewer. But in the 20th century, serious participation and study of the arts had been lacking, Sonntag said. And government officials take this decrease in participation as a sign to cut arts funding before it considers other arenas.
But arts participation can register the city’s pulse. According to the NEA’s 2002 Survey Of Public Participation in the Arts (the most recent data):
- From 1997 to 2002, the number of U.S. adults who attended a least one of the following arts activities: jazz, classical music, opera, musicals, plays, ballet or art museums, increased from 76 million to about 81 million.
- Singing in a choir, chorale or other vocal group is the most popular form of personal performance; 9.8 million adults participated in 2002.
- Photography, ballet, composing music and writing literature increased in activity from 1992 to 2002.
- Nearly 39 percent report personally creating some type of visual art, and approximately one-half of U.S. adults experienced “literature” in some way in 2002.
Though participation rates are holding steady, there is a public demand for the arts – especially in Dallas. Take the recent involvement of arts professionals and the public in the battle of the Office of Cultural Affairs’ funding. Sonntag says that we should also put forth a strong effort toward involving children in the arts. “Society has become careless about promoting a healthy cultural landscape,” he said, and a major reason is the lack of arts programs in schools and after-school programs.
At the end of his talk, he left us with one question. Do we really want a world where the youth of our society don’t know about the arts? Dallas has the unique opportunity with the new performing arts center and a successful arts magnet school to educate and instill a love for the arts. Maybe this is a time when we should want history to repeat itself?