Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a dance lecturer at the University of Texas Arlington. She also serves as assistant director of UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble.
This time last year, I wrote about the status of arts funding in Dallas, and it’s time again for the City Council to debate the future of arts organizations in the area.
At Wednesday night’s Dallas Area Cultural Advocacy Coalition (DACAC) meeting, President Joanna St. Angelo stressed the importance of continued support for the arts and public involvement in city politics. “We are facing a 55 percent cut in direct funding,” St. Angelo said, calling it, “the worst situation we have ever faced.”
Ironically, Dallas was recently listed as the fifth best U.S. art city, and in 2009, Forbes magazine rated Dallas among the top 10 cities in the country for the arts, at No. 7. With more than 200 cultural institutions, including the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center and the AT&T Performing Arts Center, and the wealth of emerging artists coming out of revitalized areas like the Cedars District and Deep Ellum, Dallas is primed for an artistic and cultural explosion.
And with the arts comes economic windfall. According to economist Ray Perryman, for every $1 invested in the arts in Texas, more than $298 of cultural impact on the economy occurs. Having an effective and efficient arts base can boost a city’s economic prowess, and with the city pulling in nearly 20 million overnight visitors (in 2008) and tourism being a main commodity, the arts can only help to sustain our visibility as a vacation destination.
The arts also create jobs – the building of the AT&T Performing Arts Center opened opportunities for arts administrators – and the increased tourism has lead to increased programming at institutions such as the Dallas Museum of Art. Its recent exhibit “All The World’s A Stage” included more than 200 programs and events, such as gallery talks led by local artists and educators, after-hours programs and performances.
Additionally, these programs have increased the involvement of educational institutions in promoting student interest in the arts, and organizations like Big Thought are hosting summer camps to help children and their families imagine a better future through the medium of creative learning.
But we are “victims of our own success,” said Judy Pollock, chairwoman of the city’s Cultural Affairs Commission. For these programs to survive after the 35 percent cut last year, they had to raise private dollars. Many of the attempts were successful, and now, many believe that city services deserve city dollars over arts programs that can provide outside funding. But the only reason arts organizations pull from private sources is because they do not receive the same level of funding from public sources as they did in the past. Even though arts organizations have secured private funds, less investment by the city equals less economic development and makes corporate and private sector investors wary of donating.
What is up for consideration now is the impact of the proposed tax increase on cultural programs. Will a push to increase the property tax rate help such services as parks and recreation, libraries and arts organizations that have already been cut too deeply? Maybe the solution lies there.
The Dallas City Council won’t pass a final budget until late September, but some council members have already signaled that they are open to raising taxes. And with the arts having proven to be essential to long-term economic development and a connection with the construction of new buildings downtown, maybe there will be more for a tax.
But the biggest force for change will come from the grassroots level. You can spew economic and political talk all day, but when concerned citizens and patrons come forward and meet their council person face-to-face, they will listen. “It is important to get the public involved and to contact city council members and tell them why cultural programs are important,” St. Angelo said.
There is no denying that the forecast for arts organizations in Dallas is grim. A cut is going to come.
However, if history does repeat itself – last year, arts programming faced a 35 percent cut and the Office of Cultural Affairs was on the chopping block, but the council voted to keep the OCA freestanding and re-appropriate it under Library Services – then there is hope for success. There is an interest in keeping the arts alive in Dallas. It’s just a matter of acknowledging it and speaking up.
Arts Advocacy Day is Aug. 17, and registration is open now.