The person who oversees the operations of the City Performance Hall, the Latino Cultural Center and all of Dallas’ arts facilities is leaving her job. Maria Munoz-Blanco will be stepping down as director of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs. Since 2006, she’s been supporting Dallas arts groups and running its public art programs. But as she tells KERA’s Jerome Weeks, the city’s next cultural director may have a different job.
Maria Munoz-Blanco on State of the Arts
Over the past eight years, the Dallas City Performance Hall opened. So did the Oak Cliff Cultural Center. The Love Field Art Program installed three-and-a-half million dollars’ worth of murals and sculptures at the airport. Maria Munoz-Blanco oversaw all this. She says it’s been an extraordinary period of growth for Dallas arts.
“But at the same time,” she adds, “some of the most difficult financial times for the city. In terms of the Office of Cultural Affairs, it’s certainly added responsibilities to our team.”
In fact, before the City Performance Hall opened in 2012, Munoz-Blanco caught flak from smaller arts groups. They feared her office wasn’t able to handle the responsibilities of booking and managing the new hall. The hall’s opening was less than a year away, and many hadn’t been consulted on their needs or what support they could expect when renting the space. The Dallas Morning News even ran an editorial calling for her replacement by then-City Manager Mary Suhm.
Munoz-Blanco says there were lots of moving parts in opening the facility, and keeping the arts groups informed should have been done sooner. But she points to the hall’s success as it enters its third season: “It’s getting very, very good use from the music groups, from the dance groups. And I think music sounds beautifully in this space, and it’s a magical place for dance.”
Munoz-Blanco again faced controversy in 2012, when the city-owned station WRR suffered a great deal of staff turnover. Some employees were fired, others quit. WRR is the only cultural organization the Office of Cultural Affairs actually runs, and Munoz-Blanco’s leadership style was seen as the cause of the departures.
Munoz-Blanco says some of the turnover was to be expected with a change in station management. She also cites WRR’s nature – as a provider of classical music. “WRR, while it is a radio station, more than anything it’s a classical musical organization. And I think some of the challenges of WRR have to do with being a classical music organization.”
Those challenges include the need to expand and diversify its small audience while not alienating diehard classical music fans. So changes in the station’s programming and sales approach are to be expected.
Going forward, Munoz-Blanco says the Arts District may still see some additional facilities. The City Performance Hall was intended as the first phase in what may be a cluster of smaller performance halls. Munoz-Blanco says regardless of whether the other spaces get built, the next cultural affairs director will face a changing job.
“I think for some of our older buildings,” she says, “age is catching up with them, and resources to refurbish older buildings are not easy to come by. I think talking about dedicated funding for the arts in Dallas should be a very interesting conversation.”
So directing cultural affairs for Dallas, she says, will probably be less glamorous, less about creating new opportunities through new buildings. It’ll be more about how to keep what Dallas has, find new ways to finance them and to support the city’s arts groups. One place to start: Munoz-Blanco points out the city hasn’t updated its cultural plan since 2002.
Munoz-Blanco leaves her current job Oct. 3 and won’t say what her new job is – she’ll wait for her employer to announce it. But it’ll take her to South Florida, where she has family. And she’ll get to work more directly in the arts.
Munoz-Blanco appeared in an October 2012 evening of Art & Seek’s State of the Arts program at the Dallas Museum of Art. She joined moderator Jeff Whittington and Veletta Forsythe Lill, outgoing executive director of Dallas Arts District, and Mark Banta, president of Klyde Warren Park, to speak about the Arts District.