Arts groups wanting answers about the future of Dallas' City Performance Hall got some on Thursday, June 23. The City of Cultural Affairs Office organized a meeting with about 30 companies who are expected to use the Arts District performance hall once it is completed in the fall of 2012.
The briefing at the Latino Cultural Center was the first meeting between city officials and stakeholders since before the Performance Hall's groundbreaking in 2009. The meeting was organized after an article and two editorials in the Dallas Morning News, as well as others in the Dallas Observer, FrontRow and Art&Seek, called into question how the project will be funded and managed.
"I don't like being in the paper," said City Manager Mary Suhm, "but maybe that was a good thing because it brought all of this together."
Suhm's participation in the meeting was a surprise. She came in about midway through Cultural Affairs Office Director Maria Munoz-Blanco's Power Point presentation and took a seat in the audience. Judging from the looks passed between the people there, Suhm needed no introduction.
Maria Munoz-Blanco's presentation included the history of the project, the current construction status and a basic breakdown of what will happen over the next year. It also answered some of the questions companies have had about how the facility will function.
- The facility will be managed by the Office of Cultural Affairs.
- The version of the facility that will open in September, 2012 will be Phase One, which consists of one 750 seat performance space, complete with orchestra pit.
- There will be no resident companies in the Performance Hall.
- It will cost $1,400 to rent out the facility in 6-hour blocks. Load-in and rehearsal will cost less.
- There will be five full staff members, including two technicians. Ushers will be hired on an as-needed basis and are included in the cost of rental.
- The box office will not be staffed by the city.
- There are no commissary facilities or a contract with a catering company.
- The City Performance Hall will not be a union house
Envisioned as a "village for the arts" in the downtown Arts District, the idea behind the future hall would be a space for small and medium sized arts groups to perform in. Phase 2 would include more and smaller performance spaces. However, it is unclear, if not doubtful, at this point if Phase 2 will ever be financed.
More than $200,000 will be needed from the city of Dallas's General Fund in order to keep the Performance Hall's doors open during its first year of operation. Suhm said that that funding is guaranteed for the first year. According to the data in Munoz-Blanco's presentation, it is highly unlikely that the Performance Hall will ever be able to function without General Fund Revenue. The projected rental fees would only make up about half of the hall's operating budget.
While many questions were answered, still more arose. Specifically, what companies would get priority when it comes to booking? For example, if four companies want to book the Performance Hall the week before Christmas, how will it be determined which company gets the space?
Too, many of the arts groups representatives were concerned that the City Performance Hall's budget would eat into program funding and grants. The city of Dallas has already cut back on arts funding by 85 percent over the past few years. Cultural Centers are seeing reductions in staffing and in other areas. Essentially, the City Performance Hall will be a very large cultural center with a swanky address.
"All we can do is more forward as a community and come together and make this a successful project," said Charles Santos with TITAS.
Suhm says the city will set up another meeting about the Performance Hall in the next few weeks.
"I can remember when people were asking 'what the hell are you building that for?' and some people still are. It's important to remember that history," said Suhm. "Now we're fighting over how to make it better, which is better than where we were."
That somewhat impromptu meeting between Dallas city officials and "stakeholders" in the future City Performance Hall was one of three meetings over the past few weeks that brought members of the arts community in Dallas together, along with the D Magazine State of Local Theater Panel (moderated by Veletta Lill), and the Dallas Area Cultural Advocacy Coalition meeting.
Whether it was the timing or the common themes or the people involved, each meeting seemed to ride on the building momentum of several undercurrents in Dallas's artistic community; the complicated love/hate relationship between the city and arts groups; the desire for some of the hotel/motel sales tax to go to arts groups and the struggle over how the money will be allocated (and the general feeling that the train has already left the station on that issue); and the power-play status dance between the "big dog" companies and the comparatively smaller groups as both begin to realize that they may have to work together if any of them are going to survive.
Most noticeably, though, there was the overwhelming feeling that Dallas is on the verge of something artistically speaking, or perhaps is already in the middle of it. "We, collectively, have survived multiple bad budget seasons and we're still standing," said Lill, Executive Director of the Dallas Arts District, after the D Magazine panel.
Not only have the theaters, dance companies and music organizations survived, arts reporter Jerome Weeks of KERA and Art&Seek, who has been covering the North Texas art scene since the '80s, when he was theater critic at the Dallas Morning News, believes they are thriving, artistically speaking. "There is more high quality work in the Dallas-Fort Worth area then I have ever seen before."
There may be some friction and unanswered questions about the future, but at least there's a conversation happening.