Dallas — In April the Dallas Theater Center was one of almost 900 nonprofit organizations awarded an "Art Works" grant by the National Endowment for the Arts. The $15,000 provided to DTC is being used to make DTC's Neighborhood Initiative a reality. The three-year-long pilot project will bring Dallas Theater Center teaching artists and programing to two different neighborhoods, one urban and one suburban.
Earlier this month, the project officially launched in Oak Cliff, in partnership with Mayor Mike Rawlings' GrowSouth initiative. The first neighborhood DTC will focus on for the next several years is served by Beckley-Saner Recreation Center. The first offering in the Neighborhood Initiative is a free acting workshop for young people who live in the area is south of the Dallas Zoo and east of Interstate-35E. The five-week-long workshop, entitled "The World You Live in," is being led by DTC resident company member Daniel Duque-Estrada.
"Based on what we find out, we will develop a weekly program," says Dayron Miles, Dallas Theater Center's Manager of Community and Audience Engagement.
Miles joined DTC a year ago and is the first person the theater has hired to focus solely on "community engagement." As far as his job description goes, Miles says he is "re-inventing that every day."
Before coming to Dallas, Miles served the same community engagement head role for Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. He says that over the years, a set of ideas about how an arts organization can go outside the walls of the performance space and into the town or city they are based in has continued to develop.
"We got into a habit of prescribing what a community needed," says Miles. "Engagement is different, because you go into the community and you listen. You have an open dialogue."
He was inspired by Mayor Rawlings' series of conversations over the past year, including an open forum the Mayor hosted on his GrowSouth Initiative. Miles says that he attended that event and decided that the theater and the Mayor's office should find a way to work together. The question was: to what part of southern Dallas should DTC bring programing?
Miles says he got the answer from Dallas City Council Member Dwayne Caraway, who drove him around his district, showing him what was going on in the neighborhoods. It was Caraway, Miles says, who said what was needed were theater classes for children and teenagers. The recently renovated Beckley-Saner Recreation Center, which has never before had consistent programing, was chosen as the site.
The first week, around dozen kids showed up for the classes. A couple of teenagers were so anxious for the workshop that they arrived two hours before the noon start time.
"We forget the magic we make every day. We are magic makers," says Miles. "I believe that the magic we make changes lives."