Dallas — On Wednesday, Oct. 26, the Dallas City Council will vote on a recommendation from the City Council’s Arts, Culture and Libraries Committee to amend the city’s contract with the AT&T Performing Arts Center. The amendment addresses the $15 million council has already agreed to pay ATTPAC as the organization looks to bring down its considerable construction debt (a fraction of the total capital debt of $151 million). That action was protested by smaller arts organizations and independent artists under the banner of Arts Equity Now, calling it a “bailout” (using the hashtag #attpacbailout) and framing it as a David vs. Goliath situation.
Both city and ATTPAC officials claim the payment is not a direct “bailout,” but rather “a payment for service.”
The relationship between the city of Dallas and the AT&T Performing Arts Center is similar to the other public/private partnerships the city has with the Dallas Zoo and the Dallas Arboretum and is not entirely different from the proposal to privatize Fair Park. The Winspear Opera House and the Wyly Theatre in the Arts District were built using funds raised by ATTPAC but are owned by the city, which has contracted with ATTPAC to manage the facilities and present programing in them.
ATTPAC administrators have spent the past several months brainstorming about what additional services they could offer to the city of Dallas in exchange for the $1.5 million a year over ten years that the city of Dallas has agreed to pay. This money does not come from the Office of Cultural Affair's budget that already gives millions to arts organizations yearly.
"The $1.5M did not come from the OCA's existing budget," said Chris Heinbaugh, Vice President of External Affairs at AT&T Performing Arts Center. "We were very clear that we did not want to take anything away from any existing organizations. The city manager added this to the OCA budget specifically to participate in the solution."
Wednesday’s Dallas City Council vote will decide how ATTPAC will provide services worth the $15 million it's receiving from the city. (See the full agenda here; the part specific to ATTPAC is below.)
The bulk of the services will be offered to arts groups that receive financial support from the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, and are listed below as proposed.
ATTPAC is proposing including smaller arts groups as part of its overall marketing plan. The group would be comprised of the approximately 65 Office of Cultural Affairs-supported organizations (Tier 1 and Tier 2) and Cultural Projects Program participants, including Kitchen Dog Theater, Writer’s Garret, Turtle Creek Chorale, Anita N. Martinez Ballet Forklórico, the Video Association of Dallas and African American Repertory Theater. The new campaign would include a link to a revamped Office of Cultural Affairs calendar on ATTPAC website homepage which would also be sent via email blast to ATTPAC’s estimated 155,000+ subscribers. The estimate base cost for this program is $26,000. Depending on how many of the arts organizations participate, ATTPAC estimates that the value of the Marketing component could go as high as $773,000.
The proposal is for ATTPAC to offer ticketing services through its commerce arm, TicketDFW, to OCA-supported groups. The service would include a print-at-home option and phone service. Paper tickets mailed to the patron would come with a fee of approximately $1, which will likely be passed onto the customer. Organizations would not be charged for processing tickets for free events. Events with admission would come with a small fee. For example, a $25 ticket would have a $2.00 fee, which includes the credit card processing cost. Seats in the major performance spaces have already been mapped for assigned seating and are in TicketDFW’s system, including the Dallas Performance Hall, Rosewood Center for Family Arts (where Dallas Children’s Theater performs) and the Majestic Theatre. Those that are not mapped can be. It is not clear at this point if there would be a fee for that.
There are approximately a dozen days where either the Studio Theatre at the Wyly or Hamon Hall in the Winspear, or both, will be available in the current season. In other words, days when the core resident companies—Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklórico, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, The Dallas Opera, Dallas Theater Center and Texas Ballet Theater; in addition to the dance season programmed by TITAS Presents and ATTPAC Presents one-offs and Broadway Series tours—will not be in performance or tech rehearsal. The original idea presented to the city of Dallas by ATTPAC was to make those spaces available to arts groups, who would pay around $600 a week in rent.
The new proposal is for ATTPAC to treat the groups as they would productions in its Broadway Series, for example, and pay them a fee to perform in the space. The agreement would include ATTPAC keeping some proceeds from the box office and concessions. ATTPAC has already reached out to some groups about performing in the spaces and is working on a set criteria list.
“These are generally things that the Center does well—ticketing, marketing, curating performances in great spaces—and we’re pleased to be able to extend these services in support of our arts colleagues and the Office of Cultural Affairs,” said Doug Curtis, president and CEO of ATTPAC. “We want this to be helpful, impactful and perhaps together, creating a model for other performing arts centers.”
What Does it Mean?
General feedback from the arts community is that many of the groups would benefit from the marketing component.
“For small and midsize groups, marketing is a challenge so leveraging the horse power of the ATTPAC to promote their events, is a big help,” said Joanna St. Angelo, President of the Dallas Area Cultural Advocacy Coalition.
David Lozano, Artistic Director of Cara Mía Theatre agrees, but the ticketing services may not have the same value. “Not all of the organizations will take advantage of the ticketing component, because we already have our own systems,” he said.
In addition to the services listed above, ATTPAC is offering small arts groups Patron Services Analysis and Training, free tickets to non-profit organizations and discounted tickets to artists. The service proposal also includes the hosting of the Dallas Police Department’s “Let’s Talk” program and Dallas Arts Month.
Some are skeptical about the true value of the proposed services.
“These services still don't add up to $1.5M and sadly, they never will,” claims Giovanni Valderas, former Vice Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission. “If ATTPAC were to actually give substantive services in exchange for the $1.5 million then they wouldn't have the money to pay back down their debt.”
“Since this is our first year [and] we are providing services for a very diverse range of groups, we’re testing the water a bit,” said Curtis. “We’re listening and making adjustments and measuring success with the OCA as we go.”
The component that is likely to draw the most attention is the proposal to offer performance space to “small, emerging and/or traditionally marginalized” arts groups. The original idea was to offer groups space in exchange for reduced rent and for the possible return of the Elevator Project, which had one successful season hosting six companies in 2014-15 (see our original story here).
Lozano said 20 weeks were originally offered, but Heinbaugh said that a number has not been put on it.
"We had identified some dates we might be able to [open up] this year, and [would] explore using Hamon and the sixth floor and other spaces to create an Elevator Project-type program in the future," Heinbaugh said. "But the scope is dependent on the calendar in both the Wyly and the Winspear, and our resident companies have first selection on dates. We expect that every year will be different."
The most recent proposal is to change the agreement to a fee-based contract. ATTPAC administrators tell TheaterJones that performance schedules for the center’s primary tenants/resident companies, including Dallas Opera and Dallas Theater Center, along with ATTPAC’ Broadway Series and one-night tour programing leaves very few days when the Studio Theatre (on the sixth floor of the Wyly) or Hamon Hall (attached to the lobby of the Winspear) will be available.
The first Elevator Project was possible because the Dallas Theater Center presented half of its 2014-2015 season in its original home at the Kalita Humphreys Theater in Uptown. However, since then, like previous seasons at the Wyly, DTC has only offered one or two shows (out of eight or nine) at the Kalita.
Lozano, whose company Cara Mía had a co-production with Dallas Theater Center last season, disagrees with that assessment. He said a better approach would be to let companies perform in the spaces while the resident companies are in pre-production. Lozano thinks it is also possible for the Studio Theatre to be in use while there is a mainstage production in progress downstairs—as proven in the first Elevator Project, as well as by DTC, which this year overlapped Constellations in the Studio with Bella: An American Tall Tale in the Potter Rose Performance Hall.
Is more space coming?
A separate but related issue is the new call from arts groups for the city to include improvements to its cultural centers in the proposed 2017 bond election. Last week, a list of maintenance needs was submitted to the City Council’s Arts, Culture and Libraries Committee. Too, there is a continued call for smaller community performance spaces and black box theaters added to the Latino Cultural Center and City Performance Hall. Both facilities originally had plans (“Phase II”) for black boxes, which offer greater affordability and smaller seating for companies that prefer longer runs and more intimate stagings.
Last month, David Fisher of the Office of Cultural Affairs told TheaterJones that the black box at Latino Cultural Center is more likely to appear on the bond proposal, but it’s not out of the question for City Performance Hall. "None of that has been finalized, so it's still subject to lots of discussion and negotiation," he said.
A black box space at the Latino Cultural Center could allow Cara Mía (already a resident company at LCC) or Teatro Dallas to use the space and save rental money, allowing for better pay for artists. That could result in more Latino actors becoming Actor’s Equity Association (AEA) members, grow the Latino talent pool and contribute to the much-talked-about economic impact that the arts provide.
But could the new funds given from the city to ATTPAC sour voters on passing a bond for more money to cultural centers and libraries?
“The fundamental problem is that ATTPAC and the Arts District keep draining funding and resources from the rest of our arts groups,” Lozano told TheaterJones in September, before the money was approved. “Currently, everyone is fixating on ATTPAC's laundry list of problems but would it help to deliver a thorough list of problems facing the rest of the arts community to put this bailout of $15 million of taxpayer money into perspective? Then, we could see how ATTPAC's issues are part of a much larger diverse ecosystem in which several groups are struggling to simply survive and others to grow.”
Also on the arts community’s radar is the ongoing discussion about cultural equity and providing opportunities to organizations that focus on work created by and for people of color. The new head of the Office of Cultural Affairs, Jenifer Scripps, tells TheaterJones that there is a fundraising effort in the works to pay for a study looking at how to adjust the city’s Cultural Equity policy.
Curtis said that none of the services and their components, if approved by council, would be etched in stone. "If things are not working," he said, "they will go back to the drawing board." “Each year, we’ll review all the services," said Curtis. "If we find something that’s not working quite right, or something that’s really successful and everyone wants more of it, we can adjust. We want this to be a success.”
» TheaterJones editor Mark Lowry contributed to this report