Dallas — The Winnetka Church Restoration Project, rebranded as Arts Mission Oak Cliff, is due to open its doors in the next several weeks. The massive restoration of the 1920’s church at 410 S. Windomere Ave. in Oak Cliff’s Winnetka Heights neighborhood has been a dream and labor of love for actor and teaching artist Anastasia Muñoz. The investors behind the project are Charlieuniformtango co-creator Lola Lott and her husband Todd, a former casting director who has been putting his focus towards renovation projects like the Winnetka Church.
Muñoz and the Lotts are creating a space that is somewhat unique in Dallas. Arts Mission Oak Cliff will not take on the mantle of non-profit. The space will not be run by or organized under a theater company or by the City of Dallas. In the spirit of spaces like P.S. 122 in New York, Arts Mission Oak Cliff will be funded by the artists who use it.
“We will be a for-profit entity, not because we want to make profit, but because as a non-profit, you spend a lot of time doing paperwork,” says Muñoz. “It really limits your artistic freedom. My vision for this is that if we are all able to contribute a little bit financially, then we can sustain this place.”
Muñoz says the Mission will be, all at once, a shared work space, performance space, rehearsal space and community classroom. The concept is to offer artists a place to practice, teach, display and develop their craft.
“I see this as a lab,” says Muñoz. “This is a place where you workshop and rehearse. I want to challenge the model of ‘rehearse for four weeks, perform for four weeks.’” An equally important part of the mission behind Arts Mission, she adds, is opening the door to the space’s neighbors and involving Oak Cliff residents through programing, community meals and classes. “I love the idea of being in a position to challenge the model of how we make art and how we do arts education. I’m interested in looking at how we can elevate the value of artists and, frankly, our patrons.”
Before the project could get off the ground, Muñoz says that they sought and received buy-in from the Winnetka Heights Neighborhood Association and from the city of Dallas. The church, built for a Methodist congregation in 1929, has always been zoned as residential. It sits on the corner of a street lined with homes, kitty-corner form Dallas ISD’s W.E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy. Recent closures of art galleries and other creative spaces by the Dallas Fire Marshal have highlighted the importance of securing appropriate zoning and permits. Arts Mission Oak Cliff received final approval for what is called an overlay specifically for an Arts Center and Theater.
The original sanctuary offers a space for full productions and workshops. Upstairs is a library/meeting room and dance/yoga studio. Downstairs, the half-basement is lined with rooms that were once Sunday School classrooms. They have been transformed into an audio recording booth, a video production studio, a textiles workshop, costume workshop, props workshop and a kitchen. The wide corridor between the work rooms downstairs will serve as both a common workspace and a small secondary performance space. Artists interested in using the workrooms and common workspace on a regular basis can become a member of Arts Mission Oak Cliff, an idea similar to the growing co-working phenomenon.
The renovation has been a huge undertaking and the Lotts have made significant investment in the project. “They know what they are investing in this as their legacy. They are not looking to make a profit off of this,” says Muñoz.
That said, Muñoz has confidence that the business model will be successful. “I do believe that we will be able to repay them.”
Opening later this month will be the downstairs workroom, the dance/yoga studio and the library. In April, the sanctuary will host its first performances. Dallas-based Cara Mía Theatre Company is already slated to present the inaugural production, the world premiere of Caridad Svich’s De Troya, tentatively scheduled to run April 29-May 14. Muñoz plans to launch workshops and community meals in the summer and an after-school conservatory in the fall.
“We’ll trial and error it. And, I know it’s going to be rocky, “says Muñoz. “Once we develop what this really is, we have plans to franchise.” She says that Arts Mission East Dallas or Arts Mission Fort Worth could become realities. “We need a place for community and creativity and coming together.”
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