Dallas — Dallas is once again about to tackle the task of writing a Cultural Plan and I know there’s been a lot of buzz about this in the last year or so. I’m writing this column before knowing who won the contract to shepherd us through this process so I can’t comment on how excited (or not excited, lol!) I am about the award, but I am genuinely excited that our city is taking another crack at writing a plan.
You might think that giving how much I bitch and moan about the cultural community and its many challenges where cultural equity is concerned, that I would be skeptical of this process. On the contrary, I was excited about the first plan and I’m excited about the prospect of this new one. Why you ask? Well, it’s because Dallas’ cultural community has grown tremendously since the writing of the last plan and the players are more diverse. That diversity spans more than just race which was the major divide in the 1980s, but now also includes organizational size with many more cultural organizations owning or at least occupying facilities all around town.
The cultural landscape has expanded beyond one geographical area as well to include neighborhoods that in the 1980s had little or no cultural activity. In addition, some areas that had the bulk of the activity may have seen a change in the social demographics so the needs may have changed to accommodate these new demographics. I guess what I’m saying is the conversation around equity, access and community engagement should be richer and more complex today than it was when the first exploration into cultural planning took place.
So we have a real opportunity facing us and I hope we see it as such and not continue doing business as usual. We have heard the demands of organizations of color for cultural equity and I know that many of us in the arts community won’t be timid about getting this issue front and center in the planning process. We’ve heard the demands of the smaller organizations about the need for more facilities that can accommodate their programs and I know they intend to make their voices heard.
We know that the idea of centralized arts districts no longer serves Dallas well (not that I think it ever did) since the vast majority of its citizens don’t live in proximity to The Arts District and could benefit more from neighborhood cultural facilities or at the very least, cultural programming in alternative neighborhood facilities like churches, rec centers, storefronts, etc. We’ve certainly heard the outcry from the individual artists about the need for the city arts and cultural funding to better address their needs as producers of artistic products.
How exciting that we now have so many constituents who have a vested interest in seeing that the cultural plan is a truly workable one and I trust there will be willing participants from all these diverse sectors of the field in the creation of this plan.
Well, the next few months will be the test of how serious Dallas is about embracing its “whole” cultural community and listening to the voices of its artists, arts producers and arts presenters. The process takes time and I hope the contract with the facilitators has taken time into consideration. Dallas is a big city with lots of moving parts so we need to make sure we all end up moving in the same direction. Cultural planning involves a lot of visioning because we should not just be concerned with the here and now but the future as well. In many ways, the future is what I am most interested in envisioning. If we are prudent about creating a plan that not just sees but foresees, perhaps we can avoid many of the problematic issues we’ve wrestled with in the past few decades. And it is to this point that I want to implore all those involved in the planning process to come to the table in honesty and transparency. Let’s not pretend that all is well in our house and ignore our dysfunctional parts! Let’s promise to hear everyone and more importantly, listen to everyone because all the cultural voices have something to contribute.
Finally, I hope our City Council doesn’t waste tax dollars by granting a contract to a company to facilitate this process and then shelve the plan as we’ve seen so often done. I hope those 15 council members sent downtown to represent us, take this process as seriously as we in the cultural community do and consider the financial commitment needed to implement a new plan as necessary not optional. After all talk is cheap, but commitment means putting our money where our mouths are.
By the way, a good start can be allocating money in the next Bond Package for the myriad of cultural facilities needing repairs! I had to throw this in since I understand this may not happen given the last budget meeting’s outcome. I just think whoever the hired facilitators are who are tasked with helping us develop a new forward looking cultural plan will be more impressed with our city if they start that process knowing we’re committed to the upkeep of our existing cultural facilities. Come on Dallas, let’s do this!
» Vicki Meek is a former arts manager, a practicing artist and activist splitting her time between Dallas and Costa Rica. ART-iculate explores issues around race, politics and the arts. You can also keep up with Meek's musings in her blog Art & Racenotes.
» ART-iculate runs on the last Wednesday of the month.
- Vicki Meek ART-iculates (April 2016)
- On Dallas and Cultural Equity (May 2016)
- Equity vs. Diversity (June 2016)
- An Arts Super PAC? (July 2016)
- Too Big to Fail? (August 2016)
- It Isn't Us Against Them (September 2016)
- Another Missed Opportunity (October 2016)
- Neighborhood Arts Center: Not a New Idea (November 2016)
- Save Our Summer Programs (Decemeber 2016)
- The Creative Community in the Trump Era (January 2016)
- Being a Black Artist in a White World (February 2016)
- Expanding Our Cultural Horizons (March 2016)
- Intercultural Self-Determination (April 2016)