Dallas — It seems weird to be talking about Sylvia Hougland in the past because she was so very present in whatever she involved herself. Whether it was serving the Dallas arts community at large as Vice Chair of the Cultural Arts Commission or supporting a particular arts organization as she did for several diverse cultural organizations, Sylvia jumped in with both feet and all her heart. I think one of the things I admired most about her was the way she embraced the total cultural community without regard for organization size or ethnic specificity, or status. I can’t think of any Cultural Affairs Commissioner currently serving who visited the South Dallas Cultural Center more times than Sylvia did when I was manager. She’d come to openings, performances, or on occasion just to see me.
We could talk about a myriad of topics, not always just the arts, because Sylvia was extremely well versed in a lot of things that interested me. It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with issues of equity, racial and social justice and in Sylvia I found a willing conversationalist even though we didn’t always see eye to eye. She understood my frustration with the slow pace that our city was taking to a place of cultural equity and I knew she was doing what she could to hasten that pace. Some people didn’t appreciate her boldness, her unwillingness to accept the status quo, but I adored that about her. She liked to “shake it up’ a bit and thanks to her commitment to see all of Dallas’ cultural organizations receive recognition for their contribution to our cultural landscape, my quest to see equity never seemed hopeless.
Sylvia Hougland loved music and was one of the first people to congratulate me when I aired WRR’s first jazz show, Jazz at Fair Park. We would talk about my selections and why I chose who I chose and I was delighted that she was so on top of the genre! Now that I think about it, I think Sylvia was able to hold a great conversation about just about everything I wanted to discuss with her because her curiosity about life seemed boundless. Her big laugh would always get me laughing too and her strong, warm hug was always welcome, especially when it was after she had just reassured me that she was in my corner.
I will miss Sylvia for all the reasons I articulated above but I will probably miss her most because she was truly a friend who never tried to change me and who accepted my loudmouth without hesitation. We were kindred souls in so many ways. You can truly Rest in Peace Sylvia Hougland knowing that Dallas will never be the same without you.
» Sylvia Hougland died Monday of cancer. She was 78. There will be a celebration for her on Saturday, July 1 from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at the Nasher Sculpture Center in the Dallas Arts District.