Dallas — Is it another case of “he said/she said” between small arts groups in Dallas and the city of Dallas’ Office of Cultural Affairs? The two butted heads in the fall of 2016 over funding from the city that will indirectly pay off $15 million in construction debt for the ATT&T Performing Arts Center, in exchange for services provided by ATTPAC to small arts groups. The disagreement now is over what some are saying is a cut to funding for the city’s Summer Arts Programs for children at the South Dallas Cultural Center, the Bath House Cultural Center, the Oak Cliff Cultural Center and the Latino Cultural Center.
In the week before Christmas, DallasArtsEquity.com issued a press release and posted it on Facebook, claiming “Summer arts programs and camps for underserved children and youth at four City of Dallas Cultural Centers, managed by the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs department, will be canceled due to funding cuts.”
The statement, crafted by former South Dallas Cultural Center Manager Vicki Meek, who also writes an editorial column for TheaterJones.com and artist Giovanni Valderas, draws a direct connection between the decisions made about the ATTPAC and potential cuts to summer programs. “How can the city provide $15 million for the AT&T Performing Arts Center to pay billionaires’ debt while leaving working class families without affordable summer options?” asked Meek.
A very different message is coming from the Office of Cultural Affairs. “All of the summer programs will go on at the Centers, as scheduled,” writes the OCA’s David Fisher. “In addition, in collaboration with Big Thought and several other strategic partners, OCA will be developing new summer learning initiatives in significantly underserved and under-resourced neighborhoods.”
Big Thought is a non-profit that manages the summer programing for the Thriving Minds initiative, which was launched in 2006 by the City of Dallas and Dallas ISD. “This year, Big Thought worked with the OCA to assess how these resources have been utilized in the past and determine how we can make the biggest impact for Summer 2017,” says Fisher. “We agreed that the best decision was to strategically increase the investment and redirect the focus of these resources to the neighborhoods with the greatest need, such as Vickery Meadows, Pleasant Grove, Highland Hills and Red Bird.”
Questions remain about the future of the summer arts programs at the South Dallas, the Bath House, the Oak Cliff and the Latino Cultural Centers and how the $61,000 provided through Big Thought for last summer’s programs would be restored. Fisher is not offering specific details about what the funding plan is, but maintains that the programs will continue. “The Cultural Centers and local arts partners have expressed concerns that they were losing their funding for summer programs at the Cultural Centers,” says Fisher. “We have ensured that this will not happen, and that their summer programs will be funded and supported by the OCA.”
David Lozano, executive Artistic Director of Cara Mía Theatre Company, which runs a summer program called School of YES! (see video below), says that he was not assured of the programs’ future in recent meetings with OCA, and has started fundraising in an effort to pay for the summer program at the Latino Cultural Center, along with Cara Mía’s annual match for the program. “The challenge of finding out about this now is that we are in the middle of a fiscal year,” says Lozano. “If we will not receive funding from the city and Big Thought, Cara Mía Theatre will have to raise money for the entire camp.”
And if funding is restored? “I say, go ahead,” says Lozano. “These neighborhoods need these programs.”
TheaterJones will stay with this story and keep you updated.