Just One More Bad Idea Intended to Bring the Creative Class to The Arts District

Categories: Get Off My Lawn

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Oh, no, this can't be. The plan to bring together all of the city's disparate and independent small arts organizations under a central government ministry in the new "arts district" has hit a snag. According to a recent story in The Dallas Morning News, the independent arts organizations are failing to behave in a unified fashion.

What next? The fall of communism?

Since the early '80s Dallas City Hall and a tight cabal of influential real estate developers have poured untold treasure and time into the creation of the city's vaunted "arts district" between Ross Avenue and the Woodall Rodgers Freeway downtown. The plan has always been to get all of the city's cultural organizations out of their scattered venues, especially Fair Park, and put them under central control in a unified real estate development easily accessible to the Park Cities.

The difficulties recounted in The News story have to do with the new City Performance Hall, a venue under construction now in a roughly 30-block area shared with the city's glitzy opera and symphony halls and art museum. The new performance hall is supposed to serve small arts groups that can't afford to rent space in bigger venues nearby. But apparently many of those groups are already fearing they won't be able to rent space in the performance hall, either.

They also can't get the city to tell them how the thing will be governed. They also can't get the city to tell them when they can even know what dates will be available to book.

I'm reading this story. I'm thinking, "Well, if they do succeed in getting the city to tell them who's responsible and when they can get stuff done, I need to talk to them. I want to see if I can use the same techniques to get something done about my water meter that I've been complaining about for 20 years."

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The Dallas City Performance Hall
Let me ask you something: Who thought it was going to be a good idea to put small independent arts groups under the city? Why will they be better off working for some central government ministry called, "The Arts District?"

No, wait. Don't even answer that. Answer me something else first. What the hell is an arts district? Did we ever settle that question before we spent 30 years on this thing?

Maybe what they mean is sort of an arts mall. I could even get into that. It's a place where consumers go to buy art from retailers, so it needs to have all the right mall amenities -- good parking, armies of uniformed guards, Starbucks, enough bathrooms so every patron can take a leak once every 15 minutes. Sure. I'm not disparaging, but just trying to understand. An arts district, then, would be a place devoted to the sale and consumption of art.

As opposed to what? Well, notably, as opposed to what the small independent groups do, which is create art. That's just different. Creativity operates on a whole different scale from consumption, a different business plan, if you will. They're separate. They need to be.

You don't have the guy who actually throws the pots walking around NorthPark Center in his grungy clay-stained smock scaring people with his hair. He works far far away, in North Oak Cliff or the Cedars, in a studio with cheap rent where potential consumers can't see him.
Everybody loves art. Nobody likes an artist.

The Arts District idea was fine as long as it was devoted solely to high-end rich-people art, museum art, big hall art, anything with a 50-buck minimum. That way you were drawing in only the big-bucks consumers, sort of like at a hoity-toity art auction where it's easy to keep things under control.

But now they're making what is probably a huge mistake by trying to bring in the creative people themselves. A tragedy in the making. They need to rethink. Somebody needs to cut some losses here, give up on this ill-conceived notion before it's too late. Maybe they could convert the so-called Dallas City Performance Hall into the Dallas Hall of Fashion and just use it to sell fur coats or something.

Meanwhile, please, you poor little small arts groups, don't leave your hobbit homes. Stay where you are. For you, the Arts District is the mountain dark and tall. Just don't go.


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35 comments
fred
fred

It's a shame that Dallas schools (save one) aren't getting to use the Winspear and Meyerson for graduations -- I know it would upset Parkies that a minority person might have sat in their seats but please!

Grumpy Demo
Grumpy Demo

"They also can't get the city to tell them how the thing will be governed. They also can't get the city to tell them when they can even know what dates will be available to book."

The new City owned hotel is gonna be awesome!

Tim
Tim

I love how the city keeps using the word "small" to describe arts groups that could use a 700-seat theater. To them, "small" is anything that is "not humongous." Only mid-size groups with annual budgets of at least $1 million could use a space that big. Most of the truly small performance groups here have budgets of $150K or less, and work best in spaces with maybe 100 seats, but often smaller. The Bath House is a perfect size for those groups. City officials: Not everything has to be big in Texas.

byter
byter

Arts Ghetto you mean. Gather the arts in one little area so they don't get in the way of future development. 

JuliaB.
JuliaB.

Very different situation up in Philly, but a similar Arts Palace mentality. You might want to check out what's going on up there, Jim. Not pretty. http://bit.ly/kl6Uhp

cityrunamuck
cityrunamuck

In addition to a number of valid points raised in the blogs posted, the additional issue that transcends the comments offered, is that as a metroplex we are grossly overbuilt in performance venues.  And product has not expanded at the same rate to justify the number of venues available.  With the possible exception of Bass Hall in Ft. Worth, none of the venues in the metroplex are making money.  Not only are they built with in total or part by taxpayer funds, the on-going operating costs are subsidized in total or part by taxpayers.  And finally, taxpayers support in many cases these arts groups with tax dollars used in the form of grants for programming. 

We have our City Council, City Manager, V Lill and the arts groups to thank for the huge financial mess we are going to face in the years to come.  Don't get me wrong, I think a city needs a few quality arts venues and should support same......but considering what we have on the ground just in the city of Dallas, we are underwater.

Your solution, Jim is not off base - find an alternative use for the Performance Hall or mothball it - that would be less expensive in the long - run than to open and try to make it work. 

Finally, this  is not an Office of Cultural Affairs issue, but a V. Lill, City Council and City Manager challenge for which the simple response early on would have been NO, we can 't afford. 

Faulking the Office of Cultural Affairs is the simple way of looking at this problem.  When this Office merely responds to the Cultural Affairs Commission, City Manager, City Council and V. Lill......All are trying to pin blame to the tail of the dog and not the head. 

We need a do over on the Arts District..........

Branden Helms
Branden Helms

Jim,

A solid critique of the Arts District on the performing side. When one factors in its shortcomings on the urban design side, the Arts District's failures become even more pronounced.

Brenda Marks
Brenda Marks

From the City's website-- "The Office of Cultural Affairs is a division of the City Manager’s Office and is charged with establishing a cultural system that ensures that all Dallas citizens and visitors have an opportunity to experience the finest in arts and culture..."

Geez, could they possibly make the arts sound any less creative and fun? 

Mike
Mike

Is the Hall also a replacement for what used to be a Dallas Theater Center location next to Booker?  It's not a bad idea, but special effort needs to be made to keep the infrastructure very lean and not have a lot of rules on the users.  In other words nobody now associated with Dallas City Government, Dallas County Government or DISD should have any involvement.  Somebody can be hired only if they deal with the above bodies in one of those microchip clean rooms or in a CDC Level 4 containment.  The asinine management ideas in the above three groups are that contagious.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

JIM S

The local groups will have to put on alot of Andy Hardy  Back yard shows and car washes just to have a deposit to reserve the venue for a  performance

Bob
Bob

Talk about getting your story ass backwards--The City Performance Hall was added to the Performing Arts Center at the request (or insistence) of the smaller performing arts groups who had few places in the city to perform.  At that time, the Bath House Cultural Center was the principal performing space for a number of groups, and it was woefully inadequate in terms of stage space, audience space, and calendar availability for all the groups that wanted to use it.

Representatives of the smaller groups told the city that the only way they would support the proposed performing arts center was if it would include accommodations for the many smaller performing arts entities.  The city agreed, and this performance hall is the result.

For your information, neither the barn that is the Music Hall, the Majestic, nor the Meyerson are acceptable alternatives for these groups.  The Latino Cultural Center was not then in existence, and the South Dallas Cultural Center was not really suitable, either.

Thus, the City did not foist the Performance Hall on the arts community--the arts community demanded it so that the smaller groups would be treated equitably with the larger groups, such as the Opera and DTC.

Perhaps, also, you might want to recognize the difference between PERFORMANCE ART, such as theatre, opera, music, and dance, and VISUAL ART, such as painting and sculpture.The ATTPAC, including the City Performance Hall, presents performing artists, whom we all might like to see, while the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher, and the Crow present the art of visual artists, whom apparently you do not care to see.  Each art form has different needs, and requires different facilities.  Thus, we have difference buildings to suit each one.

RW1961
RW1961

The interview in the DMN with the lady who runs the "Arts" for the city was hilarious, if it weren't so painful. They don't have hardly anything booked for the newish Latino center, that was supposedly going to have lots of artsy things going on. They don't know when they will be able to book the new Performance Hall, even though they SHOULD KNOW when it will be completed (construction projects have schedules, right?... weren't they booking the magical new hotel a year or more in advance?) and they've been told arts groups need to book a year + in advance.

Oh wait, maybe they didn't know that, since apparently the lady in charge hasn't spoken to the arts groups who are are going to use the facility for 18 months!!! I would like to say I was shocked, but I'm not.

Bill Holston
Bill Holston

i wonder how many small arts programs/organizations were ever consulted about any of this? Actually,  I don't really know what this is supposed to be. Surely they don't intend small theater groups to leave their current locations.

Maybe this is for small dance groups, youth choirs things like that. Your points about visual artists, are we thinking there will be studio space there?  I attended Pecha Kucha at the Wylie, which they made available at a great price. Also, I've been to Patio Sessions at Wylie where local artists play free. That's a cool space.

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

I have it on good authority that the City will adopt a policy with respect to these smaller arts groups that will be modeled on their current plans with respect to the City landfill (and the way they've approached the metal recycling and auto repair businesses).

More specifically, all arts groups will be prohibited from continuing to perform in their current locations via new zoning regulations coupled with a refusal to grant SUPs.  The ONLY place arts activities will be allowed to occur will be in the official Dallas City Performance Hall, with dates, times and hall rental rates to be established by HRH Mary Suhm in her sole and absolute discretion.

Scheduling conflicts and any other disagreements will be dealt with by the City Council in closed session, under the leadership of Suhm and Tom Perkins.

Patrons of individual arts groups interested in securing favorable leases, performance dates, etc. are encouraged to consult the campaign sites of the current City Council incumbents.

Buckeye
Buckeye

What is the Arts District?  It is like the Design District - only for Arts.

Lakewoodhobo
Lakewoodhobo

Remind me again why the city built this when the Majestic is already under city control and perfectly capable of hosting small productions? I remember reading something about the Majestic having too many seats, but I don't understand what the problem is with that. Better too many than not enough, unless I'm missing something. 

Elaine
Elaine

...and every new venue they build will not have enough stalls in the ladies' room. Wyly, Winspear? We spend every intermish lined up like first-graders waiting to pee. Ridic.

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

[Since the early '80s Dallas City Hall and a tight cabal of influential real estate developers have poured untold treasure and time into the creation of the city's vaunted "arts district" between Ross Avenue and the Woodall Rodgers Freeway downtown. The plan has always been to get all of the city's cultural organizations out of their scattered venues, especially Fair Park, and put them under central control in a unified real estate development easily accessible to the Park Cities.].... with the Town of Highland Park contributing $0; the City of University Park contributing $0; and the City of Dallas contributing tens of millions of dollars in direct subsidies and several million more in forgone tax revenue associated with property removed from the tax rolls.

JimS
JimS

I predict you'll have to make at least four visits to the Jefferson Avenue service center, stand in long lines and then find out you're in wrong lines, in order to book a room. And they will only take stamps.

JimS
JimS

Really interesting. My dad was an Episcopal minister. He didn't talk about it. But I did hear him mutter under his breath once, "God save me from buildings." The problem is taking an entity that's has a fragile mission and purpose in the first place -- church, theater company, studio, school -- and turning it over to real estate developers. Maybe it works. Maybe it's a disaster. But it's always the developers' game, and they run the deal. Now instead of a church you've got a development, with a church in it maybe. The other comment here about the relative paucity of "product" is also especially telling. Building a theater does not cause theater to happen. That's an idea not unlike Dwaine Caraway's belief that installing a Starbucks ina  blighted neighborhood will cause people in the area to beocme wealthier. Real estate works when it meets a need. It doesn't work when it is the need.  In all of this, there's a whole lot to be said for crappy old buildings. Just stay in them.  If the "venue" is all that important to your art, your art sucks. In order to get it together, people need to spend more time in places that are falling apart.

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

Another issue, which I alluded to earlier, is whether it is really appropriate for the City of Dallas to be subsidizing performing arts venues without any participation requirement from the Town of Highland Park and the City of University Park when a substantial percentage of the users reside in those municipalities and their residents exercise substantial influence and/or control over the operations of the associated entities.

Ellum08
Ellum08

When I attended 'Rock of Ages' a month ago, the Arts District was crawling with people. There was a performance of 'Cabaret' at the Wyly and a free event for families had just wrapped up at the Strauss stage. Kids were playing in the fountain in front of the Winspear and every single restaurant in One Arts Plaza was packed.

Is it perfect? No, but I think to call it outright a failure is not fair either.

Bob
Bob

Yes, Schutze did.

Bob
Bob

Oh, I almost forgot--yes, the City is providing the Performance Hall, as requested, but it is totally failing on the operations side, as the DMN pointed out.  The Office of Cultural Affairs has failed to manage the Majestic, and is now failing to manage the Performance Hall.

No need to fear a central commisariat for arts organizations at City Hall.  Those folks have no idea what they are doing.

JimS
JimS

O.K., that's it for you, Wylie H. Your comments are getting a little too good. You will be visited soon by the commiteeman for Local #3402 of the International Brotherhood of Scribblers, Mr. Howzya Kneecapsdoin, for a chat about "The Dues." 

JimS
JimS

Another example would be Ross Avenue, only for used cars.

JimS
JimS

The Majestic is outside the art perimeter.

Montemalone
Montemalone

But I'll bet when you finally get to sit down, there's more legroom in that stall than in the auditorium. I can't believe they spent all that money for uncomfortable seats with no legroom,

JimS
JimS

Women urinate? Has this been in the news?

md
md

I've never heard anyone argue so forcefully that the best way to support the arts is to not support them.

Texaspainter
Texaspainter

But it would create MORE traffic downtown, people on sidewalks, nightlife or am I missing something?

Matt H
Matt H

No legroom?  When I went to the Winspear (haven't made it to the Wyly yet), I was shocked at the spacious leg room--I'm 6'3" and had plenty of space, which is rare at any venue of any type.

JimS
JimS

People driving in and out of a secured parking garage with their door-locks down is hardly street life. 

Montemalone
Montemalone

Wyly/Sammons/ATT PAC whatever you want to call it.I'm 6'2". if you go, better spring for the box circle to get a real chair with room, I sat on the mezzanine.

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