Dallas Talks A Big Art Game, But It’s Time The City Put Some Money Where Its Mouth Is.

Welcome to Canvassing, our weekly look at the conversations that surround the Dallas art world. Pull up a chair. Stay with us for a while. The view’s pretty nice from here.

Last Thursday at the city-owned Dallas City Performance Hall in the Arts District, Dallas City Council members Philip Kingston, Adam Medrano and Scott Griggs, along with city manager A.C. Gonzalez and a host of city staff members, presented the proposed 2014-2015 city budget in a town hall format to a crowd of mostly arts and library supporters.

Budgets get complicated quickly but know this: Arts, culture and recreation combine to receive only about one percent of the total city budget. That, folks, is a very small piece of a billion-plus-dollar pie.

Now, let’s break down where that money gets spent. Roughly $12 million goes to operating the 22 city-owned cultural venues, including the beloved cultural centers. A total of $5 million dollars is budget toward cultural services contracts, which are agreements with over 70 area non-profits. This year, there is also a proposed $150,000 increase to the public art budget, which would bring that total to a little over $400,000. In total, we’re talking about $17 million or so.

Out of that $17 million in operating money that we spend each year on the arts, though, no money is allocated towards directly funding artists. The one program that once did that — the community artist program — continues to remain unfunded.

Here’s where all of that becomes especially disheartening: Dallas leaders are clearly using the Arts District in particular to help sell and brand the City of Dallas on a national and international scale.

So why not up the figures the city spends on the arts? It’s not like there’s no return on investment: The arts contribute over a billion dollars to the entire North Texas region each year, with the largest chunk of that impact occurring in Dallas.

Plus: Can you even count the number of times the phrase “world-class city” has been used in relation to Dallas in the last few years? Spoiler: It’s a lot. And you know what makes a city world-class? The arts. It’s a fact: World-class cities spend money on arts and on culture and on — drum roll, please — supporting individual artists. New York City spends a billion dollars on arts and culture annually, including $156 million in operating costs, a chunk of which goes toward individual artist grant salaries. When former New York City cultural affairs commissioner Kate Levin spoke at Southern Methodist University in April, she remarked that one of the biggest lessons she learned in her time as commissioner was the significant value that came from directly supporting individual artists and projects.

Dallas, of course, is the only major city in the country that doesn’t do this.

At the budget town hall meeting, one council member brought up the idea of diverting some of our hotel tax money towards supporting the arts — a popular mechanism and the one Houston uses to directly support its artists. City manager Gonzalez, however, tells Canvassing that, basically, this kind of arrangement is impossible in Dallas due to previous agreements. What Gonzalez did recommend, however, is setting up a dedicated source of funding for the arts, which would require either a city council vote or a voter referendum.

It’s a harder path to travel down perhaps, but getting the public to agree to an increase on property taxes by as little as a penny per dollar could end up netting as much as $8 million additional dollars for the arts each year, says Gonzalez.

Seems like a fair trade to me. And, heck, if we really want to become a world-class arts city — if we’re truly committed to it — maybe we can even spare two pennies.

This Week’s Openings and Happenings of Note.
“Selections From the Belo Collection” sponsored by Heritage Auctions at The McKinney Avenue Contemporary. 6p.m.

“#northoakcliffdoesnotexist” presented by THRWD at Ezra’s House. 8:30 p.m.

“How Art Touches The Heart: Pecha Kucha” presented by Texas Sculpture Association at Nasher Sculpture Center. 2 p.m.
“Dandy Fresh” by Rosie Lee at The Brazos Gallery (Richland College). 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
“In A Galaxy Far Far Away: Closing Reception” by Art Love Magic and Jedigoddess at Janette Kennedy Gallery. 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
“Lenworth: Closing Show” by Joonbug Lenworth McIntosh at Epocha. 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“Rec Shop Art Show and 10-Year Anniversary Party” at Restaurant Monterrey. 8 p.m.

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