Waste not, want not

How 500 Inc. could really become leaders in the Dallas performance scene

That's not an attack on the quality of shows being presented by the theater center and the opera. I'm not suggesting they don't deserve 500 Inc. money; I suggest that, relatively speaking, they don't need it as much as many groups. We're talking about two organizations that have the political and corporate clout to build new homes for themselves in downtown Dallas, assuming local voters give their approval in bond elections. (A $10.5 million bond proposal for land acquisition for new homes for the theater center and opera goes before voters in May.) Would either multimillion-dollar organization miss $20,000 a year? They might say yes--times are tough financially all over for performing arts. But I challenge both groups to be chivalrous and forgo their 500 Inc. contributions in the name of assisting the little guys, whose flourishing would, in turn, make our city a more inviting place for the international performers the theater center and opera bring in. This would be especially appropriate as the opera and the theater center are subsidized by Dallas taxpayers.

The Dallas Morning News recently ran an editorial on "What Makes a City Livable." If the Morning News is really interested in making Dallas more livable, it can stop flying stage critic Lawson Taitte out to New Jersey for lengthy articles on how great downtown performance centers are, and start directing him toward a more nuanced examination of local performers. The newspaper can face Dallas' inferiority complex about culture--and overcome it--if it acknowledges how much talent we have here and realizes that paying less attention to international artists and more to our own will, conversely, stir up the interest of outsiders. Most importantly, as a major supporter of 500 Inc., the theater center, and the opera, the Morning News can play a key role in helping make Dallas more livable for its resident stage artists by nudging more money toward those who barely eke out a living, yet create provocative theater. That's how you slowly, patiently create a scene that earns a national reputation.

The 500 Inc. is in a prime position to lead the way on this one, if they just reconsider some basic assumptions behind their funding system. That process might include confronting their own reputation (fair or unfair, you hear it from many different corners) as an organization whose main goal is hobnobbing with opera and symphony board members, not cultivating artistic visions. Cliff Redd and the 500 Inc.'s top brass, the long-term serious-as-a-heart-attack volunteers who sit on the funds distribution committees, could lead the move in this direction.

All this would entail a certain deferred gratification--the process of building a world-class cultural scene isn't as big an ego stroke as living in one. Picking up empty soda cans after a show at the Swiss Avenue Theater is a helluva lot less glamorous than chatting up opera director Plato Karayanis or the theater center's Richard Hamburger at a cast party. But over the long haul, it contributes more to the kind of glamour that counts--the confidence that your city is doing something unlike any other city in the country. When you radiate that kind of pride, outsiders start to notice.

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