By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
We can be proud of our glittering Vegas-scale Arts District and still be honest about how it came to be. Right? I hope so, because maybe if we look at that history frankly and think about it for a bit, we will be better equipped to gauge what's going on behind the scenes right now with the Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
In spite of its stellar reputation — as a feted and celebrated international touring company that was chosen to be part of the London 2012 Olympics — Dallas Black Dance Theatre is getting pushed out of the Dallas Arts District. They are one of this city's few truly indigenous contributions to the district. Almost everything else is bought and brought here. If DBDT does go, we need to ask ourselves what will be left, exactly.
In the 1970s, wealthy white people in Dallas led a successful effort to pull most of the city's major cultural institutions out of a black neighborhood in South Dallas, reconstituting them in lavish new quarters on what was originally cheap land farther north, closer to where wealthy white people live. The land was cheap because it was another black neighborhood. So in the overall process, resources were pulled out of one black neighborhood and another black neighborhood was expunged.
Before a shovel broke the ground, a number of speculators made very substantial profits when values shot up. George Rodrigue, now managing editor of The Dallas Morning News, did a great piece for D Magazine in 1982 in which he recounted how the late Trammell Crow made $9.5 million just by snatching up a parcel in the future arts district and sitting on it for three years.
The story recounted how Margaret McDermott, a Dallas rich lady who was chairwoman of the DMA board, led the campaign to move everything north, buoyed by a 1977 consultant's report conveniently confirming that the previous home of the art museum in South Dallas "was a poor location for a facility whose patrons came primarily from North Dallas."
Dallas Black Dance Theatre was founded in 1976 by Ann Williams, right in the middle of all that sturm und drang. She's one of those rare one-off visionary empire builders who truly have made Dallas what it is today, a city built of powerful, eccentric dreams. Beginning with a handful of dancers and some temporary rehearsal place, she launched a company that has been compared favorably in The New York Times and Washington Post with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York.
In 2007, DBDT raised $10.3 million. Together with $3.26 million from 2003 city bond funds, the money paid for a wonderful renovation of the old Moorland Y at 2700 Flora St., in the northeast corner of the district. The history of the Moorland Y goes back to the first years of the 20th century, when it was a community gathering place for black people in a harshly segregated city, and extends forward into the 1960s, when it was a center of black politics and the civil rights movement in Dallas.
Somehow DBDT was able to convert the building into useful office and rehearsal facilities while preserving spaces like the gracious meeting hall and kitchen that served as a community center for three quarters of a century. It's a power place. You should ask for a tour. The walls of this building whisper some of the city's most fundamental secrets. And today, of course, it's home to an internationally respected dance company that carries all of that history and character and culture out onto the stages of the world.
But maybe not the stages of the Dallas Arts District. Even though promoters of the district have always described DBDT as a "resident company" in publicity, especially when asking voters to approve generous allocations of public bond money for the district, the people who run the district are now quietly squeezing DBDT out of its performance venues.
It started, for me anyway, with a story in The Dallas Morning News. The story gave the impression DBDT was in trouble because it'd been sloppy in its business dealings with the AT&T Performing Arts Center (ATTPAC), which since 2009 has been the operator of the district's main performance venues — Wyly Theater, Winspear Opera House, the Meyerson Symphony Center and others. ATTPAC, through a spokesman, even acknowledged to the paper that bookings can be a challenge "when groups don't schedule well in advance."
I sent DBDT a query asking, not in so many words (and perhaps not as genteelly as possible): How come you screwed up and forgot to book your dates?
I got back a long, very emphatic email from Georgia Scaife, president of the DBDT board, telling me they didn't screw up anything or forget to do anything. Because DBDT often must book its tour dates five and six years ahead, it was DBDT that for years had pressed ATTPAC for a longer commitment to booking dates settled further ahead of time. They had repeatedly asked for but been refused a 10-year booking contract, she said.
On a strictly year-to-year basis, Scaife said, the company had always been able to book three solid weeks in the Wyly Theater for its home season. But late last year that changed. "DBDT," she wrote in that email, "was advised that the three weeks we had used for the last four years in the Wyly Theater under our historical block of dates were no longer available for the next season (2013/2014) and for the next 10 years."
The DBTB is a true Dallas institution; I've talked to Miss Williams many times (many years ago), and she is both gracious, and a visionary. I saw a DBTB show at the Majestic Theater that nearly blew my mind.
I thought this was the post-racial USA. Barry told us so! Therefore let's shut down all these black, brown, yellow, white associations, organizations, and clubs. Let's just have a Dallas Dance Theater.
This makes me sad to be a former Dallas resident. It is unfortunate that in 2013 things like this happen in major US cities. This is exactly why young professionals do not want to move to Dallas or when they get there do not want to stay very long (trust me I have several friends who have called me complaining). To those who have experienced living in other major US cities Dallas is considered a very rigid, conservative city with limited cultural exposure and experiences. It baffles me that the city would not want to support an award winning cultural arts company that provides exposure to diverse cultural experiences when every other US major city is embracing programs that appeal to the masses and provide more options for residents. I guess Dallas and ATTPAC are statisfied to remain the "stuffy" conservative city it is and continue to allow other cities to attract the growing population of young professionals that actually spend money and pay taxes... I for one will not consider moving home anytime soon given that Dallas is still living in the 1960's. I prefer to live in the new millineum. #my-two-cents #just-sad #wow-it's-2013right?
Steering clear of the meat of this article, there are quite a few really basic facts in this article about the arts district that are just plain wrong. Things that could easily have been fact checked. Makes me wonder what else about this article wasn't verified.
Vegas like? Four under utilized buildings with very little glitz, very few places to eat and not much to do once your show is over is hardly Vegas like. You need to get out of Dallas once in a while.
I want to know where are all the faithful DO readers who often call you a racist, white-hating libtard, JS. I mean, this is Dallas - our city and civic leaders would never continue practices of racial favoritism, would they? They would? ~ / ~ Om
"DBDT" needs to remember this is Dallas and they should handle this in the traditional Dallas way... SUE SUE SUE. I'm sure the last thing ATTPAC wants is national press describing racist policies.
@anonymous Why steer clear of the meat? The meat of the story IS the story. Once again, the elite of Dallas have created a venue that is exclusive at the taxpayers expense. Let's go fact check that.
@anonymous That's interesting. Would you care to elaborate or just make unfounded accusations?
@anonymous You've made the allegation. Now back it up.
or do this the other "traditional Dallas way", and let it fester in filibuster until it stinking and rotting