Best and Worst of Dallas Arts and Culture in 2016

Artists wear hazmat suits in mockery of the fire marshal, who began shutting down small art gatherings this summer due to safety concerns.
Artists wear hazmat suits in mockery of the fire marshal, who began shutting down small art gatherings this summer due to safety concerns.
Alisa Elkilis

You don't have to scroll far down your Facebook feed this month to find someone lamenting 2016 as the worst year ever and begging for 2017 to hurry up and put it out of its misery. Even when you narrow your reflection to Dallas alone, there are plenty tragedies to grieve, such as the murder of five police officers during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in July.

But in our review of the best and worst things that happened in Dallas arts in culture over the past year, we had to admit that some positive developments sneaked in there as well. Since we could use a pick-me-up, we started with the good in our list of the five best and five worst things that happened in Dallas arts and culture in 2016.

The Good:

Dallasites dominated in a number of fields, from chess to the Paralympics to drag.
This summer, 15-year-old Jeffery Xiong of Plano won the World Junior Chess Championship in Bhubaneswar, India, to become the second youngest chess grandmaster in United States history. His friend, Ruifeng Li, placed third (Li is also from Plano). Dallas is also home to Paralympians who won gold in Rio, such as Deja Young, who competed in the 100- and 200-meter sprints just a couple of weeks after the regular summer Olympics wrapped up. A drag queen from Dallas, Antwan Lee (aka Asia T. O'Hara), also reigned as Miss Gay America this year.

Mark Cuban helped protect partiers.
After a rash of violent crimes in the Oak Lawn area and the massacre at Orlando gay nightclub Pulse on June 12, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban donated $1 million to Dallas police to help keep partiers in the "gayborhood" safe.

Local theaters made their productions accessible to more people.
Dallas Children's Theater began putting on "sensory friendly" shows that lower the lights and volume for autistic children who may be sensitive to these things. The programs also offer parents a play by play of what their kids can expect to see and experience, and a quiet room in case it all becomes too much. Meanwhile, Theatre Three introduced sign language to some of its shows this season, to accommodate deaf audiences.

A church in Oak Cliff is being lovingly restored and repurposed as an arts center.
While some historic buildings are facing demolition, actress and theater teacher Anastasia Muñoz is working to restore the Winnetka Congregational Church to turn it into a community arts space that will operate with a membership model and offer classes, performance space and much-needed affordable art studios.

Dallas art institutions new and old made more room for women.
This year a woman played Ebeneezer Scrooge for the first time in Dallas Theater Center's production of A Christmas Carol;  a new Dallas film festival, the Women Texas Film Festival, celebrated the work of women behind the camera; and the Dallas Opera continued its mentorship of female conductors with the Linda and Mitch Hart Institute for Women Conductors, the only opera program in the world that strives to balance gender behind the podium.

The Bad:

Dallas artists and gallerists engaged in a heated battle with the fire marshal.
After cracking down on "underground" parties and raves at the beginning of the year, over the summer the fire marshal turned his attention to events at local art galleries. Small art openings at galleries such as Kirk Hopper, which had gone unbothered for years, were shut down in-progress for lack of proper certificates of occupancy and other code issues, prompting lively town hall meetings and mocking performance art. The deaths of dozens of people at a warehouse party in Oakland, California, earlier this month mean the fire marshal is unlikely to be less strict in 2017.

The AT&T Performing Arts Center is in the midst of a financial crisis.
It sure is beautiful, but its beauty comes at a price: $15 million, to be exact. That's the amount the AT&T Performing Arts Center, which consists of the Winspear Opera House and the Wyly Theater, asked the city of Dallas for this year. The center is struggling under the weight of the $151 million debt it accrued during construction, when they say the economy and fundraising prospects were better than they are now. Many local artists and small arts organizations weren't happy about the proposed deal, saying the money would be better spent investing in them rather than bailing out a big business.

Two childhood landmarks said goodbye.
White Rock Skate Center, which has been operated since '73 by the same family, announced that it would be closing in October so its owners could retire. The Lake Highlands institution was mourned by people who grew up skating there and the rink had to turn away people on its final night, Oct. 16, because it was at capacity. Another relic of 1973, Valley View Mall, is also preparing to say goodbye this year. The mall, which was vacated by major retailers years ago, had recently found a second life as a training ground for budding entrepreneurs who wanted an inexpensive place to open their first storefront. Demolition of the mall is slated to begin by Dec. 31 to make way for the Dallas Midtown development, curiously named since the location is in Far North Dallas.

Dallas was swarmed with reality TV, most of which was too boring to be a guilty pleasure.
In its first season, The Real Housewives of Dallas proved itself to be the most boring show in the Bravo franchise. Little Women: Dallas began airing its own heavily staged show this fall. And we had plenty of representatives on other shows, too. Dallas native JoJo Fletcher competed on The Bachelor , only to be chosen as The Bachelorette later in the year (she and her winning beau now reside here). Then former Texas governor Rick Perry embarrassed us all by going on Dancing with the Stars after losing his bid for president. And even notorious trouble maker, chef John Tesar, has been disappointing us with his cool demeanor on the new season of Top Chef.

Our musically gifted neighbor, Denton, lost some of its most popular music venues.
Hailey's Club closed at the beginning of 2016, followed by Rubber Gloves, which has operated for 20 years, and was shuttered by owner Josh Baish in June. The land value had skyrocketed and Baish said he needed the money to provide for his family. The closure of the basement venue at J&Js Pizza in August completed a trifecta that has shifted the landscape of music in Denton, with house shows returning to prominence as the best place to see local music.


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