Don't shun hip-hop. Give local musicians some money. Help them figure out how to fill out city paperwork. Generally, behave less like bureaucrats. Those are some of the messages members of the Dallas music scene delivered to Dallas' Office of Cultural Affairs as the city prepares to write its first new cultural plan in 16 years.
Historically, the OCA, a branch of city government responsible for doling out millions of taxpayer dollars to the city’s cultural institutions, has largely underfunded the local music community, but it’s trying to change that. Dallas Music partnered with another grassroots activist organization, Creating Our Future, to brainstorm with the OCA on best practices and where those funds should go moving forward.
The Dallas Cultural Plan, which dictates where the money is funneled, has been in dire need of updating. The last revision was in 2002. It’s supposed to undergo a revamp every decade or so, but a delay occurred largely because the OCA was without a leader for more than a year until Jennifer Scripps stepped up in the spring of 2016.
To that end, agents from within the OCA have been on a fact-finding mission, gathering creative groups on a weekly basis (including architects, designers, visual artists, and people from the theater, dance and film communities) and listening to what its office could be doing better and what it should include in the new cultural plan that’s rolling out this fall.
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“An outcome from this is that we fund individual musicians,” says Benjamin Espino, general manager of the Latino Cultural Center, who also is part of the OCA.
Espino pointed to Austin as a city that’s doing something right by funding individual musicians and artists. Dallas rolled out individual artist grants just two years ago, but none of them have gone to individual musicians.
Patrick Averhart, a show promoter and manager of local acts like Lord Byron, said at one meeting that the OCA doesn't support hip-hop, a common complaint from people within the music community.
“Once they hear the word hip-hop, [the support] is off the table,” Averhart says. “It’s crazy because hip-hop generates a lot of revenue — you can ask the people who run Bomb Factory, Dada, Trees, House of Blues.”
In addition, Scripps says Dallas’ cultural plan has historically put more money toward funding venues rather than funding individuals or small organizations.
“What differentiates Dallas is the amount of facilities that the OCA is funding — buildings rather than the artists and arts organizations,” Scripps says. “It’s an order of magnitude higher than our peer cities. Early data has shown it’s more efficient to fund artists. Then you can do more funding in more places.”
Getting certificates of occupancy for permanent venues, as well as temporary permits and insurance to host events in makeshift or flex venue spaces, has been an ongoing concern for creatives in the city.
“Across all conversations, certain themes are starting to come out," Scripps says. "Some themes the OCA can easily address, like adjusting our grant-making process, how we fund groups and individual artists, how we provide art spaces and nontraditional art locations."
Changing how the city handles certificates of occupancy may prove to be the hardest-fought battle.
“What is cultural has changed,” Scripps says. “You can look at the mission statement of the OCA, and it doesn’t even mention artists; it only says arts organizations. Funding individual artists was implemented several years ago, and it’s been really successful. A lot of the most exciting growth is in funding artists and smaller, more nimble arts organizations all over the city.”
The OCA has changed its policy, so that artists who receive grant funding have to front most of the money to kick off their projects, with the disbursement from a grant coming toward completion of the project. It’s been a nonstarter for many recipients. Robert Swann, artistic director of the JazzStand on Abrams and a grant recipient several times over, brought up the issue.
OCA could help its constituents by operating with greater transparency and engaging with the creative community more. Many say there’s no training from the agency on how to fill out a successful grant application, and when applicants are denied, they’re often not given any feedback. Also shrouded in secrecy is who is on the panel making the decisions about which artists or organizations get funded and to what degree.
“We’d like more visibility. Maybe someone from the community should be on the panel to be judging who’s awarded,” says Peter Klayman, who manages Medicine Man Revival. “We need better feedback to artists who aren’t getting money. They’re entitled to that feedback if they took the time to write this onerous grant — they should at least know why they didn’t get it.”
Suggestions included asking the OCA to host training sessions and networking events and make successful grant applications public as teaching tools for everyone to learn from.
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At the February meeting, there was such an overwhelming amount of feedback from the 100 or so participants that a representative for the OCA promised it would host a second meeting for the music community.
So far, that’s not happened. After a month of attempts to schedule a follow-up meeting with the OCA, Jessica Martinez of Dallas Music, which helped coordinate the first meeting, received a response from the city telling her to visit the website to attend another scheduled meeting. Darryl Ratcliff from Creating Our Future, which helped organize the first meeting, said a representative from the OCA still assures that a second meeting is forthcoming, but a date hasn’t been pinned down.
As a response, Creating Our Future will host “Who Cares About Dallas Music?” from 7-9 p.m. Monday at Independent Bar & Kitchen in Deep Ellum. It's open to anyone interested in Dallas music.
“The community wanted to keep talking about it, and city keeps pushing the date back. Letting that momentum die seems wasteful,” Ratcliff says. “We regularly meet outside of official city meetings. It’s beneficial to further develop specific asks of the city and an agenda, so it’s a more productive meeting when we do meet with the OCA again.”