Pure Imagination: At Its First Meeting, Council's Arts & Culture Committee Talks New Revenue

I'm dialed into the inaugural meeting of the council's Arts, Culture & Libraries Committee, tasked by Mayor Mike, as you'll recall, with finding "alternative funding sources" to help make Dallas "a smart, cultured and creative city." And God bless her, Maria Munoz-Blanco, director of the city's Office of Cultural Affairs, took all of 15 minutes to get through this 60-page PowerPoint.

Besides, when it came to for the Q's and A's, the council focused on two pages: Page 44, which looks at "comparisons of arts/cultural funding with peer city arts agencies"; and Page 45, which you see above.

As Munoz-Blanco explained: Cleveland comes in at No. 1 "due to the passage of a cigarette tax yielding $17 million for arts organizations." Said council member Delia Jasso, that slide "brought it all home to us -- to see what Cleveland is spending and what could be possible with some legislative help."

Tennell Atkins focused in on the fact that Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio fund their arts organizations, in part, with hotel occupancy taxes. (Houston and Fort Worth have separate nonprofits running their arts programs, with funding provided by the city.) He asked city staff to provide a breakdown where Dallas's HOT goes -- most, he was told, toward paying down debt service, with the remaining funding the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau for marketing the city to convention groups and tourists. Said Atkins, "I am trying to find another mechanism to help fund our arts besides the general fund."

Ann Margolin, chair of the committee, told Atkins they have a good year to drill down into th details; they'll get to that. At which point Jerry Allen promised Munoz-Blanco, not to mention the handful of arts supporters and commissioners in attendance, sooner or later they'll have "a strong, steady, predictable income stream." OK, Jer. You're on the record. He later asked if the city could use cigarette taxes to fund the arts. Munoz-Blanco said the city attorney said no. Well, then, Allen asked, what about alcohol taxes?

"Or payday lending?" said Margolin. Big laughs.

"Hey -- what's art?" said Allen. "Art's imagination." And he's all about being imaginative.

Corrine Hill, the interim director of libraries, just began her briefing. We'll cover that separately.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky