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Southwest Dallas County Works to Develop the Arts

By Sarah Angle, KERA Reporter

Dallas, TX –

Sam Baker, Morning Edition Host: In the past, southwest Dallas County has lagged behind in development of the arts. Despite the growth of Lancaster, DeSoto, Cedar Hill and Duncanville, the arts haven't found much support. But now, city and grassroots organizations are stepping up to bring a new quality of life to this once underserved region. 90.1's Sarah Angle has the story.

Sarah Angle, KERA Reporter: Peggy Wilson is a longtime arts activist and founder of the Cedar Hill Association for the Cultural Arts. In just two years, her non-profit has helped form a community band and annual art show. Now, she has her sights set on an art gallery and small performance hall.

Peggy Wilson, Founder of Cedar Hill Association: The economy of a town is greatly enhanced if it has a strong arts scene. Our communities here in the southwest have been slower to develop this because there are fewer people with money. So, there has not been so much of an opportunity for the arts to blossom and grow.

Angle: Tradition has also played a role in depressing the arts, according to Lancaster residents Marye and Marshall Scantlin. Southwest Dallas County is an area known for its sports prowess - not its arts scene.

Marye Scantlin: People don't expect anyone down here to want it, so there's no effort in getting it.

Angle: The Scantlins are also founding board members of the award-winning Southwest Children's Chorus. When chorus director Michael King wanted to start the organization seven years ago, he was told it would never work. Today the Chorus has 60 members, has traveled to 25 different European countries and was selected to perform with the Moscow Ballet this December.

(sound: kids singing)

Michael King, Director of the Southwest Children's Chorus: There is not a group like ours anywhere in this area and we've attracted a lot of children. We've been able to sell out most of our concerts we are filling a need I guess, filling a void.

Angle: Right now, the Chorus doesn't receive any money from the cities it serves. Funding comes directly from its students, fundraisers and individual donors. But according to DeSoto community relations manager Kathy Maples, city supplied arts funding is out there. It's just a matter of knowing where to look. For the eighth year, DeSoto has funded a cultural arts grant program through its local hotel motel tax revenue.

Kathy Maples, Desoto Community Relations Manager: Typically we grant about 7 grants a year like I said we have $20,000 to give away so we try to spread it among as many groups as we can. A lot of times it's the same group year after year. I feel like this year I've had a lot of different interest from groups I've never heard of before so I'm hoping we'll have some diversity in what we're doing. I'm really looking forward to that.

Angle: DeSoto is the only city in the area that offers this type of funding. But when it comes down to it, Maples and Wilson agree that it's going to take the efforts of citizens, not cities, to develop a thriving arts community in southwest Dallas County. Peggy Wilson:

Wilson: It's just like the motto of Nike's that's so famous. Just do it! It's once you get in and start trying that's it's really easy to do. Really all these things take is somebody that will just get up and go do it.

Angle: For KERA 90.1, I'm Sarah Angle.

Contact KERA's News and Public Affairs staff about this piece