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As Dallas crafts racial equity plan, artists appeal for real progress

A crowd of people walking through the hallway of a large museum. There is a marble sculpture of a sitting woman in the hallway.
One major concern among advocates in the arts community in Dallas is the equitable access to cultural spaces like the Dallas Museum of Art.

Longtime advocates in the arts community say the city's racial equity plan needs to focus on providing livable wages and more funding to artists of color, as well as improving arts access for all residents.

The City of Dallas hopes this new plan will address its historic role in creating an uneven playing field for residents of color.

"We know from both historic and current policies that may perpetuate inequities in Dallas that it's instrumental to operationalize equity," said Dr. Lindsey Wilson, director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion. "We're doing this through specific, measurable goals that address racial, ethnic and socioeconomic inequities."

The city, along with a team of consultants at CoSpero Consulting, is crafting new goals for internal departments designed to address those inequities. CoSpero has been gathering input from the community about what sort of goals would best indicate real progress.

The Office of Arts and Culture has already established several such goals, like more funding for BIPOC arts groups and more diverse arts boards. But advocates in Dallas’ arts scene say they want better benchmarks.

Teresa Coleman Wash with the Bishop Arts Theater Center says the solution has to tackle the deep-rooted disadvantages experienced by many communities of color in Dallas.

“Racial equity is not a project," she said. "It is about who we are as individuals.”

That's why she thinks some of the goals the city has developed so far to address inequity in the arts miss the mark.

Here's an example:

“Increase the number of Black, Latinx, Native American, and equity-specific public artworks that confront historical racism from 18 works to 23 by 2024.”

Coleman Wash says it has to go deeper. It comes down to resources: livable wages, money to cover operational costs, and the proper space to make art. Spaces like the Bishop Arts Theater Center have long offered multicultural programming, especially for Black and Latino audiences.

“We’re not looking for a quick fix," Coleman Wash said. "We’re not looking for projects or a $5,000 ‘go away’ grant. We want to make sure that this institution, like Eurocentric institutions, is available in the neighborhood for generations to come.”

That is the challenge that lies ahead for CoSpero. They want to know what kind of benchmarks would reflect real, long-lasting change. Not just in the arts but in education, housing, public health and criminal justice.

Dallas native Morgana Wilborn, a longtime arts administrator and educator, has some suggestions.

She says equity for the arts community goes hand in hand with equity for everyone.

"A sculpture is not going to afford me bread at the table. You have to provide everyone with the resources to flourish.”
Morgana Wilborn

CoSpero has been holding community events since December to understand how these different facets of city government can work together. The consultants have proposed new goals for arts equity. More funding for Black artists and Black-led arts groups, for example.

Alexandra Hernandez attended one of CoSpero’s listening sessions. She’s the artistic director at Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico.

“If the only thing we want is numbers, then we're not actually thinking about how we're going to advance organizations," she said. "How do we make them sustainable long term?”

Supporting the growth of Dallas' existing creative talent is key, Hernandez said.

She's been in Dallas for roughly seven years. Back in Minneapolis, she was able to work full-time with a single arts group. That hasn't been feasible in Dallas.

“Most of the time I'm working two or three contracts at a time,” Hernandez said.

In order to truly support arts in the city, Hernandez says an equity plan needs to support not just the art-making but the artist's standard of living.

“I really strongly advocate for that quality of life, because it is very life changing when all you have to do is go to a rehearsal or you can focus your whole energy on just one project,” she said.

Wilborn's vision for arts equity in Dallas goes one step further. She grew up in the Bexar Street Corridor in South Dallas, and she wants to ensure the needs of longtime residents are heard.

“My community who has lived here all their lives aren't  benefiting like those who come here working in nonprofits, dictating what should be in our community and what history should be documented.”

All three artists hope the arts portion of the racial equity plan addresses artist’s needs, but more importantly the broader community’s needs.

“I can go somewhere and get affordable food. I live in affordable housing. I can get my health needs met for me and my family. I can get there safely. Arts and culture events that don't make me feel less than because I don't speak the language," Wilborn said. "I feel like I can show up however I can show up and people will love and respect me and celebrate me for it. That’s true arts equity.”

The city and CoSpero Consulting are still gathering community input. Visit weareonedallas.orgto share your own feedback on the plan.

Got a tip? Email Miguel Perez at You can follow him on Twitter @quillindie.

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Miguel Perez is an assistant producer at KERA. He produces local content for Morning Edition and KERA News. He also produces The Friday Conversation, a weekly interview series with North Texas newsmakers.