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How can Dallas arts be more accessible to more people? For a start, more funding for artists

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Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer
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The Dallas Morning News
lknur Ozgur, Ofelia Faz-Garza and Jess Garland listen to a question asked by KERA’s Elizabeth Myong during a panel discussion, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas.

A public conversation/performance at the Dallas Museum of Art was the first effort of Arts Access. It's a collaboration between KERA and The Dallas Morning News that aims to expand cultural coverage through access and equity.

How can Dallas arts groups be more accessible and build connections with diverse groups?

Offering answers to this question was a gathering of arts leaders Saturday afternoon in the Horchow Auditorium at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Part of Arts Access, a new collaboration between KERA and The Dallas Morning News, the event began with a series of performances, leading to a panel discussion moderated by KERA’s Elizabeth Myong.

Both panelists and performers have developed relationships in their communities over time, gaining trust by starting authentic — and sometimes uncomfortable — conversations.

Artstillery, a West Dallas-based performing arts group, conducts interviews with area residents to create theatrical events. A recent example is In Spite of History, from which an excerpt was performed Saturday.

Compiled from firsthand accounts, the work focuses on the experiences of Black residents in southern Dallas in the mid-20th century. It was presented at Fair Park this July in 10 free performances for over 1,200 attendees.

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Rebecca Slezak / Staff photographer
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The Dallas Morning News
Ilknur Ozgur talks during a panel discussion at the Dallas Museum of Art.

“We’re trying to change the systems in which we play this game, and the systems around us,” said Ilknur Ozgur, founder and director of Artstillery. “And so how can Artstillery come up with a model where we can continue to offer free programming and thrive as an organization and be in new locations?”

Artstillery also presented Saturday a scene from Dirty Turk, about a Turkish-American woman’s attempts to assimilate. Written by Ozgur, it’s based on her experiences as a first-generation daughter of immigrants.

The woman’s grandparents, portrayed by actors wearing large puppet costumes, bantered with each other in the scene. Artist Noel Williams, who made the puppets out of paper and reeds, said they help facilitate a dialogue between the performers and the audience.

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Rebecca Slezak / Staff photographer
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The Dallas Morning News
From left, actors Armando Monsivais and Sorany Gutierrez wear handmade puppet costumes during a performance piece at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Ofelia Faz-Garza, a poet and founder of Cascabel Group, takes a different approach to community building. Born and raised in Oak Cliff, Faz-Garza puts together literary and cultural events in her area. Being from Oak Cliff has helped her connect with participants.

At a recent event, she met an 80-something Latina poet who was collecting pictures and pasting them into a book, intending to use them later as poetry prompts.

Faz-Garza asked her to share one of her poems, which she did without hesitation, and then invited her to read her work at an open mic. But she said she’d never do it. “We have to work to create opportunities so people know that art form is also theirs,” Faz-Garza said.

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Rebecca Slezak / Staff photographer
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The Dallas Morning News
Ofelia Faz-Garza talks during a panel discussion at the Dallas Museum of Art

Jess Garland creates opportunities through music. She performed two of her own songs before the panel, accompanying herself on harp and guitar, and using electronic devices to conjure ambient soundscapes.

Garland is the founder and director of Swan Strings, a nonprofit providing free music lessons. Previously based in the Bishop Arts District, it has since moved to Artstillery in West Dallas.

It’s not only important for Garland to teach music, but also to offer a space for growth.

“It’s really about self-discovery and discipline,” she said. “You get to learn so much about yourself by learning this art form.”

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Rebecca Slezak / Staff photographer
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The Dallas Morning News
Jess Garland performs during the 'Making the Scene' event at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Obstacles are everywhere for these leaders.

The trio described personal sacrifices and challenges in securing grant funds. Earlier this year, Faz-Garza took out a personal loan to cover an upcoming project.

“I shouldn’t have to do things like that,” she said. “I’ve dipped into our family’s savings multiple times while waiting to get grant checks. And that money never goes back. My family shouldn’t bear the burden.”

Area artists need more support, the three leaders said. They wish for more affordable housing, better health care and, of course, more funding.

Only then, they say, can the arts be more accessible in Dallas.

Arts Access is a partnership between The Dallas Morning News and KERA that expands local arts, music and culture coverage through the lens of access and equity.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.

More photos from the event:

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Rebecca Slezak / Staff photographer
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The Dallas Morning News
Iv Amenti and Mike Guinn perform during the 'Making the Scene' event at the Dallas Museum of Art.
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Rebecca Slezak / Staff photographer
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The Dallas Morning News
Artist Noel Williams created the puppets used by Artstillery and demonstrated during the 'Making the Scene' event how puppets can 'help humans' tell difficult stories.
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Rebecca Slezak / Staff photographer
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The Dallas Morning News
At the 'Making the Scene' event in the Horchow Auditorium at the Dallas Museum of Art, actors Armando Monsivais and Sorany Gutierrez perform wearing large puppet costumes

Tim Diovanni reports on classical music in a fellowship supported in part by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. The News makes all editorial decisions.