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Art advocates celebrate as voters approve historic $75.2 million for cultural facilities

Jennifer Scripps and Chris Heinbaugh.
Chitose Suzuki
The Dallas Morning News
Jennifer Scripps, president and CEO of Downtown Dallas, Inc. and Chris Heinbaugh, chief advocacy officer at AT&T Performing Arts Center, pose for a photo during an election night party at Reunion Tower in Dallas.

At Reunion Tower on Saturday night, Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” played and arts proponents celebrated. Voters approved a bond package that includes one of the largest allocations for cultural facilities in decades.

The city’s 15 cultural facilities will receive $75.2 million, or a little over 6%, of the $1.25 billion bond package, which local arts leaders have fiercely advocated for in recent months. The funding is the most that Dallas cultural facilities have received in the last five bond programs, going as far back as 1998.

Jeff Ellerman, chairman of the board of trustees at the Dallas Museum of Art, stopped by the bond campaign watch party at Reunion Tower. He said voters’ approval of the bond funding is “fantastic.”

The Dallas Museum of Art is expected to receive $20 million, the largest proportion of the funding allocated to Dallas cultural facilities.

“The DMA hasn’t gotten meaningful funds from a bond election in decades. The building is in dire need of security and mechanical and HVAC repairs. It’s for the basic stuff,” Ellerman said. “It’s fantastic that the voters have spoken and agree with that.”

Charles Santos, the executive and artistic director of Dallas’ TITAS/Dance Unbound, often works at two of the facilities that will benefit from the funding – the Winspear Opera House and Moody Performance Hall. He said the funding will help maintain city-owned facilities that are vital to the arts.

“What's so great about this proposition is it’s nothing shiny, nothing new. It's taking care of what we have,” Santos said in a phone interview.

While it’s a step forward, the bond funding won’t fix everything. The city has logged $133.2 million in needed repairs and maintenance at its cultural facilities.

Some of the needs that could now be taken care of: rat-bitten carpet at the Winspear Opera House; HVAC at the South Dallas Cultural Center; electrical upgrades at The Latino Cultural Center; roof repairs at Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

Santos recalls hosting the premiere of renowned dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp in the Dallas Arts District. He said international guests who attended were in awe of the facilities that exist along Flora Street.

“They said ‘we had no idea this existed in Dallas,’ ”Santos said. The bond funding “helps us establish ourselves as a real international player on the world stage.”

Courtney Spellicy served as a District 9 committee member on the Streets and Transportation Subcommittee for this year’s capital bond program. She’s also an arts lover who voted to fund cultural facilities.

She and her family enjoy theater shows and Dallas Symphony Orchestra performances at the Meyerson Symphony Center, which is expected to receive $7.32 million from the bond package.

Spellicy said while it’s difficult to get funding for repairs and upkeep that are less than glamorous, the work is essential.

“No one wants naming rights for deferred maintenance. You don’t want to throw your name up for the roofing or the waterproofing or some of those things like that. So some of those un-sexy projects are aspects that simply have to be done.”

This year’s bond package includes funding for many needs across the city from housing to parks. But at the end of the day, Spellicy said it’s about making sure Dallas is on par with other thriving metropolitan cities.

“I can’t think of a single world-class city of note that doesn’t have a really strong, thriving arts scene.”

Arts Access is an arts journalism collaboration powered by The Dallas Morning News and KERA.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The University of Texas at Dallas, 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.

Elizabeth Myong is KERA’s Arts Collaborative Reporter. She came to KERA from New York, where she worked as a CNBC fellow covering breaking news and politics. Before that, she freelanced as a features reporter for the Houston Chronicle and a modern arts reporter for Houstonia Magazine.