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How the Coppell Arts Center is bringing art to the suburbs

Tears welled in Bethany Henze’s eyes as she watched the Coppell Community Chorale perform the Dear Evan Hansen song “You Will Be Found.” 

The chorale previously performed at a renovated fire station that was over 20-years-old. Now, they’re able to perform on the main stage of the Coppell Arts Center, the city-owned facility that opened in 2020.

We could probably fit 40 people in [the fire station] to perform. So it's nice that we're not stuck with those limitations,” Henze, the president of the Coppell Community Chorale, said. “We had to share one performance space. So just trying to find room on the calendar for each other was difficult.”

The Coppell Arts Center has become an important space where locals can access the arts in the North Texas suburbs. It’s where visitors can enjoy everything from a K-rock boy band concert to a crafting event for kids to an ’80s MTV experience.

The $20 million building includes a spacious entry with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, a performance plaza and community space, main hall, black box theater and workspace.

Henze said the center is more than just a brick-and-mortar building.

“It just offers that opportunity to grow as artists and as an organization. It gives us that stability of the performance hall, and it gives us the opportunity to try and do things.”

In the past four years, Henze said the chorale has gone from about four performances a year to 10. The number of singers has also doubled in size, from about 35 to 40 singers to up to 70 members.

The Coppell Arts Center is also home to five other resident art groups including: the Coppell Arts Council, Theatre Coppell, Coppell Community Orchestra, Coppell Creatives and The Ballet Ensemble of Texas.

Performers dance on stage.
James Coreas
Members of the Ballet Ensemble of Texas provide live entertainment at a gala put on by the Coppell Arts Center Foundation.

A pandemic launch

Following the pandemic, arts and cultural facilities have struggled to grow their audiences. But the Coppell Arts Center has seen year-over-year attendance and ticket sales growth since its first full year open in 2021.

From 2021 to 2022, attendance grew by 26% while ticket sales revenue jumped 54%. Then from 2022 to 2023, attendance rose by 6% and ticket sales revenue increased by 12%, according to J.J. Ceniceros, marketing and development manager at the Coppell Arts Center.

Part of that growth can be attributed to the affordability of their tickets at around $35 to $50 per show. Ginene Delcioppo, the arts center’s managing director, said performances in downtown Dallas are usually priced at that cost or higher with the added expenses of gas, parking and food.

Attendees of arts and culture events in Dallas spend on average about $50 per event on food and drink, shopping, child care and other expenses, according to a 2022 study by Americans for the Arts.

“We're looking at trying to bring the best quality without draining people's piggy banks,” she said.

It’s something that patrons seem to appreciate, if Google reviews are any indication. There are rave reviews about the facilities and events, and one commenter notes it’s “affordable for all.”

A Queen tribute band performs.
James Coreas
A Queen tribute band performs on stage at the Coppell Arts Center.

Centering community

While the center has managed to continue growing its audience, it faced a difficult soft launch in the summer of 2020 at the height of the pandemic.

The center focused on opening its parking lot for drive-in movies where visitors could watch classics like Coco. Since then, the center has expanded its programming with a focus on a hyper-local audience.

About 70% of the center’s visitors come from Coppell. The other 30% come from neighboring suburbs like Irving, Flower Mound, Lewisville, Carrollton and more.

Delcioppo said that with so many competing options, people don’t want to go long distances to experience art.

Post-COVID people don't want to drive as far for their entertainment because there's so much entertainment that's offered at the home with streaming,” she said. “When people spend their hard-earned dollars somewhere, they want to do it close by.

That’s why Delcioppo’s team markets to a radius of about 25 miles around the center and other neighboring cities.

While some locals might be willing to venture out to Dallas for a Broadway show, Delcioppo said her team tries to curate programming that’s fitting for its intimate venue. In her mind, “the goal is to get the community and introduce them to a new experience in their backyard.”

That could be anything from a tribute band to a Japanese taiko drumming performance. Arts center staffers get a sense of the community’s interest by attending local gatherings like rotary clubs and sending digital surveys.

Delcioppo said the center will use the most recent patron feedback to adjust programming to more storytelling experiences “whether it's a concert-style or musical-style or dance.”

Another strategic approach the center is taking? They’re partnering with arts organizations like the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Dallas Black Dance Theatre. So instead of having to drive all the way downtown, local audiences can see more pared-down performances down the road from their house.

Delcioppo calls it a “win-win.” It can create opportunities for up-and-coming artists like new conductors to perform and also connects Dallas arts groups to suburban audiences.

For the North Texas arts ecosystem, it creates a kind of feedback loop.

These patrons here will then go buy tickets to go to a DSO performance at the Meyerson,” she said.

As the center continues to grow its audience, the shiny new building might be an initial draw. But it’s the center’s community-focused approach that has kept visitors coming, whether it’s making art more financially accessible or adjusting programming based on feedback.

We have a very supportive community that wants to support the arts here in Coppell,” Delcioppo said.

She said that’s what keeps the center going.

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, The University of Texas at Dallas, 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.

Corrected: June 28, 2024 at 12:11 PM CDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said attendance at the Coppell Arts Center rose 6% from 2022 to 2023. It rose 17%.
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.