Tour of Wyly Theater

Thursday was Arts Advocacy Day in Dallas, and arts organizations from across the city attended the annual luncheon at the Wyly Theater.  I was joined by several of my colleagues:  Councilmembers Jerry Allen, Ann Margolin, and Delia Jasso.

The featured speaker was Douglas Sonntag, Director of Dance for the National Endowment for the Arts, who discussed the importance of the arts in American life and the challenges posed by the 21st century.  He posited that attendance at live cultural performances are down, and that technological advances (e.g., watching the Kiev Opera on the interwebs) is a troubling trend.

I have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Sonntag (who, by the way, was a very gracious guest and interesting speaker).  I love that technology opens up the arts to a much broader audience and takes people to cities and events that they may not otherwise experience.

Enjoy these photos from the Wyly.

Visit to New Opera House and Theater

I’ll have pics up later today, but in the meantime:

The council got to tour the Winspear Opera House and Wyly Theater today. Amazing. After seeing the models, and watching the exterior construction, it was exciting to tour the interiors of these buildings.

The opera has a great deal of seating, but they’ve created a very intimate house, so that the audience is very close to the performance. The panels on the front of the balcony seating has a wavy design, which is less aesthetic and more acoustical, to reflect the sound in the best way possible. Continue reading

Design of City Performance Hall Unveiled

I have to say, I’ve been worried about the design of the “Third Venue,” the city’s new performance hall in the Arts District. With all the incredible architecture going up in the Arts District, I feared that a municipal project would stick out like a sore thumb. I had nightmares about tacky architecture and cinderblocks.

I got a chance to preview the new design for the city performance hall and must say my fears are completely allayed. The new design is awesome, and will be enhanced by the right exterior materials.

I wanted to share my pics with you all. Here is the first phase of the hall. Here is the completed hall. And here. See other pics of draft designs.

The architect is SOM out of Chicago. I wasn’t familiar with them, so I checked out their website to see previous work. I was impressed by the depth of their work on arts venues, and with their work on international projects.

I met with them yesterday and they walked me through their design for the new City Performance Hall. They discussed the process they used to begin designing the space, then showed me all the iterations they went through before deciding on the final design (I’ve got the pics on my site).

They had really done their homework: they met with and analyzed the needs of the 70 or so small performing arts groups that will use the space. Among other things, SOM looked at the size of the space(s) needed as well as the frequency of the performances. There will be theater, dance, music, and other groups. Some groups need a small venue with only 100 seats, while larger groups need 750 seats or more.

SOM anticipated that 2-3 blackbox theaters and 1 large performance hall would meet the needs of most of the organizations. Given the budget of $38M (which sounds like a lot, but in terms of building an arts venue is just adequate), the city had anticipated that this project would be done in phases, with the first phase paid for the in 2006 bond. SOM therefore had to design a building that could be built in phases, while ensuring that phase 1 stood on its own architecturally. The end result is terrific, with the large performance hall and one black box theater being built in the first phase. (The Latino Cultural Center will have a new black box theater from 2006 bond funds, and this will provide another option while we gear up for phase 2.)

SOM was very cognizant of the fact that they are designing on a street occupied by the products of architectural giants. They knew they had to complement the Nasher, Meyerson, as well as the new Opera House and Theater. They also couldn’t overwhelm the space, and had to provide a beautiful and appropriate entry way into the Arts District. All of this was balanced with the goal of providing a venue that met the needs of smaller arts groups. I believe they have succeeded.

I for one would like to see the hall clothed in a metal exterior, whether silver, gold, or copper. I think that would look amazing with the silver theater next door and the red opera house across the street. Even warm wood would be beautiful, but I don’t know how realistic that is.

It’ll be several months before SOM has plans and a budget finalized. If all goes as planned, we’ll break ground mid-2008 and be finished by 2010.

Council Vote: HUD grant to Dallas Black Dance Theater

Today the city council considered whether to accept a $120K HUD grant to Dallas Black Dance Theater for renovations to their new home at the Moreland YMCA in the Arts District.

Dallas Black Dance Theater is the city’s oldest dance troupe, and it has received numerous awards and is nationally renown. Ann Williams founded DBDT in 1976 to provide dance opportunities for minorities. Today, DBDT offers those opportunities to everyone.

The historically Black Moorland YMCA building will be a permanent home for the company’s rehearsal studios, training classrooms and administrative offices.

ACTION: I moved to approve (passed unanimously)

Arts Magnet High School

It was a true pleasure to tour the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts, located in District 14 and the Arts District. Carolyn Clark graciously showed me around the school, introduced me to students studying painting, sculpture, music, and dance, and showed me the plans for the new addition. The students and teachers here are enthusiastic about their work, and it shows. Right now, the classrooms are cramped, and some classes even take place in the hallways. Despite the challenges, there is an air of excitement in every classroom.

I am proud this school is in our district, and look forward to the construction of the new school which will give these talented young adults and dedicated teachers the tools they need to create an even more exceptional educational environment.

City Plan Commission Meeting on the Arts District

I spoke at the City Plan Commission hearing this afternoon to expand the Arts District from Routh Street all the way to Central Expressway. The expansion will provide specific zoning requirements for the area to create a more pedestrian-friendly, arts-oriented environment.

Having served as a Cultural Affair Commissioner, as well as being a board member of Dallas Black Dance Theatre and a presidential advisory member of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts, I have seen firsthand the incredible commitment of our arts organizations and patrons. It is essential that our city meet that commitment.

This was my second time to speak to the CPC on expanding the Arts District, and I pointed out that we have a golden opportunity to improve this area of downtown. The undeveloped land in the northeastern corner downtown will not remain that way. Through this proposed zoning, we can guide the development of this area to provide a home for future arts groups, mixed-use development, retail, and residential. Over the next decade, this can become a vibrant urban neighborhood, as long as the city provides the right support.

I was very pleased that the CPC voted unanimously to support the expansion of the Arts District.

Dallas Black Dance Theatre Founder’s Luncheon

I attended Dallas Black Dance Theatre‘s Ninth Annual Founder’s Luncheon this afternoon, in which outstanding members of the community were honored for their contributions to the arts. Among the award winners were Lucy Crow Billingsley, William “Bill” Blair, and Juanita Brown. Guests were also treated to a great performance by DBDT’s award-winning dance troupe.

It has been an honor for me to serve on the board of DBDT, one of the best-run and most talented (though under-appreciated) arts groups in Dallas. Right now, DBDT is working on a capital campaign to turn the Moorland YMCA building at 2700 Flora St. into a performance, practice, and administrative space for the company.