The Cultural Affairs Commission in Dallas held a public briefing Thursday on a big offer by a private entity. The Moody Foundation wants to give the city $22 million in all. Twelve million would pay down the debt at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. The other $10 million is the subject of our weekly feature, ‘State of the Arts’ — and it’s where things get a little more complicated.
Jennnifer Scripps, the director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, outlined the proposal to a dozen of the city’s cultural commissioners at the Latino Cultural Center. A separate, non-profit fund will be set up to receive $1 million annually for a decade. The fund would use that money for grants to the city’s smaller and emerging arts groups — up to $25,000 per grant.
In return, Dallas will re-name the City Performance Hall in the Arts District the Moody Performance Hall.
“It’s exciting,” says John Paul Batiste, chair of the cultural commission. “We’ve always talked about how we can strengthen support for mid-size and smaller organizations. Here’s an opportunity to do that.”
The proposal was met with similar approval by commissioners – but also with questions and reservations.
“We’re very grateful that they’re interested in supporting the arts in Dallas,” said commissioner Lori Stahl. “I think the real question is just how the funding will flow to the smaller organizations.”
Stahl and others raised concerns about how the fund will establish two panels to approve grant requests. One panel would be made of local arts advocates who would review the initial applications. Their choices would then be sent to a three-member executive committee for final approval. This committee would include the OCA director, an arts advocate and someone from the AT&T Performing Arts Center who would serve as a representative of the Moody Foundation’s interests. The AT&T PAC has some history with the foundation; the fund donated money to the PAC back when it was called the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts. And it was AT&T PAC reps who more or less brokered this deal, reducing their debt and getting funding for small groups.
But Stahl said the concern of some arts groups and commissioners was that all decision-making by the executive committee would be private.
“The allocations process for this city is very detailed and transparent,” Stahl said. “The meetings are open. As I understand the proposal, the final decision for the grants would be made behind closed doors.”
John Paul Batiste said the proposal is still being negotiated. But this would be a private fund, not part of the city arts budget.
“This is not really a city-run activity,” he explained. “Because it is a private endowment, those rules govern the operation. So right now, in this negotiation, we’re pushing as hard as we can for the integrity of our mission as a cultural affairs council.”
Jennifer Scripps, the OCA director, pointed out in the briefing that such a private fund does have advantages. City arts money has serious restrictions, while these new grants could address issues OCA can’t but that smaller groups constantly struggle with – like marketing or staffing.
“We can’t fund staff development and we can’t fund travel,” Scripps said. “We have a lot of trouble funding artists in residencies programs because they have things like per diems and housing allowances. This could fund that. It could fund a proposal for a marketing study.”
The mercy here is that the Moody fund would essentially piggy-back on the OCA grant process. In other words, any arts group that has already gone through the OCA grant process would not have to start from scratch all over again with paperwork for this grant system. In short, all OCA-eligible arts groups are eligible — provided their annual budget is less than $1 million.
One hitch: Proposals for projects at the performance hall will get preference. That’s not to say, an arts group can’t get a grant for work at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center. It simply means — everything else being equal — a project at the “MPH” will be preferred.
Scripps stressed re-naming the hall is not the same as a corporate sponsorship – the way AT&T, for instance, paid for the naming rights for the Performing Arts Center. Corporate sponsorships are for a limited time and come with trademark restrictions and marketing opportunities. If the Dallas City Council approves the proposal, the City Performance Hall will be Moody Performance Hall in perpetuity. It wouldn’t be the first Moody-named building in Dallas. Galveston financier William Lewis Moody Jr. established a bank, an insurance company — and a charitable foundation that in recent years has been awarding around $50-$70 million in grants. So yes, in case you were wondering, in 1965, SMU’s Moody Coliseum was named in memory of William Lewis Moody, Jr.
On April 20th, the cultural commissioners will meet for a public debate and vote on the proposal. If it passes — and if it passes the City Council’s arts committee — it’s scheduled to be presented to Dallas City Council May 24th.