News and Features

Q&A: Dallas Arts District Executive Director Catherine Cuellar

Earlier today, the Dallas Arts District named Catherine Cuellar its new executive director.

As the head of the nonprofit, Cuellar’s job will be to help the district’s many arts groups and businesses work together to further their common interests.

Photo: Clare Dempsey, 77 Prints

In a chat Monday afternoon, Cuellar outlined some of her early thoughts on how she sees her role in the district.

ART&SEEK: First things first – what do you see as your responsibility as executive director?
CUELLAR: I’m passionate about education. And I really view the Arts District … as a classroom, where everybody of every age in whatever stage of life can have their mind opened to new ideas every time they come and visit. So I will be touting these unique cultural assets as a destination for people from not only throughout our region, but all over the country and all over the world. And I hope to help foster increased communication among the Arts District stakeholders and their neighbors so that we can speak in a unified voice and hopefully achieve some common goals.”

A&S: There’s always talk about how arts organizations in the arts district can collaborate. Have you thought at all about how you can tackle that goal?
CUELLAR: Obviously each institution within the Arts District has its own stakeholders and its own goals. Once I’m in the position, I’ll start visiting with all of them to find out what their ideas of success are and what we can do together to have some early, easy wins.

A&S: Finding a reliable funding source for the operation and maintenance of Arts District facilities – that doesn’t come out of the city’s general fund – is turning into a challenge. How can that be fixed?
CUELLAR: It’s too soon for me to speak authoritatively without having spoken to a lot of the people with better awareness of the issues. I’m aware of Downtown Dallas Inc. Uptown, Arts District, Office of Cultural Affairs – where I’ve worked closely for several years – all having different sources of public funding as well as private funding from the donors and board members of all the different institutions. Hopefully being strategic about the asks that those groups are making so that they’re not competing for dollars, but rather putting forth attractive proposals that make sense to everybody.

A&S: In the spring, the district is going to have a new representative on the City Council. What are you looking for in a candidate.
CUELLAR: From what I’ve seen from the crop of candidates, we’re in fine shape. I think that everybody has made good points, and I’ll be interested to see – especially in the district that includes the Arts District – it seems like a runoff may be likely, given the breadth of the field. Obviously whoever is elected, I’ll be working with closely to help them to leverage these assets in their district to highlight what an asset it is for the whole city.

A&S: Another challenge for you is creating a more vibrant street life to go with all of the facilities in the Arts Distict.
CUELLAR: I chose to buy my first home in the Cedars by Dallas Police headquarters a few years ago. And I would say since moving downtown, I have walked easily more than a thousand miles in the central business district. I am a third generation, born in Dallas native. But I really see Dallas, and especially downtown, through the eyes of a visitor often, because I walk and ride my bicycle and take mass transit on DART more than I get in my car. So I definitely have ideas about ways that we can make crosswalks safer, that we can make way-finding signage more helpful to people who are not necessarily familiar with the neighborhoods within downtown … and helping the visitors who are here to better connect to opportunities to return, and to help give them a story that they can share with their friends and their neighbors.

  • Linda Baker

    Congratulations, Catherine on your new position as executive arts director of Dallas Arts District! It’s nice to have someone so dedicated to the support of artists in this position. You were a big help when we were involved in producing
    cultural events for the Irish festival many years ago. Dan & Linda Baker