On Wednesday night, members of the Dallas Area Cultural Advocacy Coalition held a serious strategy session. The focus: how to keep the Office of Cultural Affairs independent.
Dallas Cultural Affairs Commission Chair Judy Pollock reported to the group that Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm will recommend that the OCA be absorbed into the Library Department when she submits her budget recommendation to the City Council on Aug. 10. The city is facing a $190.2 million deficit, and cuts will be coming to multiple departments. Pollock said that Suhm told her the move would save between $100,000 and $200,000 in the budget.
The cost to the OCA, however, would be significant. Its budget would now become part of the library’s budget. And it would no longer have a director-level ambassador within City Hall. As Pollock put it, “When there is a directors meeting, there will be no one there for us. We will not have a voice.”
The OCA performs multiple duties, from maintaining the city’s cultural centers (Bath House, South Dallas Cultural Center, the Meyerson Symphony Center, etc.) to coordinating programs like the recent Free Night of Theater. It also manages several funding programs for Dallas arts groups.
At this point, the best way to block Suhm’s recommendation is for Coalition members to lobby individual council members to vote against the move. At the meeting, members felt they had maybe five allies on the council, though as one participant pointed out, there’s a difference between having an ally and having a vote. The OCA would need votes from eight council members to block the move.
To get those votes, the Coalition members plan to emphasize the OCA’s ability to generate revenue.
“The police, the parks, the libraries – no matter how wonderful they are, they’re not having the economic impact that we are,” said DACAC president Joanna St. Angelo. She and others present agreed that attacking other departments was not the way to go. Highlighting the OCA’s earning potential, they felt, would be more helpful.
To that end, they will lean on a 2001 study conducted by the Perryman Group that states: for every dollar invested in the arts in Texas, more than $298 in cultural impact on the economy occurs. In other words, when the economy is down, why cut from the arts, which have shown that they can bring in much-needed cash?
On Friday, the city property tax rolls will be made public. The estimate, according to St. Angelo, is that revenues will decrease by 5 percent. If that number is lower, there may be some wiggle room for negotiation in the proposed cuts. If the decrease is greater than 5 percent, the cuts could be even steeper than feared.