D-FW stages are dark, but a spirit of collaboration provides some light

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Members of the Dallas Arts District remain optimistic about the future.

By Allison Hatfield

The arts are a big part of North Texas — and one of the areas hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. In partnership with The Dallas Morning News, FWD>DFW continues its series to help people navigate life during the crisis. In this video, which first aired on Facebook Live, host Ron Corning talks with Dallas Arts District leaders about their struggles and the ways they are managing the needs of staff and patrons.

Dallas Arts District Executive Director Lily Weiss has been working with the arts in Dallas for more than 40 years. She says she’s seeing an unprecedented level of collaboration among the various entities. She, like AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Chris Heinbaugh and Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Kim Noltemy, are bolstered by strength in numbers.

“We are strong,” Weiss says. “Together we’re even stronger. The arts, I truly believe, are what brings communities together and what helps us celebrate and what also helps us heal. I have to believe that we will come back stronger. We will weather this as much as possible, and we’re in it together.”

Learning from — and leaning on — each other

Like businesses in other sectors, the arts has a choice: pivot or perish. Many are working to reinvent themselves until patrons can once again feel comfortable filling seats, and they’re sharing the burden of figuring out what that looks like. “The wonderful thing about technology is it’s having us re-create ourselves in a medium that we haven’t been used to,” Weiss says. “We’ve started really involving all of the arts groups online.”

“In the past two weeks, we are talking once a week or more, and it goes beyond our own Arts District. We’ve opened that check-in to others.”

Staying connected means all the groups can benefit from what one understands about federal stimulus money, best practices, and planning for scenarios A, B and C, she says.

Taking a break for intermission

A pillar of the Arts District, ATTPAC has five resident companies that produce their own works, as well as touring companies that come to Dallas to perform. They’re all on hold for now — and that means a 65% reduction in revenue, Heinbaugh says. Still, there have been no layoffs of artists or staff at ATTPAC so far.

The same is true at the DSO, which just recently announced it 2021-22 season. “What is the Dallas Symphony without the Dallas Symphony?” Noltemy asks, speaking of the musicians who “want nothing more than to be on stage playing for audiences every day.”

Donations and government support will be key to getting through the crisis, Heinbaugh says. The federal stimulus bill allocated $75 million to the National Endowment for the Arts, which is not a lot of money to share among organizations around the country, but it’s not nothing. And arts organizations are small businesses that are eligible for small business loans. Donations, too, will be essential for every arts organization.

Noltemy says she’s remaining optimistic that the DSO’s new season will be able to start in September while acknowledging that this season will be short more than a month of concerts and grieving the missed opportunities that it held.

“We like to view this as an intermission,” Heinbaugh says. “We want people to just say we’re taking a pause. Check out everybody’s online offerings.”

On Friday, ATTPAC launched a new AT&TPAC@Home video series on its YouTube channel. And DSO musicians are doing virtual music lessons and living room performances.

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