Kera will soon add four positions dedicated exclusively to arts coverage and funded by a recent $500,000 windfall from local arts patron Donna Wilhelm. The grant will provide salaries for a producer/reporter, a Web developer, a production coordinator, and a director. Longtime KERA employee Yolette Garcia has already signed on for the director role and will head up the newly formed unit. The hope is to launch online and on-air content by the end of the year. “We have to do a lot of things collaboratively,” Garcia says. “There has to be coordination between what the arts unit does, what the news unit does, and what Think does.” But with a staff consisting of just two general assignment reporters, Catherine Cuellar and Bill Zeeble, and a coverage area that spans a broad swath—north to the Oklahoma border and south to nearly Waco—confining four people to arts reporting seems like an extravagance.
There is also the matter of Wilhelm’s involvement. Not only is she a KERA board member, but over the years she has given generously to the Dallas arts community. In 2004 she donated $1 million to the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts Foundation’s Cornerstone Program. Her beneficiaries are ones that the new arts unit presumably would report on. Despite the possible conflicts of interest, Garcia says the KERA grant has no stipulations on the specifics of what her staff will cover, just that it must cover the arts. The station’s plan is to have the arts staff incorporated into the station’s general operational budget, a lofty goal for a station that has experienced layoffs in recent years and has critical positions such as IT and telecom support specialist, audience and member services coordinator, and communications and marketing managers to fill as of press time. “We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Garcia says. We’ll stay tuned.