The Arts District’s Future: Focus on Festivals

For all the hoopla surrounding the AT&T PAC opening, there are a few things the Arts District doesn’t do well yet: fostering organic use, serving as a common urban space/park, interacting with the surrounding neighbourhoods (or lack thereof). But the district’s opening did prove that it is very good at playing the role of gathering place — a festival ground.

A month or so ago, TITAS executive director Charles Santos spoke to an audience at the DMA about his hope that the Dallas Arts District would foster more coordination and cooperation among Dallas’ arts groups and institutions, such as organizing multi-disciplinary festivals. Now, indirect encouragement comes from Down Under, where The Australian reports that that country’s love of arts festivals has helped foster the kind of innovation and risk taking that would distinguish Dallas as a cultural center.

The big-city arts festivals are invitations for local patrons to try new and different tastes, and audiences take up the offer with enthusiasm. People attend shows they might never otherwise think of seeing, and strike up lively debates with strangers afterwards.

Festivals are where local and international companies get to flaunt their ambitions. Large-scale events or pushing-the-boundaries art are often called “festival shows,” because with the legitimising stamp of a festival they can attract audiences eager for the new, the controversial and the different.

Arts District boosters should take note and begin work on a potential niche for Dallas in the international arts scene.


  • Having spent a short time living in Melbourne, I can vouch for how the entire city swells with excitement and pride during the two weeks of the Melbourne International Arts Festival each October. Lots of events, indoors and outdoors, and lots of free things to do too.

    Most the activity takes place in and around the Victorian Arts Centre, which sits right across the river from the central business district. So the festival is aided by a vibrant street life and easy accessibility to downtown from all corners of the city, courtesy of something Melbourne has a lot of, which Dallas lacks: trams.

  • It always comes back to streetcars, doesn’t it?

  • I like the idea. From your fingers to God’s ears, Peter (or, better, Veletta Lill’s). I’d add one request. Two, actually. When the festival launches, let’s correct the mistakes made during the opening: bring in more portable bathrooms, and get some street vendors in there to sell some food.

  • I love everything said about festivals and they do bring a community together. But reaching the community is a first step, and I am not aware of the outreach and education programs being done or developed by the AT&T PAC.
    Can someone enlighten me? Thank you.

  • bill holston

    I think Art Con shows what can happen with collaboration between artists, musicians and social entrepreneurs. I’d love to see an art festival in the new Arts District.

    Actually the Deep Ellum Arts festival, seems to have been pretty well attended. The quality of art/music could be spotty, but there were lots of people roaming around, eating drinking, having a good time.

    I think there’s lots of interest in the area for this sort of collaboration. There are tons of local artists and musicians that would love to participate.

  • Lee

    Odd, since the City Arts Festival, previously sponsored by DCVB and in the Arts District for several years, is moving to Fair Park this spring. The Arts District is the place for it!

  • As we are busily working on pedicabs and foodcarts, so also do we see festivals in our future. The first one will be the return of the Asian Festival on May 1. Actually, Dance for the Planet, is returning to the Arts District in April, but they are going onstage inside Booker T. The vagaries of the weather drove them to that decision and we understand. ATTPAC CEO, Mark Nerenhausen, has a long history of incorporating festivals into arts centers and has made some staffing decisions to support that going forward. The reopening of Annette Strauss Artist Square later this year will also be conducive. Stay tuned.

  • @Veletta – good to hear, we will stay tuned.

    @Bill and Lee: With all due respect to those two festivals you mention, I’m dreaming a little larger here. I don’t know, like bringing in the Paris Opera Ballet and the San Francisco Opera to perform a series of works in coordination with the Dallas Symphony, while Olafur Eliasson and Frances Bagley complete installations in the plaza. Of course I get to dream, not raise the money for pulling something like this off. But this is Dallas, folks, let’s be big and bold.

    Check out the Melbourne program:

  • Lee

    Of course you are right to dream big. The events you fantasize about would be great, but are not street festivals with food carts and pedicabs, drawing large crowds to the Arts District. Veletta is the one to make it happen.

  • I attended Nuit Blanche in Toronto in October. It is something I would like to work on for the future. It would involve more than the Arts District – probably the Arts District, Deep Ellum, Exposition Park, and the Cedars. Those neighborhoods have a rail connection which is important for the concept to work.

  • bill holston

    That shows my own limitations as to the arts. I’m not knowledgeable about international, but I’m an enthusiastic supporter of local artists. I’m less interested actually in big name events, than I am nurturing our community. I see the potential of a Huge festival to promote that and to benefit our city as a whole, but my own personal interest is in supporting the people I know trying to make a go of it as very creative and dedicated artists, dancers and musicians. Anything to enhance that, I’m all behind

    Not disagreeing with you, just explaining my own p.o.v.

  • Something like Nuit Blanche is a blend of local, national, and international – both from the artist side, as well as the consumer side. Dallas’ own ocal artist,Shane Pennington, is the one that suggested I learn more about it.

  • @bill – It works together: if done right, the big, international stuff helps bolster the local stuff. Plus, if you look at the Melbourne idea, there are a few programs that feature a local-international collaboration, which is why I suggested the Eliasson-Bagley thing (albeit just a whimsical example, very off-the-cuff), since Bagley is, in my humble opinion, probably one of the best artists we have in Dallas these days.

    @Veletta- when I was living in Rome, I got to experience their La Notte Bianca. It was fantastic: free public theater outdoors, film screenings set up in the streets. Nothing like watching La Dolce Vita while sitting outside at Harry’s Bar on the Via Veneto at midnight. But then again, we could show Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde in the Cedars near the old Parker house. Hope the idea finds legs.