Ever since Catherine Cuellar left her position as executive director of the Dallas Arts District for a gig with the Communities Foundation of Texas in July 2015, the largest arts district in the U.S. has sat without a leader. During that time, a lot has happened. The Dallas Arts District contracted with a design firm to update its decades-old (and woefully out-of-date) masterplan, the Sasaki Plan. New developments in the district have opened, and construction on others is underway. The beleaguered Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund threw up its hands over the ongoing controversy with the Nasher Sculpture Center and the blinding light the pension fund-owned Museum Tower beams into the museum’s galleries. Meanwhile, the Dallas Arts District board revamped its structure and changed its bylaws, and Max Anderson, once the chairman of the Arts District board, abruptly left the Dallas Museum of Art — and the city.
In each of these instances, it would have been beneficial to have had a strong, visionary leader at the helm of the Arts District to look out for its interests, namely, seeing the district evolve from the rather antiseptic campus of top-notch arts organizations and architectural showpieces towards something along the lines of its original vision of a real urban neighborhood.
Well, now the district’s board believes it has tapped that leader. Lily Cabatu Weiss will become the next executive director of the Dallas Arts District beginning April 11. Weiss comes from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts where she served as the artistic director. A dancer who joined the school’s faculty in 1978, Weiss has as deep an understanding of the history of the arts district as anyone in this city. And considering the scope of the executive director role has been largely defined by the personalities and skill sets of the individuals in the position, it will be interesting to see how Weiss sets the direction for an organization that can often feel like the city’s cultural chaperon.