We moved into our D Magazine downtown studios (way cooler word than “office”) in 2009, about a month before the AT&T Performing Arts Center opened just a few blocks away from us, on the east end of Flora Street. I took hard-hat tours of the Wyly and Winspear, and we produced a special issue about the buildings and how their tenants would change downtown, creating a real neighborhood. At an Arts District open house for the entire city, on a Sunday in October, the weather was great, and thousands of people poured into the streets. The future felt within reach.
Fast forward a decade. The other day, in an effort to stretch my legs at lunch, I walked a half-mile from work to the 7-Eleven in One Arts Plaza to grab a sandwich. I found Flora Street a wasteland. There were no people, save for workers jackhammering away on part of the Winspear. Sidewalk paver stones were missing. Craters gaped where trees once stood. Orange construction signs lay toppled hither and yon. I took pictures on my return journey to the D Magazine studios and put a post on FrontBurner titled “A Quick Tour of the Arts District, the Prettiest, Deadest Place in Dallas.”
Reaction was swift. One arts executive who works in the district sent me an email pointing out that it was Monday, when the museums are closed. Another sent me pictures of a recent event that had filled Flora on a weekend. My rebuttal to them both: when the district is programmed with activities and performances, it’s wonderful. But the vast majority of the time, it sits empty, doing nothing to contribute to the vitality of downtown Dallas (though the kids at Booker T. deserve a bow).
The good news is that the Arts District’s stakeholders are well aware of its shortcomings. After my post, I met with three women who are pushing for change: Kim Noltemy, president and CEO of the Dallas Symphony Association, who is, thank goodness, going to take the operation of the Meyerson out of the city’s hands; Jill Magnuson, VP of external affairs for the Nasher Sculpture Center and chair of the Arts District’s infrastructure task force; and Lily Cabatu Weiss, the executive director of the Arts District, who brought me a draft copy of a recently updated master plan for the area. It’s a meaty document that we will devote more time to in the future, but for now I’ll quote just the following passage:
“The Arts District must also find a way to insert more of the mixture of uses that was initially imagined, facilitating a broader array of programming and activities when concerts or openings are taking place—but more importantly when no large events are occurring in the cultural venues. … The place should feel more full than it does—more active, even somewhat crowded, and occupied by a cross section of Dallas citizens—on all occasions.”
Yes, indeed. Even on Mondays.