arts entertainmentPerforming Arts

Dallas City Council approves funds for improvements to Latino Cultural Center, Meyerson Symphony Center

The cultural center will get a black box theater while the Meyerson will get long-needed repairs.

The business of a city has to go on, and Wednesday was no exception. The Dallas City Council, holding a meeting electronically, approved two long-standing measures that involve the city’s arts community.

The council overwhelmingly approved $3.188 million in funding to add a long-awaited black box theater to the Latino Cultural Center, where two small arts groups — Cara Mía Theatre and Teatro Dallas — now make their home as resident companies.

The council also approved $3.529 million for major repairs to the Meyerson Symphony Center, which used to be overseen by the city but is now operated by its primary tenant, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

Soloists and artistic director James Richman walked onstage for a Dallas Bach Society performance of Handel's "Messiah" on Dec. 23, 2019, at the Meyerson Symphony Center.
Soloists and artistic director James Richman walked onstage for a Dallas Bach Society performance of Handel's "Messiah" on Dec. 23, 2019, at the Meyerson Symphony Center.(Scott Cantrell)

Jennifer Scripps, director of the city’s Office of Arts and Culture, said Wednesday’s meeting took place via a technology known as WebEx.

“It was just really hard not being in the room,” Scripps said, “and not being able to see people.”

The funding for phase two improvements to the Latino Cultural Center emanated from bond funds passed in 2006 but not yet implemented.

Scripps applauded the addition of a black box theater, which she said will benefit from having “such an intimate, flexible theater space. It’s going to be wonderful.”

As for the Meyerson, that too is a long-awaited measure that will facilitate major repairs, which came from a bond referendum passed in 2017. The referendum called for making “critical repairs, even though the DSO is now managing the building." The money for repairs, she said, is "a really important part of us keeping up our end of the bargain.”

Director of the Office of Cultural Affairs Jennifer Scripps spoke earlier this year to Dallas' Landmark Commission
Director of the Office of Cultural Affairs Jennifer Scripps spoke earlier this year to Dallas' Landmark Commission(Ashley Landis / Staff Photographer)

As Scripps said, “I can’t control COVID-19, but I’m thrilled the City Council is honoring these contracts. These are also jobs when we come out of this. This is stimulus on some level.”

David Lozano, executive artistic director of Cara Mía Theatre, said Wednesday: "I think it was the right move. Let’s keep moving forward, because it’s a monumental event, to construct the phase two multipurpose black box theater at the Latino Cultural Center that will be the home theater for Cara Mía and Teatro Dallas. So, I applaud them for moving forward.

“I was in full agreement with the reasoning that we’re going to put people to work by moving forward with plans to construct this theater by next year.”

Despite the electronic nature of the meeting, three people did raise questions. And one line of inquiry involved funding construction as opposed to allocating resources to city employees potentially displaced by the crisis.

Lozano noted, however, that several council members called it a moot point, since "the citizens of Dallas voted in 2006 to approve money that would go specifically toward construction of the black box theater at the Latino Cultural Center.” He acknowledged that some people did raise the question "'Can we move this into operations and staff?' Someone even said, ‘I’d rather pay city employees than contractors.’ "

He noted, however, that Wednesday’s vote will employ people who work to construct the new black box theater, and aside from that, he said, the funds had already been allocated 14 years ago anyway for a single purpose — to fund the phase two addition to the Latino Cultural Center.

He called the decision “unequivocal,” saying, "The bond money can only be used toward the construction of the black box theater, through the bond process. Period.”

Find more performing arts stories from The Dallas Morning News here.

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Michael Granberry, Arts Writer. Michael Granberry was born and grew up in Dallas. He graduated from Samuell High School in Pleasant Grove in 1970 and from Southern Methodist University in 1974. Between his junior and senior years, he interned at The Washington Post during "the Watergate summer" of 1973. He spent 19 years at the Los Angeles Times before returning to Dallas.

mgranberry@dallasnews.com @mgranberry

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