#10 Veletta Forsythe Lill on the Dallas Arts District and the state of arts funding in Texas

Our show today not only was timely, but it also has a personal nature.

Our guest was Veletta Forsythe Lill, former Dallas City Council member and current Executive Director of the Dallas Arts District.  And although she and I call Texas our home, we went to school together in Paris, Illinois, a few years back.

She served eight years on the Dallas City Council, from 1997-2005, where she chaired the Arts, Education and Libraries Committee and the Comprehensive Plan Committee.

During this time, the city’s Arts District expanded its boundaries and the city created a Cultural Facilities Master Plan. Also during her time on the City Council, several new city-owned cultural facilities opened and voters approved more than $100 million in municipal bond support for libraries and cultural facilities, including the seed investment for the AT&T Performing Arts Center.  Her advocacy work extended also to privately funded facilities, including the opening of the Nasher Sculpture Center.

While chairing the Arts, Education, and Libraries Committee, Dallas partnered with the Dallas Independent School District to create ArtsPartners, a nationally recognized arts-in-education program for elementary school children.   And, as a member of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau board, she led efforts to promote cultural tourism and film production in the city.

In addition to her work with the Dallas Arts District, she serves on the boards of the Parkland Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau.

She has been honored with a number of awards in the arts including TITAS’ Tom Adams Award of Appreciation, the Dallas Contemporary’s Legends Award and the Dance Council of North Texas’ Service to Dance Award.   In April 2006, her work on behalf of the Arts District, urban planning and historic preservation led to her acceptance of the American Planning Association’s Distinguished Leadership Award for an Elected Official.

Texas House committee passes budget bill

Yesterday, March 23, the Texas House Appropriations Committee passed on a party-line vote of 18-7 HB1, that’s the proposed state budget for the next biennium.  The bill appropriates $164.5 billion, which is a 12.3-percent less than the current budget.

General revenue, the money collected through taxes and fees, dropped 5.4 percent.  And, this budget bill does not tap into the so-called Rainy Day Fund.

As expected, the bill makes some drastic cuts, including 10-percent cuts to Medicaid providers and around $8 billion in funding cuts to school districts.  And you can bet those cuts will trickle down to cuts in the arts in Texas public schools.

You can find more information on these sites:

Legislative Budget Board

Texas Impact

Texas Tribune

Robert Floyd is Executive Director of the Texas Music Educators Association and chairs the Texas Coalition for Quality Arts Education.  Here’s an op-ed piece that recently ran in state publications and online:

CORPUS CHRISTI — Renée Zellweger might have won an Academy Award without the theater courses she took at Katy High School. And it’s possible that Norah Jones may have won multiple Grammy Awards even if she hadn’t attended choir classes at Grapevine Junior High School. But in each of these cases, and in countless others, a quality fine arts education in Texas public schools is at the foundation of their success.

Fine arts courses in our schools enable students to develop their interest and talent in the arts at an early age, and every student benefits from fine arts courses, even when their future career successes are outside of music, acting, dance, or art.

In a state where high-stakes testing drives decisions on funding, staffing, and instructional minutes, fine arts programs are frequently a target when school budget cuts must be made. With the Legislature and school boards dealing with budget shortfalls of historic proportions, there is already evidence from districts across the state that fine arts programs are on the chopping block.

These programs often suffer because of a misguided perception that the arts are an extracurricular, non-essential part of education. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.

Fine arts is part of the state-required curriculum that all school districts must offer from elementary through high school. Fine arts classes that meet during the school day are inarguably curricular by nature and by law.

As State Sen. Florence Shapiro, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, said in a press conference last week: “Fine arts courses are just as essential as every other part of the required curriculum. In fact, fine arts courses are becoming increasingly critical in preparing students for the 21st-century workforce.”

During the last legislative session in a joint briefing to the House and Senate, best-selling business author Dan Pink advised legislators that the 21st-century workforce belongs to creative right-brain thinkers for whom the arts are a cornerstone of their development. Within that briefing, a NASA ISS systems engineer, an IBM master inventor, and an AT&T executive echoed Pink’s convictions.

While it’s clear that business leaders value arts education, the more than 1.4 million students enrolled in middle and high school fine arts courses today speaks to the fact that these programs are also valued across the state by students and parents. Elementary music, art, and theater teachers serve tens of thousands of students daily and are among the most dedicated and passionate teachers in our Texas classrooms.

Research studies also continue to offer resounding conclusions about the importance of arts education. In 2008, the Dana Foundation released a comprehensive study, “Learning, Arts, and the Brain,” that for the first time reported a causal relationship between rigorous study in the arts and improved cognition. And a November 2010 Scientific American editorial that was headlined “Hearing the Music, Honing the Mind” stated, “Music produces profound and lasting changes in the brain. Schools should add classes, not cut them.”

Finally, the Texas Cultural Arts economic study released in 2009 entitled “20 Reasons the Texas Economy Depends on the Arts and the Creative Sector” found an undeniable connection between support for the arts, a vibrant creative sector, and a strong economy. To quote that study, “During tough economic times it may seem intuitive to cut arts and culture initiatives, but these are the very projects that can help the economy recover.”

Before school districts or the legislature propose wholesale cutting of fine arts programs to solve what is admittedly a critical public education funding crisis, they should remember their responsibility to educate the whole child. Because fine arts courses are academic and a vital component in delivering the well-rounded education required by law, they should not take a disproportionate share of staffing and budget cuts.

As former Texas congresswoman Barbara Jordan so eloquently stated in 1993, “The arts, instead of quaking along the periphery of our policy concerns, must push boldly into the core of policy. The arts are not a frill.”

So, I find it curious that the current edition of the Texas Fact Book makes no mention of state funding of the arts, which would come under the Commission On the Arts.

But, you can find that in 2008, Texas ranked #2 in the nation in the number of Utility Patents issued to Texas residents (5,712)

That Texas ranked #11 in the percentage of high school students who participated in at least one sport in 2007 (57.7)

And  that Texas ranked #48 in the nation in the number of public library visits per capita in 2007 (3.3)

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About John David Powell

John David Powell - Gone To Texas is a daily blogcast from ShadeyHill Ranch carried exclusively on Blog Talk Radio at www.blogtalkradio.com/johndavidpowell. We feature discussion of events in Texas and the world hosted by multiple Lone Star Award-winning journalist and author with 5 decades of news and broadcasting experience.
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