Does Dallas Care About Music?

cof-dallas-music-meetingDallas isn’t necessarily recognized as a city of music. However, those of us, like myself, that have been entrenched in the music scene for the past several years have seen the music community grow in leaps and bounds. Despite its growth, it has yet to blossom and bear fruit.

Part of that may be due to the fact that the City of Dallas hasn’t done much to support this segment of the arts.

Yet, even without the City’s support the music scene continues to grow and thrive thanks to the tremendous talent and grassroots efforts across the city. This is a testament to our determination and resilience.

In recent months, it seems that the City of Dallas is finally starting to open its eyes and making moves towards supporting music, art and culture. Perhaps the best example of this is the recent interest in revamping their cultural plan which is embarrassingly over a decade old. The Office of Cultural Affairs (OCA) along with its consultants have had dozens of community conversations all across the city that have targeted different segments of the arts.

A broken promise

Back in February, Darryl Ratcliff of Creating our Future (COF), an artists advocacy group that has been working closely with the OCA, reached out to me to organize a music-focused meeting due to the lack of input from our music community. Without input, music will not be properly represented in the new plan. I accepted the challenge with enthusiasm.

Approximately 75 people attended the meeting despite the cold, rainy weather. During the process, it became clear that a second meeting was necessary. In fact, a representative for the OCA publicly promised a second meeting that has yet to take place.

I sent over a dozen emails in an attempt to secure a second meeting date and after a month of being pushed aside, I nearly lost faith. Does the City even care about music? Are they simply checking off boxes? Design meeting. Check. Art meeting. Check. Music meeting. Check.

Even with all of my skepticism, I still think the cultural plan is important and needed to propel Dallas to the next level. The new plan will enhance artistic vibrancy and help guide the development of cultural programs and policies that support the arts for the next 10-15 years. For that reason, we will continue to seek changes.

The City doesn’t create culture, we do.

One thing is crystal clear to me, the City with all of its good intentions works at a snail’s pace and if we wait for them to support us it could be years before we start to see fruit.

While I was licking my wounds over their failed promise, COF stepped up to facilitate a small, more informal music meeting, to gather feedback to drive OCA to action. It was held on Monday, March 26th in the Regal Room.

Admittedly, my ego and the fact that my mom had surgery earlier that day nearly kept me from attending the meeting. And to be completely honest, I had been questioning the authenticity of Dallas’ cultural plan based on my experience.

Thankfully, my love of Dallas music and respect for COF organizers outweighed my temporary sourness. I came with my little notebook, not as an organizer but as an observer and participant.

What transpired during this 2-hour session was pretty darn cool. There were about 25 people in attendance, a lot of familiar faces and some new faces I had never met.

There really wasn’t much of an agenda. A brief introduction about COF. A little bit of information about the cultural plan. People were simply invited to discuss the Dallas music scene. There were some that were more vocal than others and some that dominated much of the conversations.

The most vocal in the group included Van Stirling of Culture Unlimited, Harley Barnes music advocate and founder of Decent Market, and musicians Chad Goodson and Alexis Sanchez. I had a few things to contribute but I was there mostly to listen and take notes.

One of the things that hit home during the meeting and why I felt compelled to write this, was when someone, I can’t remember who, stressed the importance of being able to articulate what had happened in the meeting to the City and a broader audience. This is my attempt at doing that.

The highlight reel

I did my best to keep up with the conversation. Here are some of the things we discussed:

  • The Fire Marshal and the general decline of DIY events and the negative impact it has had on culture in Dallas. It needs to be easier to navigate and conduct creative events without the threat of being shut down. There’s too much gray area in the permitting process and no easy-to-follow checklist. Could temporary permitting be a solution? How does one go about that?
  • The Good Ones Leave.While the City is figuring things out, the rest of the nation is plucking talent from our own backyard. Someone commented that if you look at any mainstream artists’ band, more often than not, there will be a musician from Dallas. Alexis Sanchez who plays alongside Charley Crockett and fronts his own band The Van Sanchez asked, “ What incentives are there for musicians to stay in Dallas?” and expressed his own temptation to move to Austin due to its thriving scene and the plethora of programs and benefits available for musicians, including healthcare.
  • Radio. Surprisingly, radio was a hot topic in this meeting with several people echoing the same tune. There needs to be more local talent on mainstream radio. Wouldn’t you like to hear more radio stations playing local music, not just KXT who tends to be very genre specific. This would help musicians reach a broader audience. With so many radio stations owned by big conglomerates, like iHeartRadio, how would a musician even go about this? Did you know the City of Dallas owns a radio station? Perhaps this could be a foot in the door for local musicians. Either way, it’s clear there needs to be a larger discussion about this.
  • Deep Ellum needs a music-centric community space. One that pays homage to its music-rich past and present. Someone mentioned that the City of Irving is home to the Texas Musicians Museum. And I don’t know about you but when I think of music I don’t think of Irving. Imagine if something like that existed in Deep Ellum. The space could host community meetings and provide resources specifically for musicians and artists.
  • Dallas needs to cultivate a culture of mentorship. Harley Barnes was very vocal about this and gave a nod to Dallas’ startup community as a good example to follow. He suggested inviting people at the top in the music industry to conduct workshops to share their knowledge with people eager to learn.
  • Collaboration is key. Chad Goodson, a singer-songwriter, spoke about the importance of collaborating with local influencers, such as Sofar Sounds, Artist Uprising and Culture Hype. He said, “Dallas is not a city you can do music on your own, without collaborators.”
  • We need to work together. No one trusts each other. The silos need to come down. There needs to be more opportunities for people within the music community to meet and collaborate. Barnes highlights this fact by saying, “There’s a reason why we feel like we have so much to say because we don’t have many opportunities to meet.”
  • Where are our champions? There needs to be organizations that exist whose sole purpose is to move the music scene forward. The City needs to support those organizations.
  • Dallas needs a festival it can hang its hat on. Lots of ideas swirled about this one. Most everyone agreed it should not be organized by the City because the City doesn’t know festivals, but it should be funded (partly) and supported by the City. Some wanted it to be a small to mid-tier festival akin to Lights All Night or something bigger like SXSW. Whatever it looks like, it should be a platform to cross-pollinate different segments of the arts, such as visual art, music, film, etc. And there would need to be a loose expectation about how much money the festival would need to make in its first years. Someone pointed out that SXSW and ACL didn’t make money right out of the gate.

When the meeting dissipated some folks left straight away while others, including myself, lingered around for a cocktail and to digest everything that was discussed in the meeting. I soon found myself in deep, enthusiastic conversations with fellow music advocates and entrepreneurs, Tim Daniels Co-Owner of Off the Record, IBK & Homegrown Fest, Ashley Brightwell of Music is Our Weapon and Harley Barnes.

I found these one-on-one conversations to be even more inspiring and left me proud and hopeful for the future of Dallas music. Thank you to Creating Our Future for getting me involved and for pushing forward when I was ready to throw in the towel. While we wait for the City of Dallas and the OCA to make their next move the collective “we” will continue to move music culture forward. 

*Since the initial music meeting I’ve spoken to a representative from the OCA, albeit informally, who has assured me there will be other opportunities aimed at collecting feedback from specific groups, including music, which is Dallas’ largest and least engaged community.

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  1. Dang, I wish I could have known about this meeting! I would have shown up if I was free.

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