2 min read September 2023 — Warren Tranquada, president and CEO of the AT&T Performing Arts Center, spoke with Invest: on the direction of the arts and the center’s youth programs to create awareness. “The future of the arts depends on young people being engaged and seeing the relevance of their stories. Those education programs really provide a mechanism for us to give people arts experiences throughout their youth,” said Tranquada.
How does the AT&T Performing Arts Center factor into any growth and development plans for the area?
It’s difficult to bring a company to a city unless employees want to work there. That is an important role that we play in providing reasons for people to want to relocate and be part of the community. When you think of great cities around the world, they tend to be defined by architecture, food and the arts. We do a little bit on all three of those, but especially on the art side. We help make this a city that people want to live in. That’s critical for a company when deciding to relocate. The arts themselves are also an economic driver. For example, the center has an annual economic impact of over $130 million, supporting over 1,100 jobs. This includes indirect impact and over $50 million of compensation from those jobs that we help support, whether that be directly at the center or the organizations that support the center. I would also say, since the Center is such a large part of the Dallas Arts District, we are committed to helping enliven and activate the neighborhood with more outdoor community events and festivals, as well as providing more opportunities to enjoy bites, drinks and live performances at our new Flora Cantina in our park, especially before and after shows.
How do programs such as Open Stages and Backdoor Spotlight help keep youth engaged in the arts and culture sector?
The future of the arts depends on young people being engaged and seeing the relevance of their stories. Those education programs really provide a mechanism for us to give people arts experiences throughout their youth. It creates a habit and gets people comfortable with engaging with the arts. It also helps remove some of the unintentional barriers that people see coming to an arts center. There can be an impression that the arts are for people in tuxedos, taking limousines into the downtown area. We work with schools and youth to help democratize the arts and create nice energy.
How should the city gear more public spending toward arts and culture?
We’re very fortunate that the City of Dallas has been a terrific partner with the entire arts and culture sector through the Office of Arts and Culture. We’re blessed with that support. Our facility is a public-private partnership, and the building is owned by the City of Dallas. We are the stewards. We operate, maintain the building and support all the programming and the city has been a good partner for us. They continue to invest in the upkeep of the building. We do have an important opportunity in 2024 when the city will have a comprehensive bond program to support several municipal infrastructure projects and arts facilities are an important part of that. The city owns 15 buildings in the arts and culture sector all with critical infrastructure needs. This is a great opportunity for the city to ensure that these facilities are maintained at the same level that we’ve been accustomed to. But generally, Dallas is a city that values and defines itself as an arts leader, which is a great reason for talent and companies to move here.
What are some of the challenges for the sector?
Audience habits have changed post-COVID, and the average number of events that someone attends in a year has decreased. There’s also a portion of our audience that has decided not to come back to attending live events. Our biggest competition is streaming and self-curated entertainment that people can enjoy at home. We’re not going to be able to have a highly customized experience where you’re getting recommendations that you can consume instantly at home in your pajamas. We really need to reinforce what’s best about live entertainment — the direct connection with the artist, the special excitement of going out, the shared experience of that live performance. The specialness of seeing something being created or even contributing to that creation helps make entertainment more immersive — that’s where we can succeed. That is our secret sauce to winning these audiences back.
What are some of the initiatives or projects that you’re excited to push forward for the Center?
In the short term, we are excited about a new food option we’re bringing to campus. It might sound like a small thing but creating that vibrancy on the street can have a transformational impact on the entire arts district and help drive more people to think about the district. It’s a small thing, but I think it’s quite impactful. Longer term, we are very invested in reaching more audiences through more innovative, diverse and immersive programming. That’s a big focus as we think about how we develop what we bring to the stages of the coming years.
Do you have any additional thoughts to share?
Our campus is not the only place where we present live performances. If we’ve got the right event and we don’t have the space, we are frequent users of other spaces within the city. We can still bring that art to the residents of the city, whether that be at the Majestic Theatre, Moody Performance Hall, or elsewhere. On the immersive side, that trend is very important for the future of our industry and for the arts here in North Texas. There have been several great successes in immersive entertainment in the city. We’ve learned from our peers that interesting immersive art tends to attract a younger and more diverse audience, which often brings first-timers to the venues. In some cases, as much as 30-40% of the people that come to see an immersive production are people who have never attended the institution. We had something recently called the Hubblo Immersive Cinema Dome, which features immersive films about nature and science surrounding you. We found a high percentage of those coming that had never been to the Center before. The experience has spread through word of mouth, so that’s an important part of our future.
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