SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


2022 Arts Vibrancy Index Captures Growth in Pre-Pandemic Dallas

  • Posted Jun 08, 2023

7-minute read

Dallas has seemingly made strides when it comes to arts vibrancy. The 2022 Arts Vibrancy Index — which looks at the supply, demand, and government support for the arts — showed Dallas improving across almost all of the 12 metrics evaluated.

“For the most recent report, Dallas has moved into the top 10 percent of all communities in terms of arts vibrancy,” says Daniel Fonner, the Associate Director for Research at SMU DataArts. It’s an achievement worth celebrating, but there’s a caveat. The report's data reflects the time just before the pandemic and its early days. It may offer some clues as to the pandemic’s impact, but it does not represent the impact fully. We spoke to Fonner about the report’s takeaways on Dallas, and followed up with local artists and arts organizations to see how their experience through the pandemic matches up.

Downtown Dallas, Texas Downtown Dallas, Texas

Dallas still did not make the top 20 large arts communities, which were not ranked in 2022 out of consideration for the pandemic.

“We feel that this moment calls for reflection on arts vibrancy from a place of gratitude for what communities have been through and solidarity in support of their resilience,” the report reads.

But Dallas did show marked improvement in areas like arts supply, or the number of arts providers and independent artists per capita, which had been a sticking point in the past. SMU DataArts Director Dr. Zannie Voss had this to say in 2019, when asked about Dallas’ rank of 149th out of 953 communities, and how North Texas’ exploding population may have contributed:

“There’s nothing wrong with the numbers that are here, it’s just that it tends to be quite concentrated and because it’s per capita, there’s that much less going on for more and more people,” she told the Dallas Observer. “It’s just a question of whether arts and culture will continue to keep pace [with population growth].”

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The number of independent artists per capita in Dallas has not increased, but the 2022 report reveals that Dallas has retained artists better than other communities of a similar size. And this despite continued population growth of three percent since the last report.

“We see that the number of artists in communities across the U.S. decreased over the past five years, but the drop was much smaller for Dallas,” Fonner says. Good wages and a comparatively low cost of living could be reasons why. “Artist pay increased significantly over the past five years in Dallas, when looking at the county level,” Fonner says.

“One cost of living index discusses Dallas as the 71st most expensive out of 300 cities,” he continues. “When considering that Dallas is the ninth most populous city in the US, being 71st most expensive seems more affordable than other large cities.”

An area where Dallas did show a five percent decline is federal dollars. Fonner speculates this could be an early indicator of the pandemic, when federal aid was split between more communities. “It might be starting to pick up on some of that early pandemic money from the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] that went to a lot of communities and not just cities. So that might be an impact, but we don’t know that for sure yet,” he says.

The Arts Vibrancy Index uses the latest data sets available from the IRS and Census Bureau, but it takes some time for them to be released. In the case of a major event like a pandemic, the delay is more evident. “Some of the data sources are giving us information really early in the pandemic. Some even before the pandemic started,” he says.

Anecdotally, Fonner has observed that the current time is more challenging for many arts organizations than the early days of the pandemic. During lockdown, a combination of increased government support and lower operating expenses due to programming cuts helped many organizations through.

“They were able to sustain themselves a lot more effectively than the original fears were,” he says. “Now the issues are starting to pop up, especially for larger organizations, because they have to start going back to doing in-person programming. They have more expenses to keep up and running and these federal dollars are going away.” In combination, attendance has not returned to its pre-pandemic levels. “Audiences are still about 15 percent smaller than they were pre-pandemic,” he shares.

Image provided by Theatre Three, Dallas, TX. Stede Bonnet: A F*cking Pirate Musical (2022). Pictured Left to Right: Cherish Love... Image provided by Theatre Three, Dallas, TX. Stede Bonnet: A F*cking Pirate Musical (2022). Pictured Left to Right: Cherish Love Robinson*, Jovane Caamaño, Marti Etheridge, Parker Gray*, Christopher Llewyn Ramirez*, Laura Lyman Payne, Rachel Nicole Poole**

Performing arts organizations nationwide were already dealing with declining subscriptions before the pandemic. In 2019, artistic director Jeffrey Schmidt of Theatre Three described a climate where there were plenty of artists and arts organizations, but not enough patrons. The Uptown theater was in the midst of a ticketing platform and website redesign to help attract more patrons.

“We were on a positive trend for most things,” Schmidt says. “Then, the pandemic hit. Needs and challenges now are greater.” For the last couple of years, Theatre Three has also been dealing with major construction at their location in the Quadrangle. Their experience demonstrates how ongoing, everyday challenges compounded those posed by the pandemic. “In the end, the construction will benefit us, but it has caused cancellations, delays and general frustration for our patrons trying to get to the theater,” he says.  

But, once again, Theatre Three is taking the bull by the horns. They have more big changes in the works, including a major rebranding gifted by the company ContentPilot.

“It will give us a much stronger position to attract new patrons,” Schmidt says, adding that they also have their hands full with a slate of new productions. “For the first time since before the pandemic, we will be producing a full season with eight productions, meaning there will always be something to do at Theatre Three.”

Part of what will make the pandemic’s impact difficult to capture is that it has not affected all artists in the same way. For some, like mural artist Steve Hunter, business has continued to thrive.

Mural by Steve Hunter, Hunter Creates, Cockrell Hill, TX (2023) Mural by Steve Hunter, Hunter Creates, Cockrell Hill, TX (2023)

“The initial lockdown affected everyone, but I was able to get through that pretty easily. There was federal emergency aid that kicked in pretty quickly, which I took advantage of,” he says. “If anything, 2020 ended up being one of my best years, rather ironically. I guess construction work boomed during the pandemic, and I had plenty of work during that whole year.” 

The only lingering impact of Covid he is dealing with is a small business loan that he is in the process of paying back. “It’s such low interest and monthly payment that it’s really not a negative impact,” he says.

In Dallas, he takes projects like the 2021 Deep Ellum Blues Alley project, a series of murals sharing the neighborhood’s rich musical history, as a sign that things are continuing to trend upward. “It seems to point to positive improvements on funding for mural art in Dallas at least,” Hunter says.

With the giant question mark of the pandemic hanging in the air, we will have to wait until the next report is released later this year to put a fine point on some of these observations. Since the 2022 report captures everything up to the pandemic, plus its very early days, it will provide a strong basis for comparison.

“The next report will be much more indicative of Covid impacts,” Fonner says. “It will be really interesting to see what has changed when we do the analysis this year.”

For now, the 2022 Arts Vibrancy Index does allow us to say one thing definitively about Dallas: it’s a fast-growing city, and its local arts scene is evolving just as quickly.



Caroline Pritchard is a senior copywriter at Hawkeye and a freelance journalist in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

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