Amber Knowles/Photographer

Toyota and AT&T Performing Arts Center’s ArtsBridge initiative seeks to connect West Dallas community with meaningful artistic experiences

by Sabrina Corsiga, Special Contributor | October 31, 2019

When the classically trained hip-hop instrumentalist duo Black Violin brought students from Sidney Lanier Expressive Arts Vanguard to share the stage at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Strauss Square last October, the dynamic performance received overwhelmingly positive feedback not only from the audience, but also from its young participants.

“Everything was beautiful,” one student said. “We put all of our hard work into that music.”

“[It was] hands down the best night of my entire life,” said another.

The Black Violin student performance was just one event held as part of the ArtsBridge program, a community engagement initiative by the AT&T Performing Arts Center and Toyota. ArtsBridge seeks to connect West Dallas residents with cultural offerings and educational opportunities within their community and at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.

The two groups are eager to expand ArtsBridge’s pilot year success, with a host of opportunities on the books throughout 2019-2020. Programing which began in October, includes Art Walk West / Wild West Mural Fest, featuring Second Line dance classes, a New Orleans-style parade, mariachi and ballet folklorico performances and a public student-created mural.

“SUGAR SKULL! A Dia de Los Muertos Musical Adventure” will be led by touring arts education group Mexico Beyond Mariachi to highlight Hispanic Heritage Month. And after last year’s remarkable feedback, the Black Violin Student Encore Performance will make its return in April 2020. 

Bringing the arts to West Dallas

By partnering with Toyota to provide access to arts programming, the AT&T Performing Arts Center hopes to strengthen West Dallas’ cultural fabric and uplift the community via arts education and opportunities.

“We have really enjoyed engaging with West Dallas, a neighborhood with a rich cultural history,” says Debbie Storey, interim president and CEO of the AT&T Performing Arts Center. 

By allocating resources such as transportation and tickets to performances by world-class artists, ArtsBridge strives to eliminate the barriers that often prevent residents from enjoying meaningful artistic experiences that the Dallas Arts District offers.

“We definitely want to create a gathering place for communities to come and experience the transformative power of the performing arts, [and] Arts Bridge is one amazing outlet for us to realize that part of our mission,” says Autumn Garrison, Director of Education and Community Engagement at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.

Partnering with the community to best serve its needs

ArtsBridge came to fruition thanks to a 2018 grant from Toyota, designed to complement Toyota’s commitment to investing in the communities in which they operate, including D-FW.

“ArtsBridge supports our commitment to inclusion by improving access to artistic experiences for residents both where they live and at the Center,” says Christopher Reynolds, chief administrative officer at Toyota. “We know that it takes more than science, technology, engineering and math to produce our next generation of innovators. The arts play an essential role in developing creative and critical thinkers.”

Reynolds says West Dallas is an ideal area to begin ArtsBridge because of the existing relationships Toyota has formed there, including collaboration with Dallas ISD and SMU to support a new PreK-8 school in the area.

According to Garrison, each ArtsBridge project is carefully developed in partnership with West Dallas community leaders to learn what appeals most to residents.

“When we’re building all of these programs, we never make assumptions about what this community wants or what they’re interested in,” Garrison says. “ArtsBridge also holds these thorough discussions in order to leverage resources and performances that further benefit the West Dallas community.

“[West Dallas] is an area we have worked with before in various capacities through several of our programs,” Garrison says. “It’s an area that we’re excited to partner with in a substantial and more collaborative way on a larger scale.”

2020 programming promises new experiences and old favorites

In its pilot year, ArtsBridge featured a free public conversation with Grammy Award-winning singer Aida Cuevas, also known as “The Queen of Ranchera Music.” Cuevas’ band, Mariachi Juvenil Tecaltitlán, provided a free masterclass for mariachi musicians and students.

West Dallas residents received free tickets and transportation to Cuevas’ concert at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. The second ArtsBridge project included a series of hip-hop-themed after-school workshops for teens, led by Mercy Street Dallas, exploring the four pillars of hip-hop while promoting self-expression.

ArtsBridge community partners returning for the 2019-2020 year include the Anita Martinez Recreation Center and Sidney Lanier Expressive Arts Vanguard. Spanish-language broadcaster Univision 23 Dallas is the official broadcast media partner for ArtsBridge.

“Created with input from the community, ArtsBridge is a really creative series that we hope will better connect West Dallas with the arts in a new and exciting way,” Storey says.

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