Richardson is often perceived as a tech-powered machine. But behind the city’s digital facade is a bustling cultural arts community advancing the city’s knack for innovation.
In 2017 national nonprofit Americans for the Arts released a study that quantified the economic impact of creative industries across 341 communities and regions.
The report found that in 2015, dollars spent in Richardson by arts and cultural organizations and their audiences amounted to $20.6 million. Revenue to local government came in at $831,000, while the state collected over $1 million.
The majority of funding for the arts is derived through the city’s hotel occupancy tax fund, said Shanna Sims-Bradish, assistant city manager and cultural arts liaison.
The lion’s share of Richardson’s hotel tax revenue is used to fund the city-owned and -operated Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts and Corporate Presentations. Earmarked in this year’s budget for daily operations at the Eisemann was $5.2 million—over three-quarters of hotel tax fund
FUNDING HOMEGROWN TALENT
The success of the city’s arts industry is tied in part to the sheer number of arts organizations existing in a relatively small area, Sims-Bradish said.
“What I’ve always heard is that we have more artistic offerings than what you would expect for a city of 100,000 [people],” she said. “There is a strong history of arts organizations, such as the Richardson Symphony, which is over 50 years old.”
Under Texas law use of hotel tax revenue is restricted to expenditures that promote local tourism. To formalize the process of disbursement, in the ’80s Richardson formed its cultural arts commission, a seven-member advisory board tasked with recommending to City Council which local arts groups should receive grants.
“The whole idea is that we have this tax money, and we want it to be reinvested in our residents, so we want to return the money to the source and reward the groups that really seem to be proud of Richardson,” commission chair Catherine Burdette said.
Twenty-nine groups received funding in fiscal year 2018-19, with grants ranging from $1,000 to $80,000. Topping the list was The Richardson Symphony Orchestra, followed by The Repertory Company Theatre and the Richardson Theatre Centre. In total $354,600 in grants were distributed, according to city documents.
Groups that receive grants are not required to be Richardson-based—The Plano Symphony received $6,500 in the last funding cycle while the Dallas Repertoire Ballet received $6,200—but they must perform in the city, Burdette said.
“One thing that is valuable to us is ‘Richardson-centric,’” she said. “If there is a group that offices here, rehearses here, performs here, that is valuable.”
EISEMANN AS AN INDUSTRY DRIVER
According to budget documents, the Eisemann is projected to produce over a third of the city’s hotel tax fund revenue—or $2.5 million—in
fiscal year 2018-19.
The cost of running the Eisemann accounts for more than 70 percent of hotel tax fund expenditures, and those costs have increased in all but two years over the past decade.
Eisemann Center Managing Director Bruce MacPherson said even as operational costs have climbed, rental fees have only slightly increased since the center’s founding in 2002, causing expenditures to historically outpace revenues.
“There is a huge benefit to the arts community by keeping [the Eisemann] affordable and yet providing top-line professional services,” he said. “Are we expected to break even? No, as long as there are returns coming back to the community in the way the facility is being used and for the audiences that are coming.”
What sets the Eisemann apart is its primary use as a rental facility, MacPherson said. Out of the 492 events held at the center last year, only 48 were produced in-house.
Compared to DFW’s most renowned performing arts centers, such as the Meyerson Symphony Center or the Winspear Opera House, the Eisemann is the most affordable, MacPherson said.
Base rental fees at the Eisemann vary according to the type of organization using the center and day of the week but generally fall between $1,500 and $2,650 per day. MacPherson said local arts groups in existence during the Eisemann’s founding have priority in using the center and are offered a lower rental fee than outside organizations.
To encourage use by nonlocal entities those responsible for the creation of the Eisemann chose to forgo the generic Richardson Performing Arts Center name, MacPherson said. The center was built with the understanding it would be both a community resource and regional amenity.
“Even if events are hosted by people not based here, it is drawing people to Richardson, so overall the community wins on all fronts,” he said.
ENSURING COMMUNITY ACCESSIBILITY
In support of Richardson’s thriving arts community, in 2013 the city put guidelines into place meant to ensure the industry’s continued vitality. From that effort came the city’s cultural arts master plan, Sims-Bradish said.
Among several outlined needs was an investment in public art pieces. In response the city published its public art master plan in 2015, cementing its commitment to bringing accessible art to Richardson through commissioning pieces on city-owned land as well as working with developers to encourage public art installations.
There are about 20 art pieces located in public settings across Richardson, Sims-Bradish said. In October the city unveiled “Micro Macro Mojo,” the latest addition to its public art collection.
The 70-foot, glass-and-steel cone-shaped structure created by Oregon-based artist Ed Carpenter stands at the intersection of Greenville Avenue and Alma Road. The sculpture was funded through a public-private partnership between the city’s hotel tax fund and Eastside Plaza developers.
A MISSING PIECE
As the city’s business sector took shape in the ’80s so did its arts community. But some stakeholders say there is not enough overlap between the two.
Kitty Goddard, president of Arts Incubator of Richardson—an organization dedicated to providing affordable rental space for artists to rehearse, perform, create, exhibit and collaborate—is one of the city’s most vocal proponents for local artistic invention.
On the back of Goddard’s business card is a quote from author Richard Florida, which says that a successful city is one “that is attractive to creative people, not just high-tech companies.”
“I believe that the arts scene in Richardson is vibrant and evolving; however, I believe that it is not close to its potential for becoming much more through support from the community, which includes the city, corporate entities, individuals and the chamber,” Goddard said.
In 1986 the Richardson Arts Alliance was created to serve as an umbrella association for local arts groups. Today the nonprofit seeks to provide creative individuals and organizations the chance to interact and network, share ideas and collaborate.
Save for a few exceptions, representation from the city’s business community is largely missing from the alliance, President David Nethery said.
“We need businesses to become more involved with the arts by being board members and supporting the organizations financially,” he said.
Corporate giving is crucial to the continued vitality of Richardson’s arts industry, Nethery and Goddard said.
“I understand that major corporations give more to the social services agencies, but we have as strong of an impact, just in a different way, and often a way that is difficult to measure,” Goddard said. “I would like to see a consortium of businesses of all sizes that come together and create a fund to give to the arts.”