Zannie Voss’ final time to serve as moderator of TACA’s Perforum was the oddest and one of the most important. As the coronavirus pandemic poses extraordinary challenges to the arts industry, Voss facilitated a virtual discussion focused on “Relevancy, Relationships and Reimaginings” from a quiet Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. Such conversations give Voss hope.
Voss, Director of SMU DataArts and Professor of Arts Management at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business, has moderated TACA’s Perforum since 2010. The annual arts symposium features national arts experts discussing major issues and important trends within the arts industry. “From 2010-2020, it just felt like a good bookend. It’s been an incredible opportunity with TACA, with the panelists. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it,” Voss said.
Voss’ first Perforum marked an era of great change in the arts community. The arts industry was contending with issues related to the recession while growing in significant ways. The AT&T Performing Arts Center had opened a year earlier. The Dallas Arts Fair began in 2009 with 30 vendors. “When there is a lot of change in the environment, it always does require an innovative response with your ability to adapt. Out of that year’s Perforum, it inspired the Donna Wilhelm New Works Fund,” Voss said. “Instead of it just being a panel discussion where the conversation happens and then the ideas go away at the end of the day, it sparked ideas for the Dallas community and had a longer-term impact,” Voss said.
The symposium has evolved throughout the last decade. Artistic leaders, administrators and board members are given more time to ask the panelists questions. The symposium typically concludes with a lunch where attendees can continue the conversation and discuss ideas one-on-one with the panelists.
At this year’s Perforum in October, Voss missed breaking bread with the panelists, looking people in the eye and giving friends hugs. “It’s not every day where the arts community has an opportunity to gather,” Voss said. “One of the wonderful things about Perforum is just the sense of collegiality and the warmth of everyone in the room.”
The invited panelists have modeled innovative concepts for the North Texas arts community. “There were just examples of incredible success stories that people shared with us,” Voss said. This year, Voss was inspired by DeAnna Cummings, co-founder and former CEO of Juxtaposition Arts (JUXTA), a social enterprise business in north Minneapolis that trains and employs historically underestimated youth as a springboard to higher education and careers in art and design.
Jack Reuler of Mixed Blood Theatre demonstrated fierce dedication to radical hospitality. He discussed removing any and every barrier to being part of the movement of Mixed Blood, including free admission for all, free transportation for those with mobility issues, and supertitles for the hearing impaired.
Renae Williams Niles, former Director of Programming at LA Music Center, turned the music center plaza into a community resource by animating it and letting people appropriate it. Kelly Lindquist, President of ArtSpace and Rick Lowe of Project Row Houses discussed creating the infrastructure to be a place where artists can and want to work and live. Rinku Sen, President and Executive Director of Race Forward in New York City, pushed arts organizations to aim for equity, not just diversity.
Voss especially appreciated panelists bringing art into the symposium. Rha Goddess of Move the Crowd broke into poetry in a session on artists as the ambassadors of inclusion. Baba Israel improvised a rap summary following the discussion of cultural and social barriers to participation. “Sometimes all it takes is somebody saying one thing in a powerful way that gets an entire community talking about what we can do to make tomorrow better within the arts environment,” Voss said.
The symposium’s programming is geared to meet the needs of a growing arts community. In the last decade, there are been a 9% increase in the number of North Texas arts organizations as well as a greater emphasis on making North Texas a viable place for artists to live and work.
“What’s been interesting to see is the growth particularly in smaller organizations. Sometimes in an ecology, it is dominated by large institutions and they are the ones that are growing, and the small organizations are not necessarily getting the same level of traction. But what we’ve seen in North Texas is actually the smaller organizations are incurring even greater budget growth percentage-wise than larger organizations. So, we’re seeing a more nuanced, more complex arts environment,” Voss said.
Even with pandemic challenges, Voss sees opportunity. “This is a wonderful moment to rethink basic assumptions. These discussions help to give new ideas on when our doors open again how will we be even more relevant in our programming, how will we be even more meaningful to the people whom we serve, a greater footprint from across the spectrum of population within Dallas,” Voss said.
Voss is hopeful when she sees organizations listening, trying to learn how to refine their mission to meet the needs of the community. “There are so many organizations that are not coming up with an idea of how they can serve right now, but they really have an ear to the ground to understand what is working well and what do they need to change,” Voss said. “There’s a great sense of resiliency and resolve out there.”
Learn more about TACA: https://taca-arts.org/