Impact of art illustrated before Dallas vote

DALLAS: Supporters of the arts performed PR pirouettes in Dallas recently in an attempt to convince voters that there's money in Mozart, and revenue in Renoir.

DALLAS: Supporters of the arts performed PR pirouettes in Dallas recently in an attempt to convince voters that there's money in Mozart, and revenue in Renoir.

A $555 million bond election slated for May 3 included approximately $29 million to upgrade some smaller arts facilities, and provide planning and infrastructure for the proposed downtown Dallas Center for the Performing Arts complex.

"Early on, we realized they were billing it as a meat-and-potatoes [bond issue], and we realized that people had questions about how the arts fit into a meat-and-potatoes campaign," said Lisa Limoges, VP of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts Foundation.

The center called upon its year-round agency, Levenson Public Relations, and joined with proponents of other bond-issue elements in hiring public affairs firm Allyn & Co.

Work began last summer when Allyn conducted polling. In February, the center formed Arts Means Business Inc., a 501c6 nonprofit organization whose status made it eligible to solicit non-tax-deductible contributions for lobbying. The organization raised $200,000 to fund the campaign.

The group's main message is that performing-arts facilities spur economic development. Supporters sent two direct mailers to more than 100,000 identified voters, including one featuring photos of construction workers in tutus, drama masks, and opera horns. The brochure claimed the new complex would create 1,800 jobs and spur $170 million in spending.

The center's PR blitz included placing op-ed pieces and arranging speaking engagements. A last-minute get-out-the-vote effort focused on South Dallas, where support for the initiatives was already strong.

Other arts supporters weighed in, with the Dallas Business Committee for the Arts sponsoring a Deloitte & Touche study that found that the arts contribute slightly more to the Dallas economy than do professional sports teams.

Public monies will contribute only 8% of funding for the arts complex, with the $250 million private-donation goal already more than half met. While the bond issue might seem symbolic, supporters stress its importance in demonstrating the city's commitment to the arts. Also, some large private donations are contingent on passage of the bonds, and a $50 million naming-rights donation is being sought.

Supporters were grateful that no organized opposition surfaced, but war coverage and lack of controversy meant sparse media attention for the arts until the campaign's last couple of weeks, Limoges said.

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