Best of Fest: A great way to experience them all!


DALLAS: Come one come all! See 22 North Texas film festivals come together for four days with the best of their work! Nowhere else in America has this ever been done! Join us for North Texas Film Festival’s BEST OF FESTS Film Festival.

BEST OF FESTS opens on January 10 and runs through January 13. The films, which include features, shorts and documentaries, are showing at venues across Dallas including: Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas, Studio Movie Grill, and the Texas Theatre.

How BEST OF FESTS was born

Bringing North Texas film fests together to showcase their work in a four-day festival was an idea that began at last year’s Art House Convergence, a conference for film festivals and people who run art houses, says Dallas VideoFest Founder Bart Weiss. “I was there, and so was Emily Hargrove with EarthxFilm Festival. We were talking and thought it might be a good idea to do this in Dallas. Then Emily said let’s do this, and she got the ball rolling. Emily really has spearheaded this and done an incredible job.”

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This is an important event according to Weiss. “In every other city that I’ve been to that runs a film festival, the festivals don’t really get along very well, or at best, they tolerate each other, but they don’t work together the way that we do here. So it’s a different kind of spirit here [in North Texas] that says a lot about the people who are running our festivals, and I think that is something really worth celebrating as much as the films themselves.”

Another point worth noting, according to Weiss, is how many festivals are involved. “When we thought of this, we thought maybe there would be 10 festivals, and then, we ended up with 22. So just let that sink in. This is Dallas-Fort Worth, and we have 22 festivals working with us. I mean the breadth and depth of the different kinds of festivals that we have is truly astounding. So in a world where we celebrate diversity, we are really covering interests all over the place.”

While many of the festivals are showing more recent work, Dallas VideoFest is showing a film from its archives: The Big Buy: Tom Delay’s Stolen Congress. “I felt it was important because given where we are politically; this is, in part, about how we got there, and it’s also important to support Dallas filmmakers, like Mark Birnbaum and Jim Schermbeck.”

The southernmost North Texas Film Festival: Deep In The Heart Film Festival

Best of Fests Film Festival covers an area in Texas much like a diamond. It starts with Denton to the North, Fort Worth to the West, Dallas to the East, and Waco to the South. And Waco is home to Deep In The Heart Film Festival. Its co-directors, Samuel

(l to r) Lewis Hunter and Samuel Thomas
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Thomas and Louis Hunter, created the festival three years ago. “We feel blessed to be included in BEST of FESTS, and it’s definitely a benefit for us,” Thomas admits. After all we’re just and hour and a half down the road from Dallas! BEST OF FESTS has allowed us to meet other filmmakers in the area that we weren’t familiar with; and as filmmakers, we are all in this together.”

Thomas says he and Hunter often think of themselves as the Cohen brothers, as they unite their visions. Deep In The Heart is all about the stories; deep, heartfelt stories. Moreover, the directing duo doesn’t mind if the film is lacking in production value, what matters most to them is that the story is strong.

“For us, it’s got to be about the heart so the essence of the film is the story itself,” Thomas says. “It’s cool that Waco is smack in the middle of the heart of Texas, that makes us feel distinctively Texan. We wanted to have a feel and a vibe; we didn’t want to just be a Waco film festival just based on a town; we want to be the essence of the story and the town. So it all comes together like that.”

During Deep In The Heart’s first year, Thomas and Hunter looked for a feature film that would bring in audiences. Then they found it, thanks to their partnership with Baylor University’s film and media department, which lead to a film produced by the department head, Chris Hansen. “I watched it. I showed it to my wife, then I showed it to Louis, and then things started to come together.” Blur Circle, which was shot in Waco, is a story about a woman who loses her son, and she stays in a state of stasis for years until she comes to a place in her life that brings her to redemption. “It actually premiered at the Dallas VideoFest and went on to win some nominations and awards. So when BEST OF FESTS popped up, we knew this film would best represent Deep In The Heart because it’s a high-quality, local film that has had an impact not only around the nation but around the world.”

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And for the audiences

Most people don’t know how many film festivals there are in the area. BEST of FESTS gives everyone the opportunity to see all kinds of films and learn about the many festivals North Texas offers.

“If I asked you about the Pegasus Film Festival, you may not know that this is a festival for high school [short] films from around the area. So you can go from film to film and see all kinds of work from all kinds of festivals and that gives you a taste of what every festivals does and when these festivals are coming,” Weiss summarized.

“And from the festival’s point of view, we get access to audiences that didn’t know about us and that makes us stronger as we reach more people and all of us will do better because of it.”

Participating film festivals include:

3 Stars Jewish Cinema, Asian Film Festival of Dallas, Crossroads Film & Music Festival, Czech That Film, Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF), Dallas Jewish Film Festival, Dallas Video Fest, Deep in the Heart Film Festival, Denton Black Film Festival, EarthxFilm, Festival de Cine Latino Americano, Flicks By Chicks, Fort Worth Independent Film Showcase, Frame4Frame, Lone Star Film Festival, Oak Cliff Film Festival, Pegasus Film Festival, Q Cinema, Sons of the Flag Film Festival, South Asian Film Festival, Thin Line Film Festival, and Women Texas Film Festival.

For information on the line up or to purchase tickets please go to:


Dallas VideoFest’s PAWFEST: Come Experience the Fun and Connective Power That Animal Videos Can Create


Photo credit: pixabay

By Eunice Nicholson

Dallas – Whether it’s the technical details of shooting or the meticulous process of editing, Will Braden has always loved making films. He also loves cats. As creator of the Henri, le Chat Noir video series and curator of the original CatVideoFest, Braden continues to bring cat lovers around the world the opportunity to delight in watching more than a hundred professionally curated cat video clips in one showing. An added bonus: Nearly half the ticket proceeds of all of his shows go to local animal shelters.

And, because of his love for animals and community, Dallas VideoFest Founder and Artistic Director Bart Weiss is teaming up once again with Braden to showcase PAWFest (Formerly CatFest) at The Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff Thursday night, August 23. This year dog videos are also included in the show, which starts at 7:00p.m. sharp. The doors open at 5:00 so you can come early to get to know some of the local animal welfare folks and check out the pets available for adoption.

The Texas Theater. Photo credit: The Texas Theatre

How Weiss and Braden Connected

The original idea of doing a festival of cat films says Weiss, comes from Braden, who at the time was curating the CatVideoFest reel for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

“I’d heard about it for a few years, then it sort of struck me, why isn’t anybody bringing this to Dallas? I thought this would be a really great thing to do so we called the Walker, we asked for the touring package and to add a local component, we asked local filmmakers to contribute.” Weiss says.

Weiss’s PAWFest, which is part of VideoFest, falls under the same video umbrella that all the festival events do, so in other words, cat videos have also evolved from video culture. But most media, Weiss says, is crafted in a different way.

“If you think about how most media is created and consumed; you bring a crew together to make a documentary or narrative film, you bring in actors and you tell a story. Now that’s a good thing and we show a lot of that, but there’s also this other place for people to have a much more direct relationship with their worlds where the technology is not really important. Many of these [cat clips] are shot with a mobile device and they are not edited with the fanciest of editing software, yet they have the ability – mostly through the performance of animals and the love of the person who’s doing it – to transcend technology. And if you think about what we stand for as an organization, its people making images that connect with audiences that can make you feel better about the world. This is the core of what we do.”

When Will Met Henry

Will Braden with Henry. Photo credit: Will Braden

Braden took over the reigns of running the business side of CatVideoFest a couple of years ago when the Walker was ready to move on. CatVideoFest is a Social Purpose Corporation (SPC) says Braden, which translates to bringing great cat videos to the world and at the same time, raises money for local animal welfare organizations.

Braden is also an award-winning filmmaker for his series, Henri, Le Chat Noir, which he started shooting in 2007. After completing Henri 2 Le Paw Leux in 2012, he got some attention from late film critic Roger Ebert when Ebert wrote on one of his social media channels that Henri 2 was the best Internet cat video ever made.

Who is Henry? He is a beautiful 14-year-old tuxedo cat who was adopted by a member of Braden’s family  from an animal shelter in Seattle. Henry is sort of retired now, says Braden.

“There is something very special about Henry. I attribute so much of the success of the video series to him because he would sit there very politely with hot lights and cameras going all around him. He was so easy-going. He made it work.”

In 2012, people started coming out of the woodwork when Braden made a Facebook page for Henry’s character. Then the Henri video went viral really quickly.

At right around the same time, the Walker was doing its first Internet cat video festival. When they made a call for submissions, Henri 2 was submitted over and over, and it got the Walker’s attention. Since it was clear to them that Braden had real talent, they reached out to him and asked if he would help with the festival reel. So he did and 2012’s CatVideoFest was a big success. He even won their top prize for Henri 2: the Golden Kitty award!

Braden remained involved with CatVideoFest, putting the reels together for the next two years. In 2015, when the Walker decided to move on, Braden decided to step up and took the festival under his own wing, with a continued focus on raising money for cats in need.

“From the beginning, every show had a partner, a local animal welfare organization doing something to benefit animals, specifically cats. Dallas is a great example of that.”

According to Dallas VideoFest Managing Director, Raquel Chapa, nearly 50% of the ticket proceeds are donated to Dallas shelters. This year, a portion of the proceeds will go to: MADE in Texas Assistance Dogs, The Spay Neuter Network, Cat Matchers and the Straydogs Inc.

When the Dallas VideoFest team reached out to Braden and told him about their idea to do a dog and cat festival, he saw it as a great opportunity and immediately said yes.

“There is a stark contrast to what kind of cat videos you can show and what kind of dog video you can show, so I have to be sensitive to that,” Braden admits. “It has to do with how we see cats and how we see dogs. Cats are sort of aloof and think they’re better than everybody else and so we like to see videos of them falling off a chair or slipping into some water. Dogs on the other hand, are so obedient and loyal, if you see a dog fall off a chair, you go, is he ok?”

Each year Braden puts together a new reel of 100 to 110 clips.

“From August to August, I go through tens of thousands of cat videos and find the best and put them all together on a reel that is about 70 minutes long. I sort them into categories and into montages; add music and things like that.”

Careful attention is paid to how the clips are grouped together so that it creates an experience that is organized in a deliberate way. The finished product is a professionally curated and edited reel that will be watched and enjoyed by a ‘sea of cat lovers’, as Braden puts it.

“And the idea that we are doing some good too, raising money and awareness for shelters. That will always be a component of CatVideoFest. It is very gratifying to have a job I enjoy and know that I am doing something good at the same time.”

Back to Bart


Bart Weiss. Photo credit: TheaterJones

“What I really didn’t understand, until we did it [CATFest] the first time, is how important it was, Weiss admits. “I thought this was just a fun summer thing to do. For the Dallas Video Festival, we take ourselves very seriously. We talk about the deep and dark issues of the world and how to make the world a better place and this is certainly a different kind of event. I distinctly remember the first time we did this, we had a packed house at the Texas Theatre, which is a very large theater [645 seats], and not an easy thing to fill up.”

When the lights went down before the first video came up, people were making cat sounds all over the theater and Weiss realized what they had touched on, was exactly what they were trying to accomplish with VideoFest.

“We try to find work that connects to an audience at a very deep emotional way. Say you are at a Latino festival or say a LGBT or African-American festival, what you’re doing is you are connecting an audience with films they don’t see in the real world and they don’t have the chance to connect as an audience, together. That film has this sort of connective tissue that helps create community and makes you feel that you’re not alone.”

That is particularly true since most people watch cat videos on their computer alone, and then they share them with someone else who watches them alone.

And just so you know, Bart and his wife Susan live with and share their lives with four cats and one dog.

“The animals we have in our house are very important to me. They help me put the world into perspective and PAWFest celebrates my personal relationship to them just like the ideas that I think about or am concerned about. How wonderful it is that I can bring people together to have a good experience watching cat and dog films and to feel better about their love for their animals. That’s what this is really about.”

Photo credit: Dallas VideoFestWhere:
Texas Theatre
231 W. Jefferson Blvd in Oak Cliff

Thursday, August 23, Doors: 5 p.m., Show: 7 p.m.



The Blood Wedding painting by Armando Sebastian. Photo courtesy of Cara Mia Theatre Co.

The Blood Wedding painting by Armando Sebastian. Photo courtesy of Cara Mia Theatre Co.

DALLAS: Blood Wedding, presented by Cara Mia Theatre Co., opened Saturday night at the Latino Cultural Center at 2600 Live Oak Street in Dallas.

It was a grand experience: the audience was first treated to spicy food, then to fiery human appetites on a cold Texas night. The play, written by one of Spain’s most beloved poets and playwrights, Federico García Lorca and directed by David Lozano, is about a tormented young bride who abandons her groom on their wedding day then flees into the forest with another man.

There was a gripping, elemental quality to the play, raw passions surfacing once and again, reminiscent of southern European or South American culture. Death and bloodshed make this an old world tragedy, and it is well portrayed by the ensemble in this very moving and emotional play.

The majority of the dialogue was performed in English, but mixed throughout with Spanish. The mixture of the two languages seemed to mirror the nature of the audience, many of whom have identities rooted in two cultures.

The simplicity and boldness of the stage sets gave a classical feel to the evening. They consisted of caramel colored stone walls intersecting at angles. In one particularly striking moment, an old woman came on stage for the beginning of Act 2, dark fabrics rose behind her, gradually taking on the appearance of gnarled trees in the midst of winter.

The other tragedy that occurred Saturday night was that the theater was only a third filled. Blood Wedding is a performance worth experiencing and Cara Mia Theatre Co. is a Dallas treasure worth supporting. The play runs through December 13. Please click here to learn more about the play, Cara Mia and for ticket information.

(Look for my full-length feature celebrating Cara Mia’s 20 years, coming in May.)

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Janeil Engelstad, founder of Make Art with Purpose, speaking at TEDX SMU, “Individual Expression to Community Transformation: The Evolution of Public Art”: click here. Photo courtesy of Make Art With Purpose

DALLAS: On November 14, artists, musicians, art lovers and supporters gathered for ArtCon11, Art Conspiracy’s signature fundraiser. It’s a unique event, where this year’s beneficiary, Make Art with Purpose, was honored.

Make Art with Purpose (MAP) is an artist-led non-profit that has been developing and producing inter-disciplinary projects that bring communities together to work for the greater good, all around the globe. Under the guidance of its founder, Janeil Engelstad, MAP is making its mark on Dallas.

Introducing Ms. Engelstad

After graduating from New York University with an MFA in the 1980s, artist, writer and educator Janeil Engelstad took, as she calls, “a big left turn” in her career. Over the next two decades – she immersed herself into the world of social practice (community engaged art). Here’s how it happened.

It began with her volunteering for The Education Project (TEP), teaching photography to youth at a homeless shelter in East New York. It was the dead of winter when she walked through the neighborhood to get to her classroom. What she saw during those chilly walks moved her.

“I saw homeless people trying to keep warm with fires in old oil containers,” Engelstad recalls.

Volunteering after school at the homeless shelter, and other locations that produced programs for at-risk youth, Engelstad experienced the positive impact that art can have on people. “Whether using art as a tool to investigate social concerns, or working directly through arts education. So I took a left turn away from my studio practice where I was producing work for exhibitions and devoted my career and practice to working with communities, and over time that grew.”

Next, she co-created ART WORKS, which attracted some of the most celebrated artists of the 1980’s into the project. A TEP project, ART WORKS was produced in partnership with The Polaroid Corporation and included creative input from Stacy Fischer, the then manager of Polaroid’s 20 x 14 studio in lower Manhattan. The list of participating artists included: Chuck Close, Andreas Serrano, Félix González-Torres, William Wegman, Laurie Simmons, John Reuter, John Divola, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Jean Vong, and Carla Weber.

Arieana R. + Felix Gonzalez Torres, Polaroid 20” x 24”, 1993, for the project Art Works: Teenagers and Artists Collaborate on the Polaroid 20” x 24” Camera, created by Janeil Engelstad with The Education Project, NYC. Photo courtesy of Make Art with Purpose

Arieana R. and Félix González-Torres. Polaroid 20” x 24”, 1993, for the project Art Works: Teenagers and Artists Collaborate on the Polaroid 20” x 24” Camera, created by Janeil Engelstad with The Education Project, NYC. Photo courtesy of Make Art with Purpose

For the project, each artist was paired with a youth from one of The Education Project’s outreach programs. The collaborating teams met in groups and in one-on-one workshops, designed by TEP and the professional artists. Then each team created photographs on the renowned Polaroid 20 x 24 camera, which was hand-made by Edwin Land, the inventor of Polaroid. The photographs were exhibited at museums around the country including New York City’s International Center of Photography, Photographic Resource Center in Boston, Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, and California Museum of Photography. At each location, The Education Project produced a local media arts program for at-risk youth. In New York, The Education Project placed many of the ART WORKS youth into internships at companies such as Sony Music.

As a result, their lives changed. One of the participants, Engelstad reports, was accepted at the prestigious High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. But at first, his mother wasn’t open to the idea.

“Initially his mother was not supportive because she felt that he needed what she thought would be a more structured environment of a parochial school, but by the end of the summer, when she saw the impact the program was having on her son, she agreed that he should go to the High School of Art and Design.”

Next Engelstad moved to Los Angeles where she established the West Coast headquarters of The Education Project and began to produce independent projects. “That was the beginning,” she says.

To accomplish this she has partnered with several organizations over the years. “We’ve created projects that I felt art could respond to, or where I saw the voice of different people missing,” Engelstad says. “For example, creating access to the media for people who often do not have a public voice. In 1999, when the massacre in Columbine happened the media reported on the event, and other school shootings, without asking the students why they thought this was happening and what the impact was on their lives. No one was talking to students. “So, in partnership with New York City based World Studio Foundation, We created a national project where students worked with professional designers to create billboards and bus shelter s in San Francisco, L.A., D.C., New York and Chicago. In each city where the project was produced we worked with local arts organizations and social service non-profits, building local networks as we went.”

After building these coalitions in the U.S. and around the globe, in 2010 she decided to create her own non-profit, and Make Art With Purpose was born.

"Together We Stand, Divided We Fall" MAP mural produced by students at Billy Earl Dade Middle School, Dallas, 2014 as a part of MAP's "Dialogues on Race," a national project that uses art and design to jump start conversations about race. Photograph courtesy of Make Art with Purpose

“Together We Stand, Divided We Fall” MAP mural produced by students at Billy Earl Dade Middle School, Dallas, 2014 as a part of MAP’s “Dialogues on Race,” a national project that uses art and design to jump-start conversations about race. Photograph courtesy of Make Art with Purpose

Many MAP projects have taken flight under Engelstad’s direction. MAP 2013, MAP’s inaugural social practice triennial, was a successful undertaking. MAP activated local artists, schools, museums and galleries to work with people from around the world. Together, the teams produced 30 projects and public programs that investigated environmental and social themes, deep-rooted in art. Other recent projects include Dialogues on Race, a nationwide initiative created to advance racial justice in communities was started in Dallas with the support of the Embrey Family Foundation. Through this project, local artists created billboards and students in South Dallas and Oak Cliff created murals that investigated themes connected to racial and social justice. A community conversation that explored the themes brought about in the work was held at UTD Centraltrak.

One of the Dialogues on Race murals was produced at Billy Earl Dade Middle School. “Dade had gone through so much turmoil in the previous year for various reasons and the students were eager to participate in meaningful work, so it was a rewarding school to work in,” she says. “In the summer of 2014, Hispanic and African-American students created a mural centered on the theme of racial justice, which featured civil rights leaders, including Caesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King, Jr.” Under the guidance of MAP Program Manager, Alpha Thomas, the students studied social justice and civil rights history and learned how the ideas and work of these leaders have lifted up the entire country.

She has dozens of projects in the works and big ideas for North Texas.

“MAP is working with artists, business leaders, foundations, universities and others to create dialogues about what’s going on here [in Dallas] and how can we understand each other better. Together we want to learn ways to make our city a more equitable place to live and work.”


Early this year, Anne Bothwell, director of Art and Seek introduced Engelstad to Art Conspiracy’s Executive Director, Erica Felicella. Art and Seek is a service from KERA providing North Texans a comprehensive guide to the local art scene.

“The work MAP does continues to set them apart, from the students involved to internationally know artists, says Bothwell. “Whether students decide to have a career in art or not, they are learning self-expression and learning to do it authentically, a skill that has to be developed.”

Janeil Engelstad at SKEWED, Art Conspiracy's summer fundraiser. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

Janeil Engelstad at SKEWED, Art Conspiracy’s summer fundraiser. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

To make the cut for Art Conspiracy funding, interviews had to be completed. When the AC team arrived, Engelstad was ready. “It was fun. They came over and we sat and talked,” she says smiling. I believe in what I do and I like to talk about my work because often, it is in the talking to people where I actually hear what it is that I am doing or thinking about and sometimes ideas are worked out in the process. The Art Conspiracy team liked what they saw and heard.

“Looking at MAP’s previous projects, we were impressed by the dialogue they foster, and the issues they face,” says Todd McCaulay, Beneficiary Chair and Art Conspiracy Board Member. “Our choice to award MAP our 2015 beneficiary will allow the organization to not only engage the communities of Dallas and Fort Worth in a dialogue, but also invite volunteers of all ages and local artists to have a hand in creating some truly beautiful, if not thought-provoking art.”

Being the 2015 ArtCon beneficiary is a huge honor Engelstad admits. “Some of the money we received from Art Conspiracy will be directed to a project looking at the Trinity River and climate change. “The river is going to take its natural course. It’s going to expand, flood, and create wetlands, she says. “Questions to be answered: how are we as a society going to help people relocate? Can we turn some of the impacts of climate change, in this case the flooding of a river, into new jobs? Such as creating fish farms in wetlands where there were once houses and other infrastructure.”

How MAP does it

First, Engelstad says, many artists are taking the skills they’ve developed and leaving their studios “They use creative thinking and problem solving skills to move the bar, create community, and positive change.” Second, artists have a knowledge base. “They’re coming out of school with BFAs and MFAs and often they understand social concerns from a place of empathy. They are able to develop ideas that can create productive platforms.”

MAP is a collaboration of many. Associate Director Oto Hudec helps with projects on a global level. He has been with MAP since its founding, designed the organization’s logo and worked with Engelstad to design MAP’s website. Program Associate Matthew Horton helps with everything from social media to the production of Dallas projects. Artists lead the various projects. It can be a project that an artist or teams of artists have conceived of, or one that is initiated by MAP. “And our funders are also a part of our team. We all come together and bring skills and strengths to accomplish things that we could never do alone.”

Janeil Engelstad with MAP Associate Director and artist Oto Hudec in front of installation of MAP megaphone project produced by youth at MAP residency at ARTMill Horažďovice, Czech Republic. Photo credit: Alex Katis

Janeil Engelstad with MAP Associate Director and artist Oto Hudec in front of installation of MAP megaphone project produced by youth at MAP residency at ARTMill Horažďovice, Czech Republic. Photo credit: Alex Katis

Engelstad and her teammates are doing just that. The dedicated individuals who make up Make Art with Purpose are changing the face of North Texas, literally, with amazing artwork that highlight social concerns. By bringing awareness to North Texas, MAP is creating positive change for all of us who live here.

(Click here to read my feature about Art Conspiracy.)







Dallas Summer Musicals President and Managing Director, Michael Jenkins. Photo credit: Dallas Summer Musicals

Michael Jenkins. Photo credit: Dallas Summer Musicals

Dallas Summer Musicals  has been delighting audiences of all ages since the Roosevelt administration—from its first production of Blossom Time at the Fair Park Band Shell in 1941 to the closing of its 75th season in July at the Music Hall at Fair Park, a tour of Pippin. And while entertaining has been significant to its longevity, DSM President and Managing Director Michael Jenkins knows that there is another component that has contributed to the organization’s success, a principle that was introduced in the 1940s by Charles Meeker, the first managing director of Dallas Summer Musicals. Having worked alongside Meeker in the 1950s, Jenkins has never forgotten this principle:

Customer service is not everything; customer service is the only thing.

“Those words have carried with me through my entire career,” Jenkins says with pride. “People loved Meeker, as I did. He really understood the theater business and he gave me a great deal of opportunity that I would never have had.”

Jenkins developed an early interest in the world of musical theater, including investing in it. At 14 he was hired as an usher at the Music Hall. At 17, he was promoted to Meeker’s assistant. One day while in Meeker’s office he spotted an ad seeking investors for a new Broadway show. He had a hunch, so he spent the summer working three jobs to earn the $5,000 he needed to invest.

“That summer I worked from 6 a.m. to noon mowing lawns, then Meeker took me over to the Cotton Bowl to paint numbers on the seats and then I’d help out in his office.”

Impressed with her son’s perseverance, Jenkins’ mother loaned him the additional $2,800 he needed, when he fell short of his goal. The show, My Fair Lady, was a hit and so were the returns. With his earnings he bought his mother a new car, studied theater design at Baylor University in Waco and architecture under Ray Hoeiben.

That initiative has paid off for him and for Dallas Summer Musicals. Across seven decades, DSM has become the largest producer of live theater in the Southwest and a recipient of numerous honors, including some two-dozen Tony Awards due to Jenkins’ increasing role as a Broadway producer.

As DSM begins its 76th season this week with The Sound of Music, directed by three-time Tony Award winner Jack O’Brien, lets look back at some of its remarkable 75-year history through the eyes of Jenkins, who is remarkably only the third leader of the organization and has had some kind of involvement under the previous two.

The new tour of The Sound of Music opens Dallas Summer Musicals' 76th season. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

The new tour of The Sound of Music opens Dallas Summer Musicals’ 76th season. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

The callback that came 30 years later

In 1993 Jenkins was working in Europe when out of the blue he got a call from Don Spies, Board Chairman of Dallas Summer Musicals. “He told me Tom Hughes [DSM’s managing director from 1962 to 1993], had passed away and they were having some difficulties.” Spies asked Jenkins if he could return to Dallas immediately. Having stayed connected to the summer musicals as a member of the executive committee, Jenkins got back to Dallas as soon as he could.

On his return, he headed to the Music Hall office for a meeting with the board. Within minutes they told him that the union contracts had expired and there were no shows. “I’ll never forget my dear friend Charles Pistor saying to me, you’re the only one who knows how to do these shows, you have to do this.”

At the time Jenkins was managing 17 projects at Leisure and Recreational Concepts (LARC), a successful design and consulting firm for theme and waterparks he founded in 1971. When he realized the musicals might close, Jenkins stepped up. After all, this is where he’d gotten his first job.

“I said I’ll do it for one year.”

Now with two full-time careers to manage, he returned to the Music Hall office with assistant Wanda Crow and the two got to work, first working on some very unorganized files. When Jenkins discovered a box of complaint letters in a hall closet he vowed to answer each one.

At the time he was raising three small children alone and even with a busy travel schedule, he made it a priority to be home every evening. So he took six of the complaint letters home each night, read them, and then called the people who wrote them. One night, one of the women he called shared something that prompted him to make some changes to the areas surrounding the Music Hall.

She told Jenkins that she loved coming to the theater, but when her husband passed away, she was afraid to go alone. He thanked her and invited her to return. Then he got to work.

That first year he had the security guards dress in red jackets and he put them on horseback in the parking lots. “Red jackets so they could be seen, on horseback so they could see,” he says.

“And from my life at Six Flags, I put twinkle lights on the trees, and a guest relations attendant to open the door for her, what we call a blue jacket.” Jenkins also hung large lights in the parking lots. The woman did return and later she told Jenkins that she felt secure and thanked him for inviting her back.

What she didn’t know, Jenkins admits, was that there were actually two less security guards on the grounds than before, but instead of dark blue jackets, red jackets up high, where they could be seen. From then on ticket sales began to rise.

From the top

In the early 1940s the summer musicals were held at Fair Park’s Band Shell under the name Opera Under the Stars. The first show was an operetta inspired by Franz Schubert titled, Blossom Time. Crowds, dressed in their Sunday best, came out like the stars to enjoy the live musical productions. The season was a hit and so were the ones that followed.

“In those days people came out to see the show dressed up in long sleeves and ties, no matter how warm it got,” Jenkins fondly recalls.

Realizing they were on to something, in 1944 the State Fair Association hired show business legend Charles Meeker to be the summer program’s first full-time Executive Director. A native of West Virginia and graduate of Southern Methodist University, Meeker had stayed in the area honing his show business skills. The summer musicals, now non-profit, also acquired a new name: Starlight Operettas.

Charles Meeker

Charles Meeker. Photo credit: Dallas Summer Musicals

Once on board, Meeker made technological changes to the Band Shell, including a moving platform system. And after persuading Mary Martin and her national tour of Annie Get Your Gun to come to town in 1947, it was clear, his “star system” was a success, attracting big names and setting box office records.

In 1951 Meeker moved the musicals into the newly air-conditioned Music Hall, making audiences happier and more comfortable. Because the shows were now inside, he was able to create further innovations to stage shows. Then the summer program was renamed again to The State Fair Musicals. The next year Meeker revived Porgy and Bess, George Gershwin’s opera featuring an all black cast, on the Music Hall stage. It was quite a risk in those days, but audiences loved it. The opera toured worldwide, and the performance put Dallas on the map as a real musical theater contender.

Throughout the 1950s Meeker brought big stars to the Music Hall, including Debbie Reynolds, Jose Ferrer, Gisele MacKenzie, Jeanette McDonald, Jack Benny and Judy Garland.

Then in 1961, he left State Fair Musicals to produce shows at the new Six Flags Over Texas. When he left, he took Jenkins with him.

“I was always interested in stage design, not in being an actor,” Jenkins says. “When Meeker left I was studying architecture and that took me to Six Flags with him.”

There, they created all the shows. Meeker trained the staff and created a program that had no employees, only hosts and hostesses and no customers, only guests. A program Jenkins would implement when he returned to Dallas Summer Musicals.

“It was very effective,” Jenkins says.

They called him Mr. Summer Musicals

In 1955 Dallas native Tom Hughes headed for New York hoping to launch an acting career but when it was clear that was not going to happen, he returned to Dallas and began working as Meeker’s assistant at the State Fair Musicals. With the experience he had gained staging shows in high school, at Denton’s North Texas State University, and in Japan during the Korean War, Hughes knew he was back where he belonged.

As he learned the ropes, he was promoted to the Music Hall’s house manager and replaced Meeker as managing director when he left for Six Flags. The summer musicals split from the State Fair of Texas that year and became an independent non-profit organization, called Dallas Summer Musicals.

During the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, under Hughes’ leadership, several shows were produced by DSM and toured nationally, including Peter Pan starring Sandy Duncan, and Hello, Dolly! starring Carol Channing. Other stars that graced the Music Hall stage during his tenure were Pearl Bailey, Angela Landsbury, Rock Hudson, Carol Burnett, Gene Kelly and Tommy Tune.

“Tom loved the theater and loved to go to New York to audition the actors,” Jenkins recalls. “He would rent a place at the Plaza (Hotel), bring in a grand piano and sit for days auditioning them for new shows coming to Dallas.”

Throughout his 30 years with the Dallas Summer Musicals, Hughes developed into one of the most successful musical theater producers in the country.

Tom Hughes. Photo credit: Dallas Summer Musicals

Tom Hughes. Photo credit: Dallas Summer Musicals

Places everyone

“When I came back there were no shows and not to take anything away from Tommy, he produced several shows, but quite honestly there weren’t that many national tours at that time,” recalls Jenkins.

The price today to tour and to produce a show is very expensive. According to Jenkins, it costs between $12 and 15 million to put a show on Broadway and about $1 million per week to bring a show to Dallas from New York.

“There are 17 unions on Broadway,” he reports. “When you buy a ticket, when someone scans your ticket, and when someone hands you a playbill—you’ve already dealt with three of those unions and you’re not even to your seat.”

DSM stopped producing shows for a while but now they’re back in business: In 2014 it was The Little Mermaid (returning in 2016), in 2015 it was The King and I.

Major investments in Broadway shows are how Jenkins secures them for the Dallas market. As a producer, Jenkins’ 135th show on Broadway, An American in Paris, won four of the 12 Tonys it was nominated for. The tour will come to DSM in 2017.

When it comes to promoting DMS produced shows, Jenkins’ system, he says, is similar to the NFL football draft.

“I remember Jekyll and Hyde (1995) had gone to Tempe, Arizona but they didn’t really want it,” he chuckles. “But they were trying to fill their season so I called them up and they told me they wanted Cinderella and Singin’ in the Rain. So I said, ok I’ll give you Cinderella and Singin’ in the Rain in a future season if you take Jekyll and Hyde this season.”

“So that’s how I got that show and the same with Stage Door Charlie with Tommy Tune and several others, so if was kind of like the draft, and we eventually produced and toured Singin’ in the Rain, so that’s how it all got started.”

More hats

Jenkins’ role as DSM’s President and Managing Director doesn’t stop here. He also manages the Music Hall, the Majestic Theatre for the City of Dallas, and negotiates DSM-produced tours with others cities. He also oversees the DSM’s Academy of Performing Arts as well as some of the other community outreach programs associated with Dallas Summer Musicals, which includes bringing younger audiences to the Music Hall, many for the very first time.

“Bringing more than 2,000 children into the theatre every year, who have never seen a live theatre production is one of my greatest thrills.”

In 2014, Jenkins formed a partnership with Performing Arts Fort Worth, bringing the best of Broadway not only to Dallas but to Bass Performance Hall in Cowtown.

“Since Dallas can get shows for two weeks and Fort Worth for only one week, sometimes the one-week venues have to wait a year or two before they can get the bigger shows,” he says. “But by partnering with DSM, Fort Worth is able to get the bigger shows sooner. And from DSM’s point of view, we can market our shows together in the various publications for both cities. This is an extreme advantage.”

It’s become especially strategic since a third presenter of Broadway tours arrived in North Texas when the AT&T Performing Arts Center opened in 2009, and often bids against DSM for the tours.

Performing Arts Fort Worth President and CEO, Dione Kennedy, couldn’t agree more. Kennedy, who has known Jenkins for years, took over the reigns at Bass Hall in early 2009 after serving 18 years as President and CEO of Dayton, Ohio’s Victoria Theatre Association and the Arts Center Foundation. She and Jenkins are both members of the Broadway League as well as Tony Award voters.

“Right now it’s working really well,” Kennedy says. “The two organizations are saving money by pooling their marketing efforts. Presenting live musical theater is challenging when there is less product, as shows have become more expensive.”

“Michael is an incredible force who’s made a mark on the industry,” she adds. “He’s one of those people who help insure that there is new product coming along because creating new shows is critical on Broadway and Broadway on the road. I have complete trust and faith in him.”

Kennedy also believes that customer service is the only thing, and says that Fort Worth patrons are pleased with the partnership. “They love the idea of two non-profit organizations working together for the betterment of both.”

Another showman who has also collaborated with Jenkins on several business projects, and starred on Broadway and at Fair Park Music Hall, is former Olympic gymnast and Tony Award nominee, Cathy Rigby. She’s best known for her role as Peter Pan.

“He’s a pro and that is a given within the theater community,” Rigby says. “The shows he produces in Dallas have the same quality as the shows he produces on Broadway.”

Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan. Photo credit: Craig Schwartz

Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan. Photo credit: Craig Schwartz

The secret of his success

So how does he manage two very demanding and successful careers?

“When you surround yourself with better people you make your life easier,” says Jenkins. “I’ve seen situations where people would hire employees so they would always be on top, the king, so to speak. But I’ve never believed in that. I believe in hiring people much better than myself.”

While he is very involved with DSM’s operations, Jenkins gives his team freedom and flexibility to do their jobs, and says that 99 percent of the time they exceed all expectations. “I think that creates loyalty. So I am very proud of our team, our DSM family.”

And that kind of loyalty, which works both ways, includes the Music Hall ushers and a certain fountain on the lower level of Fair Park Music Hall.

A few years ago an usher told Jenkins that he was convinced his job would be the best job he was ever going to have. But Jenkins told him no, that he would go to college, get an education and a better job. The usher, knowing he could not afford it, was convinced it would never happen.

But the young man was given a scholarship from the coins dropped by patrons into the white, circular fountain in the Music Hall.

“We sent him to Oberlin College and he’s the youngest oboe player in the Memphis Symphony today. “It all started from that fountain, which yields between 8 and 13 thousand dollars a year.”

Two Americans in Paris

One night in 1959 Meeker had put Jenkins in charge of assisting legendary actor Maurice Chevalier, who was preparing for his show in his dressing room on a rainy Monday night. When Jenkins suggested he turn down the lights and close the doors of the Music Hall in preparation for the entertainer’s first number, Chevalier said “no,” that the people would be late making their way through the rain. “It’s the audience that is important, not me.” He repeated it, as he gently guided Jenkins to a seat by placing his right hand on his left shoulder. This was truly a defining moment for young Jenkins.

And then it happened again, nearly 39 years later when Jenkins and his wife Wendy were walking down the main street of Paris. It was a Monday evening and suddenly, it began to pour down rain. They quickly headed for cover under the red canopy of a café, and then ducked inside hoping to find a table.

Jenkins told the maître d’ they did not have a reservation but because it was raining they were hoping they could get a table. The maître d’ told the couple the only table he had open was a bankett, so they gladly took it. At the time, Wendy had an issue with back pain, so she sat on the outside of the booth facing Jenkins, and, happy to oblige his wife, he sat with his back against the wall. Suddenly Wendy said to her husband, “You’re not going to believe this, look over your right shoulder.” When he did, he saw a plaque on the wall that read: “This was the personal table of Maurice Chevalier.”

The 2015 tour of Pippin was shared by Dallas Summer Musicals and Performing Arts Fort Worth. Photo credit: Terry Shapiro

The 2015 tour of Pippin was shared by Dallas Summer Musicals and Performing Arts Fort Worth. Photo credit: Terry Shapiro

Some things never change

Something that continues to inspire Jenkins is seeing young children mesmerized by what they see on the stage. Perhaps they remind him of his own childhood, of attending musicals with his mother or riding the streetcar to Fair Park to watch the performers rehearse at the Band Shell from high atop the Ferris wheel.

And while new technologies in scenery and lighting are changing the way theater is presented and experienced—something that also inspires Jenkins—he still remains focused on the component that has been important throughout his entire career: taking care of his customers.

“Every time someone comes through the doors of the Music Hall, it’s like we are inviting them into our home and we want to treat them as good as we can. Sometimes we don’t get it right but we try to fix it. Without the customer we’re out of business.”

(This feature is also published on Theater Jones. Click here to view it there and to read more news about the Dallas performing arts scene.)



Bart Weiss. Photo by Robert Hart. Courtesy of Theater Jones

Bart Weiss. Photo credit: Robert Hart/Theater Jones

DALLAS: What do Bart Weiss, co-founder of Dallas VideoFest, and a polka band have in common?

A lot.

Let me explain. When Weiss arrived for our interview in Oak Cliff to talk about his background and the 28th annual VideoFest, which runs Oct. 12-18, he asked me about my drive down from Denton. Having been reminded of Denton, he began talking about a well-known polka band based there: Brave Combo, a Grammy-winning polka/rock/world beat band—and self-described “nuclear polka”—that has been part of the North Texas music scene for more than 35 years.

“I’ve known about the band almost as long as I’ve been in Dallas,” Weiss says. “They take all these songs and play them up-tempo and they attract a lot of people. They are really reviving the art form and keeping it alive.”

When he asked the band if they had ever had a film made about them, their response was “no.” He thought there was something wonderful about them so he said, “Let’s do it.” Now, Weiss has nearly 75 hours of performance footage of the band and is working on a documentary about them.

“When the group formed they could make money selling records. But now they have to survive on touring, these guys are not young and are constantly on the road. It could go away easily.”

“This is one little part of everything else I do,” Weiss says, modestly.

That’s an understatement, considering that like Brave Combo, Weiss is never lacking for things to do. When he’s not producing, programming, teaching or involved in some aspect of filmmaking, he’s spreading his infectious love for film wherever he can.

Bravo Combo. Photo credit: Jane Finch

Bravo Combo. Photo credit: Jane Finch

How he got his (film) groove on

Weiss grew up in Philadelphia and chose Beloit College in Beloit, Wis. to study psychology. Being a quiet town, he soon discovered that Beloit had a flourishing film society that showed two films every night. He went as often as he could.

“These were films that I’d never seen before—foreign films, independent films—a totally new world for me,” he admits. Then one night someone in the dorm was showing experimental films and projecting them onto the dorm room walls. The films were like nothing he had ever seen before and he thought, “this film world should be really fun.”

When he had taken every film class that Beloit offered, he knew he wanted more. So he returned to the city of brotherly love and enrolled at Temple University, which had a reputable film department. There he earned a BA.

Weiss says his family was totally supportive of his desire to study filmmaking.

“My father’s idea of a good movie was a James Bond film,” he chuckles. “But my mother was more into the arts so she understood a bit more. They significantly helped me through graduate school, and going to graduate school at a relatively young age (right out of college) allowed me to teach as I was developing all the other things that I was doing.”

Next, Weiss studied documentary and narrative film making at Columbia University and earned an MFA in Film Directing in 1978.

After Columbia he began teaching at Manhattan College and College of Mount Saint Vincent. “I realized teaching was a really good thing, something I could do very well, and it’s remained very much a part of my life,” says Weiss, who teaches film at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Three pillars

Everything he does professionally comes from one core philosophical point of view: “The world can be changed by people watching good films.”

To him, film is an important medium because films have a transformative quality. Movies can cause audiences to have empathy for people they don’t know, help them understand things they don’t, and alter their moods.

There are three pillars in Weiss’ life that support this viewpoint: Running VideoFest, teaching aspiring want-to-be filmmakers, and making his own work.

“I want to teach people how to have a positive impact,” he says. “I want to show films that present different ways of dealing with the world and I make films as well.” The security of teaching allows him to pursue all of his passions with the sense of vigor that he might not otherwise be able to.

Photo credit: Google photos

Photo credit: Google images

In 1979, Weiss was offered his first tenure-track position at Charleston State College in Charleston, W. V. After a couple of years, he realized that he wanted more from his life and his work. So when he told a colleague, Don Pasquella, that he was ready for a change, Pasquella told him he had a job for him, teaching at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.

At the time Pasquella was the head of SMU’s film program. While it wasn’t a tenure-track job, he told Weiss the position could be become one after he started teaching. So in 1981, Weiss gathered up his possessions and drove down to Texas. He excelled at his craft at SMU, but the tenure-track job never came and within two years he was without a teaching job. The quality of his work at SMU was validated in 2002, when one of his students, John Davis, was nominated for an Academy Award for his work in Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.

The video bar scene

“One of the great things about being in Dallas is that opportunities are everywhere if you look for them,” Weiss says.

One night while having dinner in a restaurant, a man struck up a conversation with him about how popular music videos had become in New York nightclubs.

“So he called me up, while I was still at SMU and said: ‘I just got this place on lower Greenville and I could either turn it into a gym or do that video club thing we were talking about. Do you want to do that?’” Weiss said yes and began working at On the Air in 1983.

It was a small place with a large TV screen in the front, and a DJ booth upstairs. In no time, the club became very popular. People would show up before and after going to other places.

“It was one of the few totally integrated clubs in Dallas, meaning: black, white, Latino straight, gay—every kind of people. It was an amazing place,” Weiss recalls.

Now that he was in the music business, he soon discovered that every major record label had an office in Dallas. So once a week he would go over to Warner-Electra-Atlantic, Polygram, and CBS records and ask for the latest VHS or Beta hi-fi copy of their music.

“We always had the newest material for all these records. People would dance to Devo, Talking Heads, and Michael Jackson videos. This was a big deal, a major cultural force.”


Michael Jackson's Thriller. Photo credit: Google images

Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Photo credit: Google images

To add to the club’s music video collection, Weiss would take the 7-minute records and 3-minute videos and re-edit them to make dance versions. If a piece of music didn’t have a video, he would shoot one and reedit and recut it so people could dance to it.

As far as he knows, Weiss and his crew were the first DJs in Dallas to do record scratching. They also had VHS Beta decks wired through cable that allowed them to switch live and play images from all over. It was an incredible experience, he says.

Weiss had come from a long established tradition of making film, where you work on it a long time, and when it was finished, you had a print.

“At the club, I could easily cut a video to make it quicker or slower and then watch the audience’s response. It was like a gift to get a really difference sense of audience. Most filmmakers never get to do that, so it worked out really well,” Weiss says.

Weiss as a video columnist

When On the Air closed its doors, Weiss helped open The Video Bar in Deep Elum. While he worked there he met a lot of people, including writers for the Dallas Morning News (DMN).

“One day I said to one of the DMN writers, it would be nice to write a story about music videos and she said ‘good, work on it.’ ”

He was working on it when he got a call from the same woman, Ellen Kampinsky, now Senior Editor at Glamour Magazine, asking him if he would like to write a regular column on music videos.

“I’m not a good writer, it’s a struggle for me, too much ADD to focus to write well,” he laughs. “Ellen worked with me for about a month and helped develop me into an almost acceptable writer.”

Photo credit: Googles images

Photo credit: Googles images

Then came budget cuts.

Next, he literally went across the street, to the Dallas Times Herald, and they picked up his column. At about a month into it, Weiss discovered an emerging new home video business and told his editor he wanted to write a column about what was new in music video. So he would find out what was renting and selling and in his column, list what was popular.

Then came more budget cuts.

Next, he traveled to New York and sold his column idea to United Features Syndicate and that worked well for a year and a half.

“I was in hundreds and hundreds of newspapers and paid $50 per week,” he chuckles. “My column was included in these slick packets filled with horoscopes, ads and all kinds of junk that went out with a lot of newspapers.”

“That was an exciting time in my life when I was writing.”

While he was writing, Weiss continued to teach part-time at the University of Texas at Dallas, Northlake Community College, the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Texas at Austin.

The birth of VideoFest

One day, John Held, a friend who managed an alternative gallery in town, asked Weiss if he would like to produce a video art program at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA). It sounded like a great idea to him, so they created an event called Video as a Creative Medium. It was a two-night event that showcased local and international work and it attracted a lot of people.

“It went way better than we had expected,” Weiss admits.

Yes, the event went better in more ways than one because during one of the two evenings, he met the woman who is now his wife, Susan Teegardin. Little did she know, the next year she would be working side-by-side with him on the first Dallas Video Festival.

Later when Held and Weiss met with Elizabeth Berry back at the DMA to discuss further plans, Held decided he was not interested in doing more. Suddenly, Weiss had an idea. “What if we do a video festival for four days? Berry said yes and instantly became the festival’s co-founder. “When do you want to do it?”

They looked at the calendar and scheduled the festival over four days in the fall of 1987.

“I had no idea what I was doing but there were a few things that I did know.”

One of which was to get a good video projector. Good projection was a challenge at that time and very expensive. Luckily, he had a contact in Las Colinas who owned a high quality projector. They made a deal and he had his projector.

Next he had to get the word out.

“I was still writing for the Dallas Times Herald, so I called the programmer at the USA Film Festival and asked how much they charge for an ad. He told me ‘$650 for a full page.’ ”

Then he called his contact at Warner Home Video and told him about the festival and sold him an ad for $650. Weiss sold three ads that day and had the funding to pay the festival’s projectionist and from there, he found interesting works and created the programs. He’s been producing the evolving festival ever since. Weiss never sold another ad beyond the first festival. As the festival’s programmer, it could be a perceived as a conflict of interest.

The nitty gritty about film and video

In 1987, there was an incredible difference between film and video, says Weiss.

“Right now people use the terms interchangeably, back then there was a lot of difference. Video was inexpensive and people were doing edgier documentaries. Artists (music, painting, sculpture) were using it but there were very few places to have their videos screened. Film festivals out there were screening films and did not know how to show video.”

At the time, other video festivals around the country were aimed at small niche audiences, but Weiss’ reach was broader, hoping to attract a more diverse audience. So it was important to have good projection, a classy program and good design elements. As a result, people responded positively.

He also had this idea: instead of individual tickets for each program, they would sell day and full festival passes.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

“I wanted people to come because of a film connected to a political or a social issue or a cultural identity issue they are interested in. But my hope was that they would come to see a particular program, then wander around and find other things to see that were interesting.”

Over the years Dallas VideoFest has covered a large body of work including the history of video art and documentaries, just in terms of media. And each year they have programs about how media affects all of us. Weiss believes it’s important to understand the media’s role in our lives.

At this year’s festival, one of the films that will be screened is called The Brainwashing of my Dad, directed by Jen Senko. It’s about her father, who starts watching Fox News and listening to Rush Limbaugh. She soon notices a change in him. The film covers the history of how right wing media has evolved.

Weiss says we are at the intersection of art and technology and as different technology emerges, he wants to showcase the many ways art can be made from it, from video walls to virtual reality, to high definition.

“We do show films like other festivals, but there is a total difference in what we do…every year we drastically try to change and do something we’ve never done before,” Weiss says. “I tell my board, if there isn’t a possibility of failing I’m not interested in doing it.”

He is serious about that.

A triple hit

This year Weiss has included two new works that he says are radical. Last year, The Lodger, a 1927 silent Hitchcock film was set to a musical score performed by the Dallas Chamber Symphony. This year they’ve added a third dimension: dance.

On opening night, VideoFest will present the 1927 silent film, Metropolis, along with an original musical score by composer Brian Satterwhite and again performed by the Dallas Chamber Symphony. Making this a triple collaboration is dance, choreographed by Christopher Dolder and presented by SMU’s Meadows Dance Ensemble. The dancers will perform on two platforms at the Dallas City Performance Hall while the film rolls and the musicians play.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

Dallas Chamber Symphony Artistic Director Richard McKay is very excited about this year’s alliance.

“What’s so special about the program is that we are pioneering a new day of digital collaboration,” McKay says. “We’ve created a cohesive experience between film, music and dance so nothing seems separate. And working with Bart, who is an expert in silent film, makes this a wonderful partnership. He is great working with people and a good influence on all of us.”

That’s the number one new thing. The number two new thing happens during the weekend evening programs of the festival. Before each of the film screenings, percussionists, poets, and performance artists will perform. The purpose, Weiss says, is to bring the entire artistic community into the festival.

There’s something about Big D

Like most things in his life, producing a television show for KERA was not something he sought out or planned to do. But friends at the station suggested he create a show, called Frame of Mind, which features independent films produced by Texas-based professional filmmakers. So he did. And a few years later, when both producers left the show, he in 1995, he became the sole producer.

“It started out being on the air once a month, then once a quarter, then whenever I had time. Then last year we got together and made this a real TV show with a regular season.”

It’s incredible he says, that someone who doesn’t work for KERA is able to program for the station.

“There is something about the Dallas community that will let me do this and it’s really rare,” Weiss admits. “Most cities, most film festivals don’t talk to each other or help each other.”

Weiss serves on festival juries (watching and evaluating films), and does Q&As in Dallas and beyond. This year he worked with the McKinney Classic Film Festival and the Asian Film Festival of Dallas as well as many others.

“He a funny guy,” says Alicia Chang, Executive Director of the Asian Film Festival. She serves on the board of the Video Association of Dallas, which Weiss is president of. The two support and help each other. “He has so many interests and projects he’s involved with and still offers to help each year. He’s what you think of when you think of an artist—extremely passionate and cares about people.”

“It’s the personalities within the art community,” Weiss says. And in the same vein, people who teach film and video work together. Whether it’s SMU or UTA or UNT. “There’s a real spirit of cooperation.”

Downtown Dallas. Photo credit: Googles images

Downtown Dallas. Photo credit: Googles images

Finding a home at UTA

Weiss joined the film program at the University of Texas at Arlington 17 years ago. It’s a place, he claims, where students don’t make student films, they are students making films.

“We don’t let our students make films that don’t mean anything or don’t have the potential to change the world. We are really hard on our students, if they bring something in and it isn’t right, they do it and again and again.”
Most of his students don’t come from privileged backgrounds. Many are first generation college students, so making it in the film business is a really big deal, Weiss says. “Sometimes it’s fighting their parents to let them do this.”

As we were wrapping our interview, he tells me a story about a student named Iris Lopez. Having made some nice films in his media class, he asked her if she had shown them to her father. She said her father was not interested and didn’t support her decision to study filmmaking. In her next class with him, she made a beautiful Spanish film about two kids who were broke and hard up. At the film’s screening, Weiss was facilitating a Q&A and said, “I understand there is someone special here tonight.” Iris responded, “Yes, my father,” then motioned to the back of the theater where he was seated. Unexpectedly, her father stood up and in front of everyone, told her how proud he was of her. In that moment, the entire dynamic of their relationship changed.

“We do things like that at UTA,” he said as he wiped the tears from his eyes.

Bart Weiss believes that the world can be changed by people watching good films, whether they’re about the media or a polka band.

Listening to him passionately speak about his life’s love, there’s no doubting that he’s right.

For information about the more than 200 films that will be screened during the festival beginning Oct. 13, click here.


Photo credit: Google images

Photo credit: Google images

The Brainwashing of My Dad
This feature is also published on Theater Jones. Click here to view along with full coverage of the festival.



Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Photo courtesy of McKinney Classic Film Festival

“Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”. Photo courtesy of

MCKINNEY, TX: Dena Hill, founding director of this coming weekend’s inaugural McKinney Classic Film Festival, has been passionate about preserving and sharing classic films since she can remember.

“This is a life long dream for me,” Hill says. “This brings back all those happy memories of times when my parents and I watched films together, and I want to promote that.”

Together, Hill, a journalist and arts and entertainment writer with a background in theater, and executive producer, actor and lawyer Bert Pigg, are excited about bringing the classic film festival to McKinney’s Performing Arts Center.

McKinney Classic Film Festival Founder and Director: Dena Hill. Photo courtesy MCFF

Dena Hill

The McKinney Classic Film Festival begins Friday, September 11 at the McKinney Performing Arts Center at 111 N. Tennessee Street and runs through Sunday, September 13. A total of five classic black and white films that span the 1930s to the 1960s, will be screened throughout the festival.

“I think it’s important to preserve the legacy of classic films,” Pigg says. “Current films own much to classic film and modern audiences don’t understand that.”

The five films that will be screened are: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Inherit the Wind (1960), 12 Angry Men (1957), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), and Adam’s Rib (1949). The films connecting theme – the issue of justice – is more than fitting, when you consider that the McKinney Performing Arts Center is located inside the Historic Collin County Courthouse. The theme is also one that we can all relate to on a human level.

McKinney Classic Film Festival Executive Director: Bert Pigg. Photo courtesy MCFF

Bert Pigg

“We thought for the first festival, justice would be the perfect theme,” Pigg says. “It’s a way to honor the Performing Arts Center since it was a courthouse for many years. It’s a beautiful building. What a great way to preserve it rather than turning it into restaurants or tear it down.”

Hill admits that they hope to create a family friendly trip back in time.

“Going to the movies used to be an event. People used to dress-up. We want to recreate that.”

“We want to create a community and build something special for people who love classic films. I hope we get 16-years-olds who say, ‘Wow I didn’t know there was a big to do about evolution and wow that Spencer Tracy is a really good actor.’”

The festival’s inaugural guest of honor will be Mary Badham who portrayed “Scout” in the 1962 film To Kill A Mockingbird. Badham will discuss her career and life during an onstage interview prior to the evening’s screening of the movie on Saturday evening, Sept. 12.

“Mary will walk the red carpet, then there will be a pre-show and VIP reception with her,” Hill says with excitement in her voice. “Anyone can come and walk the red carpet and have their picture taken!”

To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo courtesy of McKinney Classic Film Festival

“To Kill a Mockingbird”. Photo courtesy of

And, there’s a closing party after Adam’s Rib on Sunday with the McKinney Community Band playing music from the eras the films were made.

“We’ve encouraged people to dress up, in 1920s glamour style, Hollywood style, or in other ways that they would like!”

McKinney is #1 on the list of Best Places to Live in America, (Money Magazine) and is located 30 miles north of Dallas and is the county seat of Collin County.

“We’re getting support from locals putting our posters in their windows,” Hills, who also lives in McKinney, says. “The concessions are all provided by local vendors and businesses on the square are very supportive. People in the community are very excited.”

Pigg says there are two things that set the McKinney Classic Film Festival apart from other film festivals: there are no other classic film festivals in North Texas and the film selections are based on genres. Hill and Pigg have already selected net year’s genre – screwball comedies.

“We’ve got to see how this year goes,” Pigg says. “We’re not trying to become TCM but we want a base hit. If we get that, maybe next year we’ll hit another. So we’ll see what works, what doesn’t, and what can we do better because it’s a learning process.”

Pigg adds that if this year’s festival is successful, he’d like to add an educational element, perhaps an hour session on what screwball comedy is, for example.

12 Angry Men. Photo courtesy of McKinney Classic Film Festival

“12 Angry Men”. Photo courtesy of

So this weekend, let’s go back in time to a special place and watch some great classic films. Let’s go to the McKinney Classic Film Festival. For tickets, screening times and directions, please click here.

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Kelly -TCMFF-Judy dress

Kelly Kitchens in her “Judy Garland” dress at the 2010 TCM Film Festival. Photo credit: Mark Wickersham

DALLAS: When Kelly Kitchens attends the Turner Class Movies (TCM) Film Festival in Hollywood each year, she dresses like Judy Garland and other classic stars. It’s her way of celebrating her love of classical film.

When she hosts a round table session – where writers, bloggers and podcasters gather to interview film producers, directors and actors – she doesn’t rush them, she gives them plenty of time to have a “real conversation” with her clients.

And when public relations’ newbies, (who could become potential competitors) ask her for advice on how to get ahead in the media relations/entertainment publicity business, she always says yes.

With this kind of passion for the entertainment industry, appreciation for the media, and genuine concern for others, it’s no wonder that this well-connected media relations and entertainment publicist is one of the most respected in Dallas. And this year marks her 20th anniversary.


Kitchens first discovered her love for writing when she joined the yearbook staff during her sophomore year of high school.

“The instant I was in there I knew,” Kitchens recalls. “I thought then that if I could work on the yearbook for the rest of my life, I’d be happy, because it gave me the excuse to know absolutely everything that was going on at school.”

This was also a time when she learned a valuable real life lesson, thanks to her yearbook advisor.

“She stood up on a chair and ripped up a story that I had written into little pieces and say, ‘Now, do it again.’ Even though that was really hard on me, it was good for me because when you enter the world of journalism, if it’s not up to par you have to start over.”

Eva Smith and Kelly Kitchens working on Houston High School Year Book in 1986. Photo credit:

Eva Rover and Kelly Kitchens, members of the Cy-Fair Senior High School Yearbook Staff in 1986. Photo credit: Cy-Fair Senior High School, Houston, TX yearbook

After spending her childhood in Fort Worth and El Paso, at the age of 12, Kitchens moved with her family to Houston. Having always loved the North Texas area, she planned to return to that area to attend college. When she heard that the University of North Texas (UNT) had an excellent journalism program, in 1986, she headed to Denton.

Beyond her degree plan, she studied art, astronomy, esthetics of film, philosophy of art and music, the Texas blues and more. Kitchens also studied at the American College of Switzerland for a semester in 1989 as a part of UNT’s Classic Learning Core Capstone Seminar program.

“That was such a gift to me.”

With a solid foundation in place, she headed into her journalism classes. But half way through her junior year when she met with her advisor, she told him she didn’t want to go into news reporting.

“I didn’t want to write about murder and politics, I wanted to do feature writing and I wanted learn about criticism.” When he refused to let her go down that path, Kitchens quit and became an English major.

What a coincidence it was that as soon as she switched from journalism to English she started doing journalism, when Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) student “rag” publication came looking for UNT writers. They wanted to expand their student paper, The Student Voice up to North Texas.

“The two schools are as different as night and day,” Kitchens says. “SMU’s paper covered Greek life. At North Texas, you’ve got to cover music, the arts, and theater.”

When the SMU publisher said he didn’t know anything about the arts, she told him not to worry because she did. So she started covering all the bands coming out of North Texas as well as writing theater reviews. It helped that all her friends were artists, so she starting writing features about them. And that’s how Kitchens became UNT’s entertainment editor of The Student Voice.

Kelly Kitchens with Martin Mull at the 2000 Dallas VideoFest. Photo credit: Photo courtesy Video Association of Dallas

Kelly Kitchens with Martin Mull at the 2000 Dallas VideoFest. Photo courtesy of Video Association of Dallas


When Kitchens graduated from UNT in December of 1991 that was about the same time the Dallas Times Herald folded. And with D Magazine having been sold to American Express the year before (the magazine returned in 1996), that created a void in Dallas’ hard news coverage.

At that time, the Dallas Observer covered the entire local music and arts scene in their weekly guide, but they soon shifted their focus to hard news, now that The Dallas Morning News had less competition.

In 1992 the Observer went from having local bands on the cover to covering the mayor and city hall. “Entertainment stuff got pushed to the back,” Kitchens says.

Suddenly it was clear that there was an opportunity knocking on Kitchens’ door. So in December of 1993, she became the first editor hired for a new, all arts and entertainment magazine called, The Met. In her role as calendar and film editor, everyone, including arts organizations and their publicists big and small, had to contact Kitchens to get into the paper. In no time, she became the person who knew everything that was going on in the visual, performing arts and film world in North Texas.

“I just loved it! That’s when I figured out that I loved working and talking to people more than I loved writing, which was weird because all my life I thought I wanted to be a writer.”

While at The Met, Kitchens’ ability to work well with others did not escape the notice of co-worker, Todd Johnson, hired on as the advertising art director within a few days of the paper’s launch.

“Kelly is a great communicator and has a great presence. She really knows how to make you get excited about the story she is telling!” Johnson says.

So when Kitchens’ editor wanted her to do more writing and less editorial work, she knew it was time to consider her next move.

“I called six of my favorite publicists and asked them if they thought I could do what they do.” Inspired by the willingness of each of them to take her under their wing and give her a shot working on some projects, Kitchens left The Met on March 31, 1995.

(left to right) Todd Johnson, Kelly Kitchen and Chad Tomlinson during their "Met" days in 1994. Photo credit: Kris Hundt

(left to right) Todd Johnson, Kelly Kitchen and Chad Tomlinson during their “Met” days in 1994. Photo credit: Kris Hundt

Unintentionally but appropriately, she says, she started her own business the very next day: April Fools Day.


It started with JoAnn Holt with the Dallas Summer Musicals (DSM). One of her very first projects was Hello Dolly starring Carol Channing. ” She was absolutely delightful,” Kitchens’ says with a smile. She worked with the DSM on more of their projects, and then some of the other publicists started giving her projects when they were too booked to work on them.

Other clients she helped early on were the Dallas Classic Guitar Society, Little Tuna Theater and Kitchen Dog Theater’s Hamlet. And a little later some of her first “solo” clients included: actress Morgana Shaw, actress and singer Denise Lee and Playwrights’ Project Fundraiser.

“Public Relations is such a huge umbrella. It can include crisis management, investor relations and much more,” Kitchens says. “I do media relations. I am the liaison between my clients and journalists.” And her clients are from the entertainment side, primarily film and theater.

While ninety-five per cent of Kitchens’ business has been referrals, many have come from the press she worked with during her time at The Met. Jane Sumner, a former film critic with The Dallas Morning News, was the first person to recommend her for a film.

“To have the press recommend me, that to me is the highest compliment,” she says proudly. “What a gift.”

So as it happens, Kitchens learned the media relations/publicity business from the other side – as a film editor and critic. “During those early years, I went to countless movies and screenings, and I knew everybody else (in the media) going. So I just started contacting them, and 20 years later many of them are still on my list. I didn’t have to network my way into it. We knew each other so they approached me differently.”

Kelly Kitchens and Mark Wickersham on the red carpet at the 2014 TCM Film Festival. Photo credit:

Kelly Kitchens and Mark Wickersham on the red carpet at the 2014 TCM Film Festival. Photo courtesy of TCM


Kitchens feels fortunate to have a background in journalism. And she takes the ethics of journalism that she studied at UNT, very seriously. She is careful to maintain professional boundaries with the media.

“That’s been my philosophy along the way, what I give them is what I would have needed as an editor. To know what they need is an important part of it. Pictures, the b-roll (broadcast quality footage for TV news), having access to the people they might want to talk to, things like that. My public relations training was being a journalist.”

And while many publicity firms that have an A, B and C lists of media contacts, Kitchens has only one. “I include everybody as equal because they might pick up a smaller film, which is great because then it can be pushed out on Facebook and Twitter. I’m a one-woman band so I try to do everything I can on the media side so my clients can rise to the top of their game.”


According to Kitchens, 2001 was her biggest and best year ever. Her client, the Angelika Film Center opened that summer in Dallas, and everything was wonderful. Then 9/11 happened and everything changed.

“People stopped leaving their homes and did not go back to movies or go out to eat,” she recalls. “Clients were saying we love you, and we want to work with you, but we just can’t afford it.”

So for a time she relied on her editing skills and went to work at ad agencies doing in-house editing and proofreading.

“I was really glad that I had those hard skills, and they were sharp enough for me to be able to go in and take on those high-pressure jobs,” Kitchens admits. Still, her most valuable lesson was learned during the post 9/11 lean times, when she approached Stan Levenson, with the Levenson Group, an icon in the public relations world.

“I was so honored when he responded back to me and asked me to work with him on growing the arts district (to what it is now). But the politics at the time (2004) were not her cup of tea, and it was challenging work. At one point she left Levenson a message letting him know that things weren’t going that well. Then he called her back and left a message for her, one she will always remember.

He said, “I think it’s important that I manage your expectations on this.” Meaning that when you’re dealing with things that you can’t control – the City of Dallas, politics, and all that back and forth, you have to be realistic about results, Kitchens explains.

“Those are the most valuable words that I have gotten from anyone, and I use those words all the time because it is my job to manage my clients’ expectations. Meaning if I have a client come to me and say, ‘Oprah would love to read my book or Ellen needs to hear my music.’ Those are usually unrealistic expectations.”

While Kitchens admits she too is a dreamer, it’s very important to keep her clients’ feet planted firmly on the ground. “While you want more than just your mom, your aunt and your best friend to read your book or come see your play or film, you want people who you don’t know, to talk about your work, and that is where I come in,” she says with a chuckle.


Kelly Kitchens with George Schlatter and Bart Weiss at 2013 Dallas VideoFest. Photo Credit:

Kelly Kitchens with George Schlatter and Bart Weiss at the 2013 Dallas VideoFest. Photo courtesy of Selig Polyscope

Some of Kitchens’ current clients’ include: Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas – DFW, the McKinney Classic Film Festival, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: the Musical and Dallas VideoFest, the oldest and largest video festival in the United States and one of her oldest clients. It’s co-founder, Bart Weiss, has worked with Kitchens on several of the festival’s projects over the years.

“We at VideoFest are a small but loyal bunch, and Kelly is a prized and valued member of that team,” Weiss says. “When people make mistakes, there is a magic in her laugh that makes it hard to get mad at anybody, and I think that is important!”

“She has also helped us get more people to the festival by helping us transition to more alternative media than focusing on the major papers.”

What Weiss is referring to is Kitchens’ media round table events, which include bloggers and podcasters.

“I love to lean on the bloggers and podcasters, anyone working online, to cover the smaller films that wouldn’t see the light of day because the traditional media might only be able cover one or two of the 100+ films being screened at the festival.”

And continuing to find people who are interested in the smaller films and who like classic films, much like Kitchens and her husband Mark Wickersham, is paramount. That is one reason the couple has been attending the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood since 2010. She goes as a fan but makes the most of the business opportunities, too.

“I’ve become friends with the festival director and programmer and I get referrals to different films and events that happen at TCM that we try to bring here.”

Click on the clip below to watch Kelly and Mark being interviewed by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz!


When she started her own firm, six publicists brought her in to work with them. “They also passed clients on to me. To me, that was paying it forward and helping me create my own successful business.”

And the day before this interview, Kitchens had talked to a young woman who wants to go out on her own. “She asked if I could talk to her and I said yes, I always say yes,” Kitchens admits. “I think we live in a very abundant world, and there is room enough for all of us. If what I do is part of your dream, now please don’t steal my clients, but I want to help if I can.”

She also tells them they really have to want to do this because it’s hard work. “You have to be ok with the fact that it is very rare for a journalist to interview you; it’s not you getting the glory.” She adds that it’s important to find something in each client that can be appreciated.

And although Kitchens grew up hating her name, she admits that it has become her best marketing tool because everyone remembers it. And so, after 20 years of nurturing and growing her firm – Kelly J. Kitchens Media Relations/Entertainment Publicity – is something she is proud of.

“I love the process of what I do from beginning to end; from the meetings to creating a proposal (well, maybe not creating the proposal part!), to talking it through with a client and then actually doing the work. And what comes from it, whether it’s a grand success or a bust – all I know is that this is why I was put here on Earth, to be a cheerleader for other people’s projects.”

The Wickershams at home in 2014. (left to right) Juliet, Kelly & Mark. Photo credit: John 'Doc' Strange w/ Selig Polyscope

The Wickershams at home in 2014. (left to right) Daughter Juliet, Kelly & husband, Mark. Photo credit: John ‘Doc’ Strange w/ Selig Polyscope

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Texas Theater in Dallas, venue of Art Con 2005. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

Texas Theater in Dallas. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

DALLAS: In 2005 when public relations professional Cari Weinberg got a call to help get the word out about an artsy, one-night fundraiser being held in an old, unused theater in Dallas, she was psyched!

“We were excited, but in some ways, we didn’t know what we were doing,” Weinberg says with a chuckle. “We were buying materials and putting them on our own credit cards!”

The idea – Art Conspiracy – crafted by Sarah Jane Semrad and Jason Roberts, was to bring artists, musicians and art patrons together to raise money for some of the children displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

“I was the money runner that night,” Weinberg recalls. “At first I realized that we were actually going to be able to pay ourselves back. But then I could see that there was a huge line of people forming outside the door! It looked like the final scene in the movie Field of Dreams. People just kept coming and coming!”

Weinberg, still a huge fan of Art Conspiracy, was one of the original volunteers who passionately served, including taking on the role of executive director and board president, until 2013.

Off and running

The first Art Conspiracy event raised more than $10,000 and over 800 people joined in. The gathering was held at the historic Texas Theater in Oak Cliff, where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested shortly after President John F. Kennedy was shot. The name Art Conspiracy is meant to show that a conspiracy can also have a positive side.

The non-profit’s second fund-raiser was held in the Longhorn Ballroom near downtown, once owned by Jack Ruby – who murdered Oswald days after the Kennedy assassination.

And so, for ten years, Art Conspiracy has been bringing artists and musicians together to “conspire” for the benefit of Dallas’ local arts community with two fundraisers: SEED and Art Con. These are art events that give attendees the opportunity to buy original artwork at reasonable prices and fundraisers that supports local nonprofit arts programs.

SEED, Art Conspiracy’s smaller summer event, is given an annual theme and raises the “seed money” for the costs of the larger fall event. The year’s beneficiary is also named at this gathering. Then, in November, Art Con invites 150 artists to a warehouse-turned-art studio where they create unique works of art on Art Con’s signature 18 x 18 inch plywood boards. The art is auctioned off live. Local music acts perform and it’s an exciting evening with food, drink and fun.

Art Con. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

Art Con. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

From the inside out

“Art Conspiracy was supposed to be a one time event,” says Art Conspiracy’s Executive Director, Erica Felicella. A photographer and performance artist, she’s worn all the Art Con hats including volunteer and contributing artist, since the very first event in 2005.

“In the early years, we gathered on front porches and wrote on legal pads, to plan things, Felicella says. “Now we have a year round volunteer staff of 35. And, we have our board.”

Originally, it was first come first serve for the artists whose work would be auctioned off. But in no time she says, they were signing up so fast the majority of the art world wasn’t even out of bed yet.

Now it’s an open call lottery. For 24 hours any artist from anywhere can sign up online. Then at the end of the 24 hours and with the click of a button, 150 artists are randomly selected from that list. “Technology has changed us a lot,” she admits.

Erica Felicella. Photo credit: Erica Felicella

Erica Felicella. Photo credit: Erica Felicella

There are many varieties of art created for the events: sculpture, painting, screen-printing, and metal works are just some. All the art is made in the same building on the same day. “It’s very beautiful to see that many artist work together. That experience is sacred to us.”

Felicella says Art Conspiracy has turned in to a beautifully organic community and this is how it works:

“If rule 1 does not work 2 and 3 don’t matter. Rule number 1 is fun and if it does not apply, we have to go back to the drawing board. Then comes believing in what we are doing and being passionate about supporting the arts community.”

But the Art Conspiracy team does much more than produce SEED and Art Con.

“Our team of volunteers goes to every body else’s events. When the musicians who play at Art Con have shows, we all go to all their shows and we go to dinners together. The team is so much more than worker bees – we are our own community.”

And while many think Art Con is a grant, and there is a money aspect, the partnership with the selected beneficiary is much more that.



Art Con 2014 beneficiary: Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

A real partnership

Last fall’s Art Con beneficiary was the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico (ANMBF). In addition to the non-profit receiving a check for $25,000, Art Conspiracy came to their aid when they needed help with the technical side of their 40th anniversary show, ANITA!

“Art Con has become a huge advocate for us,” says ANMBF Executive Director, Lisa Mesa-Rogers. “Clayton Smith and Erica Felicella met with me and my team to help us streamline the process and offered stage consulting that would have cost thousands of dollars. When they say they are street level philanthropists, they are!”

Each year Art Conspiracy invites non-profits who qualify to apply to be Art Con’s beneficiary. After the application deadline, a committee goes on site visits and does interviews. From there the board makes the final selection.

“It’s very cool to be able to sit down with an organization and get to know them,” Felicella says. “If they are not selected, we encourage all of them to come back and reapply.”

The venues

When it comes to deciding where to hold SEED and Art Con, the team does it’s best to use under-utilized areas. Another of Art Con’s goals is to shine a light on areas in Dallas that have gone dark and breathe new life into it.

“We were at the Texas Theater in 2005 when there was no one there,” she says. “Now there are all kinds of activity. We try to push that boundary and get people to go out.”

“Plus, we love buildings where we have to get our elbows in and clean up, but we still leave an edge. We like it that way!”

For Art Con Year 4, the event was held where Trinity Groves is now. “I’m not saying we were a direct cause, but again, we were there prior to the bubble before Mar (The Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge) existed.

“We also believe in accessibility. We’ve never raised our $10 ticket price and don’t intend to because whether you’re 12 or 80, everyone should be able to come.”


SKEWED, Life in Deep Ellum on June 6. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy

SKEWED at Life in Deep Ellum on June 6. Photo credit: Art Conspiracy


This year’s summer seed event was named SKEWED and was held at Life in Deep Ellum on June 6. Nearly 700 participants came to support the fund-raiser.

“We take the theme and stretch it across everything. We don’t try to pigeonhole the artists’ creativity.” For artists, one word brings many interpretations of ideas. The music is curated to fit the concept and the theme of the evening as well. It’s exciting.

“The event helps us create a little bit bigger piggy bank for the big one in the fall,” Felicella says.

Both events have a starting bid, no matter who the artist is. Summer is $50. Fall is $20. Where it goes from there is up to the crowd.

“Our patrons have been coming for years. One of my favorite things to watch is couples,” she admits. “They get there early, they walk the room, they pick the pieces they want [two sections are auctioned at the same time] they create their game plan, and they talk about their budget. You see it happening all over the room. Then they divide and concur!”

“I have a friend who’s son saves his money every year so he can purchase some art. He loves the auction. There’s nothing cooler that watching a wee tiny young art collector.”

As an artist whose work has been purchased at previous Art Cons, Felicella knows how the artists feel when their work is on display and being sold.

“It’s fun to watch but it is also awkward to watch. We (the artists) are usually on a very quiet wall, in a very quiet space. You see your work being held up above everyone’s heads with flashlights shining on it, people speaking above the microphones, seeing hands flying through the air, it’s also a lot of fun!”

Photo credit: Google images

Photo credit: Google images

The future is now

Attorney Lacey Lucas currently serves as the president of Art Conspiracy’s board. She joined the board in 2014 but has been a volunteer since Art Con 8. She even volunteered to be a part of Art Con 9 with a separated shoulder and broken ankle. Why? She says it’s all about community.

“Once you experience Art Con from the inside, you can’t shake it off,” confesses Lucas. “The artists, volunteers, patrons, collaborators, beneficiaries, my fellow board members, and, especially – the executive team – are an amazing bunch of people. Their collective talents and enthusiasm are contagious. It gives someone like me, an attorney and not an artist, something to marvel at.”

Lucas is passionate about getting the word out about who Art Conspiracy is and the work that they do.

“I’ve seen people look at us in a variety of ways.  Sometimes, people just don’t get what we do, so they look at us like the illegitimate stepchild.  Some see us as “just an event” because of our beginnings. I love seeing their faces when I explain how we actually operate year-round, and have plenty of opportunities for them to get a fix.”

Lucas also notes that Art Conspiracy, thanks to the tenacity of Felicella, is becoming a bigger conversation in the city of Dallas regarding the arts. “Others are holding space for us at the tables and in the conference rooms where we’ve never been before.”

And she reports that this year the board has approved plans to pilot 8 new programs, 2 of which have already begun.

Says Felicella, “I believe in this city 200%. I believe in what we are doing, our community, what Art Con has to offer, and what direction we are headed in. A large chunk of the people in my life – that I care about – came from the early days. Why wouldn’t you want to stay a part of that?”

There is no doubt that Art Conspiracy’s influence in Dallas is growing. In 2005 they built it and people came. With the continued spirit that this altruistic non-profit is infusing into the city, more is sure to come.

Art Conspiracy is pleased to announce their 2015 Art Con beneficiary: Make Art With Purpose. Art Con 11 is scheduled for November 14, 2015. For more information click here.

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Voices of change

Members of Voices of Change Ensemble. Photo courtesy of

The halls are alive with the sound of music, new music that is, thanks to Voices of Change (VOC), Dallas’ premiere new music chamber ensemble. It’s been an amazing journey for the musicians, composers and patrons whose passion to create something outside the classical music box continues to keep the halls alive with the voices of 20th and 21st century classical composers.

Having just completed their 41st season, let’s travel back through some of VOC’s 40-year journey. But first, let’s explore the allure of new music.

What is new music?

Voices of Change’s Executive Director, Margaret Barrett was blown away when she listened to a recording of Grammy and Pulitzer Prize winning composer Steve Reich’s new music, while studying music composition at Baylor University.“It made me realize how limited traditional western music is and that there is this whole other world of sound we are missing out on,” Barrett says.“Modern composers have something to say – and that something has to do with the world we live in today.Barrett adds that most of western music before the 20th century consisted of major and minor keys (melodies), music audiences understood and connected with. However, 20th century composers started to question this and began to wonder what would happen if they changed it up a bit and, as a result, new music was born.

Once more, from the beginning

Colorado native Jo Boatright started piano lessons under her mother’s wing at the age of 4 and ½, and in no time, playing the

Jo Boatright. Photo courtesy of

Jo Boatright. Photo courtesy of

piano was as natural to her as anything. By the age of 12 she was performing as a soloist and had already developed a love for new music.

“I was always interested in it,” Boatright says. “I played, what was considered new music; Hindemith, Shostakovich, even Debussy, who was still considered relatively new when I was a child.”

Boatright majored in piano at Colorado College, where she met her husband Harvey Boatwright. In 1957 the couple left Colorado to attend the New England Conservatory of music in Boston where she performed with the Boston Symphony and the Boston Pops. The next year she attended Tanglewood, a premiere summer training program for aspiring high school-age musicians.

“My whole experience during the summer of 1958 was the confirmation of my interest in new music,” she admits. The composers there that summer included Aaron Copland and Lukas Foss. “I also learned and performed The Quartet for the End of Time by Olivier Messiaen. One of the students there at the time was Mario Davidovsky, now a well-known electronic composer.”

In 1960, Harvey, now a professionally trained flutist, was offered a job with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the couple moved to Texas. The next year Boatwright found employment as the music director of the First Unitarian Church, a gig that lasted 43 years.

“I could bring anything [music] I wanted there, she shares. “ Much of what we performed was new music.”

Then in 1968 on a Sunday at the church, she met clarinetist Ross Powell, who Boartright quickly discovered, was as much in love with contemporary classical music as she was. For the next few years the two pursued their new music passion.

Then in 1974 Boatright and Powell, ready for something new, founded a new music ensemble.

“It was his idea,” Boatright says. “He wanted to start a new music group and he was great at getting money out of the government! We were home grown and barely had enough money to pay the musicians, but Ross was able to secure several grants.”

Actually, their very first concert was under the name of New World Chamber Players, which then promptly ditched when Ross came up with Voices of Change, Boatright explains. “In our case “Voices” referred to lines of music [in chamber music the instrument plays only one line with no one else playing the same line] and “Change” to the fact that new composers were changing what was expected in chamber music”.

Early on, in addition to performing some new works composed by Thom Mason, the six original members (musicians Ross and Sandy Powell, Ron Neal, Harvey and Jo Boatright and soprano Christine Schadeberg), largely performed Perriot chamber music, considered worldwide as the instrumental ensemble for new music in the 20th century. Pierrot Lunaire Op. 21, a melodrama (a combination of spoken text with instrumental accompaniment), written by Arnold Schooenberg, is a setting of 21 selected poems from Otto Erich Hartleben’s German translation of Albert Giraud’s cycle of French poems. The work is atonal and is still performed by nearly all new music ensembles today.

And they’re off

VOC was off to a good start and getting lots of attention from the media.

“We were news and had no problem getting into the newspapers. Clearly we were there at the right time and it was a great place to be a pioneer.”

During the 80s, the ensemble toured the European capitals of London, Berlin, Paris, The Hague, Edinburgh, and Riga.

“Berlin was my favorite,” she admits. “A music critic who came to our concert there referred to me as the ‘Lioness of the Keyboard.’ ’’I just loved that concert!”

Along the way, Boatright and company has had the privilege to work with two Grammy and Pulitzer Prize winning American composers: George Crumb and John Cage. Other good things happened for VOC as well. She also admits that the ensemble’s most widely known achievement was a Grammy nomination in 1999 for an album entitled “Voices Americanos” which featured all Latino/Latina composers.

“I was most proud of the musicians I worked with. Everyone was a top-notch, dedicated professional musician,” Boatright proclaims. When a work required a conductor we often used one of the members. Other times we invited world-class conductors such as Eduardo Mata with the Dallas Symphony and Leonard Slatkin with the Detroit Symphony. Slatkin conducted our first performance of Pierrot Lunaire. When soloist Christine Schadeberg performed it, she did it by memory and we required no conductor.”

During those early days she says everybody wanted to be a part of what they were doing. “We were comrades and we all wanted to play a new piece of music.”

Over the years, Boatright says some things with the ensemble have changed, and some have not.

“I don’t think VOC has “evolved”, but rather “changed” with whatever the living composers of today are putting out there for musicians to explore and perform,’ she explains. “I’m speaking purely from the musical side of VOC.

Unfortunately, the audience has not changed or evolved. It’s still a small, adventurous group,” she says. “Some have always loved chamber music, some are new to the genre. “This problem is not just in Dallas but also in many cities that are fortunate enough to even have a new music ensemble.”

Grant support has decreased significantly over the years as well.

“There are more new music groups and other non-profits to share the pie with these days. “Recordings, which are important to the whole field of new music, have not been forthcoming due to lack of funding, grant availability, and perhaps the internet,” she admits.  “And, touring has not taken place on the level that we did in the “old” days, also due to lack of funding.”

But one constant, she says, has been the high level of musical performance and press coverage and the small venues around Dallas to host “mini” concerts preceding subscription concerts.

“So considering all the factors that make up such an organization: musicians and music, board of directors and fund raising, audience and press, there have been changes,” she says. “But the core mission of VOC has not changed and that is, of course, what it’s all about.”

In addition to her role with the Unitarian Church, from the early 60s through the mid-80s, Boatright taught music at the University of Arlington, Texas Christian University, the University of Texas at Dallas and SMU. Then, early in the millennium, Harvey and Jo headed back to their beloved Colorado where she now serves as the artistic director and pianist for the Walden Chamber Music Society in Buena Vista. She continues to serve VOC in an advisory capacity.

“It’s really a thrill to see VOC has made it to 40 years. I know the music will always be there.”

Passing the torch

In 1994, award winning violinist and Oregon native Maria Schleuning moved to Dallas when she was offered a position with theDallas Symphony. Here she met her husband, former DSO member and current music director of the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra, Richard Giangialo.

Maria Schleuning, VOC artistic director. Photo courtesy of voicesofchange.comg

Maria Schleuning. Photo courtesy of

Soon after arriving in Dallas, she discovered Voices of Change and in 1996, became the ensemble’s violinist.

“I just loved it – it was fun and more challenging than what I was doing with the orchestra,” Schleuning who loves a challenge, admits. “Meeting and working with Jo was significant for me, monumental actually. Everyone associated with VOC was there because they were passionate about playing new music.”

Schleuning’s passion for music was ignited early in her childhood. As the youngest of three daughters growing up in Portland, naturally, she wanted to be like her older sisters –they both played a musical instrument: double bass and flute. Maria chose the violin.

“I knew this was what I wanted to do and I was so excited!”

From age 9 to 18, she played with Portland’s Youth Philharmonic, American’s oldest youth orchestra. There, she was introduced to contemporary classical music and fell in love with the new sound.

Further inspiration came when Schleuning met Grammy Award winning violinist and conductor, Joshua Bell when she was selected to perform in the Seventeen Magazine and General Motors National Concerto Competition. Bell took the grand prize butthe next summer, she reaped the rewards of his sage advice.

“When we were at the Aspen Music Festival together the following summer, he (Bell) told me a lot of wonderful things about his teacher, Josef Gingold,” she recalls. This was a factor that helped influence her a year later when she was applying for college. Gingold was considered one of the most influential violin masters in the U.S. Schleuning earned her bachelor’s degree in music at Indiana University.

“That [studying under Gingold] was wonderful for me.”

Later she studied with Yfrah Neaman, a distinguished violin instructor, at the Guildhall School in London. In 1990, Schleuning attended Juilliard where she worked with Joel Smirnoff and earned her Master’s degree in music.

In 2009, after several seasons as a significant contributor to VOC’s success, Schleuning was appointed the ensemble’s artistic director.

Meet some of the composers

Voices of Change has worked with many leading composers and has premiered several new works along the way including that of David Dzubay, a longtime supporter of VOC; Xi Wang, a Dallas composer whose newly created commission premiered at the groups March concert; and Augusta Read Thomas, whose solo violin work, Dream Catcher, written specifically for Schleuning, also premiered recently.

Schleuning says she was thrilled to be a part of the creative process that brought Thomas’s Dream Catcher to life.

“Augusta Read Thomas was a guest composer here one season and really liked my playing. She wrote a piece for me as a gift, which was a huge honor, because she has had commissions from many of the world’s great orchestras and musicians.”

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

“She wrote the piece and sent me portions of what she had written for my feedback, so I really got to be a part of the process.”

Schleuning has recently recorded this piece for a seven CD set of her complete works, which will be available on the Nimbus label this summer.

Another important accomplishment for VOC is commissioning new work.

Having recently completed a second commission for the ensemble, Tibetan Fantasia, which premiered at the group’s March 14 concert, Composer and SMU professor, Xi Wang, knows their voices.

“I went to almost every VOC concert after I moved to Dallas in 2009,” she says. “I met each member in person and I know the sound of each musician. That’s how I can comfortably write for the ensemble.

Xi writes with a great of feeling and emotion. “Music is so TRUE to me. I express and release my emotion through music, which sometimes, can’t be expressed through any other media.”

Another composer with whom Voices of Change has a long association with is fellow-Oregonian and music professor, David Dzubay.

“I knew Maria first through the Portland Youth Philharmonic, then as fellow students at Indiana University, and then through Voices of Change,” he says.  “I first worked with VOC in 1992, when Jo Boatright programmed and performed with Carter Enyeart the premiere of my cello sonata written that year while I taught at the University of North Texas.

In 2003, following the cello sonata, the group recorded and released a full CD of Dzubay’s music, including two song cycles that he conducted, and a short string quartet and Capriccio for violin and piano, performed by Jo and Maria. In 2007, Joe Illick (VOC artistic director from 2006 to 2007) and VOC commissioned All Water has a Perfect Memory for clarinet, piano and string quartet, one of his favorite works.

Dzubay first discovered VOC through his teacher Donald Erb, who has also composed works for them, including a memorable solo clarinet work for the ensemble’s co-founder Ross Powell and the chamber ensemble piece The Devil’s Quickstep. “It has been an honor to, in a way, to pick up his thread and have a continued relationship with Voices of Change over the years.”

Tomorrow’s maestros

When 36-year-old violinist Mary Alice Rich discovered that she had focal dystonia, a neurological condition that affects a muscle or group of muscles, she turned to composing.

“It was one of those great surprises of life,” Rich shares. “But I knew I could teach and I could write. So she taught violin and began composing.

“I knew Maria through our shared students.” I always had great respect for her, she’s a great player, a very caring teacher and she really values education.”

As a result of the relationship, Rich got on board with Voices of Changes by becoming part of VOC’s education committee. Along with fellow committee members Margaret Barrett, Francis Osentowski and Alex Djinov, the team is on a mission to bring the sounds and insights of new music to kids in schools around the metroplex, including under served schools.

“We want to reach out to the community and give kids a positive experience,” Rich says. So the committee came up with several innovative projects including “My Neighborhood Project”, a poetry contest conducted in seven under served DISD

Mary Alice Rice and company. Photo courtesy of

My Neighborhood Project. Photo courtesy of

elementary schools. The kids were asked to write poems about their neighborhoods then they wrote little bits of music and with the help of their music teachers, weaved the kids’ melodic material into songs, which were then performed by the kids or high school soloists.

Rich remembers one little boy coming up to her and asking her for another piece of paper because he wanted to write another poem for his mom.

“He was so excited,” she says. The kids love the programs!”

Schleuning also loves going into the schools. “We’ve got to take music to the schools because music speaks to the heart. These programs are making a difference around the metroplex and are making a younger generation fall in love with new music.”

VOC today and tomorrow

As Voices of Changes artistic director, Schleuning does her best to find a balance, when deciding what music the ensemble will perform.

“I like to program an “older” new work–one that perhaps is recognized (like Bartok or Shostakovich) with something that is more recent (written in the last ten years or so).  At the same time, I try to balance atonal and tonal music–I realize that some modern music is difficult for the listener, especially if they are new to it,” she adds.

“I think it is important to present something a little more classically-oriented to bridge that divide. Also, that is the music that has led to what we are hearing today, so the influence is strong and it is interesting to hear the connection. I also try to include new techniques, such as electronics or visuals into our season.”

While Schleuning acknowledges that [new music] can be a hard sell to audiences it provides musicians many opportunities for growth.

“Playing new music keeps you fresh, keeps you thinking, keeps your mind searching and keeps you in shape, physically,” she says referring to when composers ask musicians to play their instruments in unconventional ways, including plucking piano cords and playing the violin while holding it in an upright position close to the floor.

There is no doubt Voices of Change has a great deal to offer Dallas: Season subscription concerts; Pre-concert forums facilitated by Dr. Laurie Schulman (discussions about the concert’s composer and music); innovative educational programs including their Texas Young Composers’ composition contest; house concerts; free SoundBites (wine tasting and music the evening before each concert) and other gatherings and celebrations. Check it all out here.

“It’s important that I always remember that the mission of Voices of Change to be the voice for new composers, to educate and inspire North Texas residents about new music and to establish Dallas as a city that celebrates creativity and innovation in all artistic mediums is greater than my personal career, that’s something I got that from Jo and Ross.”


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