USA Today unleashed the breaking news that Fort Worth is “evolving from cow town to hipster city.”
Catch your breath, I know.
In a flyby article yesterday, writer Rick Jervis doesn’t clearly define “hipster” –– a term that long ago became a pejorative for something like “artsy slacker” but that once meant “young creative type” –– but makes the massive leap from the fact that Fort Worth has a Movie Tavern and a vegan restaurant to paint our fair burgh as the dwelling place of the musical, painterly, filmic, balletic, theatrical hordes.
Though Jervis digs deep to reveal that Fort Worth also has a restaurant that serves bacon-wrapped deviled eggs and chicken and waffles, he fails to mention any real indicators of the creative class in town. And there’s no doubt that Fort Worth’s creative class is as strong as ever. Without sounding too much like ungrateful jerks, let’s consider what the USA Today guy could have –– and should have –– said:
– that independent bands such as Burning Hotels, Pinkish Black, Telegraph Canyon, Quaker City Night Hawks, The Longshots, The Orbans, Fungi Girls, Calhoun, and a few others have all received laudatory national press and/or mainstream exposure over the past couple of years and that indie-rockers The Unlikely Candidates and rapper Snow Tha Product recently signed with Atlantic Records.
– that Q Cinema is one of the oldest and best respected LGBT film festivals on this continent.
– that Texas Christian University’s MFA program in the visual arts attracts and produces some of the most groundbreaking talent in the Southwest and that recent students, alumni, and assorted cohorts who banded together a couple of years ago as HOMECOMING! Committee have done what no other contemporary Fort Worth artist or collective has been able to do and exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art.
– that in addition to well established theaters such as Stage West, Circle Theatre, Amphibian Stage Productions, and Hip Pocket Theatre, Fort Worth is home to the oldest African-American theater company in the Southwest, Jubilee Theatre.
– that in the past couple of years alone, Fort Worth has become home to several distilleries and craft breweries.
– that venues such as Lola’s Saloon, The Grotto, Magnolia Motor Lounge, The Where House, 1919 Hemphill, and a couple of others thrive mostly on a steady diet of local and regional acts, no big touring acts required.
– that in only a few years’ time the Lone Star Film Festival has grown from, basically, a fly-by-night operation to one of the most adventurous and scholarly festivals of its kind in the Southwest.
And. The list goes on.
And while we all understand that Jervis is simply writing a bit of advertorial here, he still could have done some research and acknowledged the gross underbelly of Fort Worth’s creative scene. Worse than the fact that one family, the Basses, runs all of downtown is that the City of Fort Worth treats Fort Worth artists like shit.
In 2013, the city agreed –– for the first time in six years –– to increase funding for the Arts Council of Fort Worth, the 50-year-old nonprofit that distributes money to 45 groups, including Amphibian, Artes de la Rosa, Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth, Fort Worth Classical Guitar Society, and Hip Pocket Theatre. Great news, right? Well, not so much. The funding will come from natural gas revenues, the hope being that gas revenues will increase over the next decade to allow the city to slink out of arts funding altogether.
Gas revenues? What gas revenues?
“The vast reserves touted by Chesapeake and every other natural gas company, and echoed by state and federal government agencies, have turned out to have been either mostly hype or so inaccessible that they don’t count for practical purposes,” the Weekly’s Peter Gorman wrote on March 13, 2013. “In just a few years, the boom has nearly gone bust, and it is beginning to drag a lot of communities and investors down with it.”
The arts council is leery too. “I am a bit unsure of the reliability and long-term sustainability of the gas-well revenue for funding of the arts,” arts council president Jody Ulich told me last year. “I do see it as a step in the right direction, as the city seems to acknowledge that the arts should receive sustainable funding from municipal funds [and that] current funding levels are too low and not competitive.”
Before deciding to increase funding, city council had spent the previous five years slashing the arts council’s budget, most recently to $886,450 or less than half the amount allotted to the group just five years ago.
In terms of per capita spending on the arts, Fort Worth, according to a 2013 study by the advocacy group Americans for the Arts, is in the pits. Fort Worth’s measly 94 cents per person is not only way behind the per capita spending of Texas’ biggest cities (Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso) but even towns like Plano, Irving, Richardson, and Lewisville.
Lewisville, The Land of Sports Bars spends more money per capita on the arts than Fort Worth.
Let that marinate.
In most other cities –– actually, in every other city in the universe –– arts monies come from the tourism fund. However, Fort Worth’s tourism fund fuels only three entities: the convention and visitors’ bureau (fine), the convention center (OK), and the Will Rogers Memorial Center, the future site of a palatial equestrian arena owned by the Basses (not good).
“I don’t believe that there will be room in [Fort Worth’s] Culture and Tourism Fund for anything but the new arena,” Ulich told me.
Fort Worth’s creative class might be “new,” especially to most outsiders, but if some changes aren’t made, it won’t be around long.