When I ask people about the arts in Frisco, TX, I am shocked when I see a visceral reaction of negativity and fear. It is palpable. I'll get a terse smile, a deep breath, and I can tell words are being carefully crafted before daring to be spoken.
I grew up near Chicago, IL, a city that deeply understands the great public value of arts and culture. It's not questioned, it doesn't need to be justified; it's simply part of the daily conversation, intentionally woven into the very fabric of the city. I have to say, I miss it. I miss it terribly.
What has caused this black eye in Frisco's history with the arts? What happened that has turned something so innately beautiful and unifying as the arts into fractured, broken pieces?
Let me pull back the curtain to reveal what I've learned about this complex history.
In 2000, a nationally award-winning Millenium plan was put in place for the city of Frisco. It included a vision for the arts that states, "The City of Frisco should develop a community center for all ages, and/or cultural facilities (museum, performing arts center, etc)." That was the vision for the arts in Frisco, 14 years ago.
In 2002, a project came to the table called the Arts of Collin County, or later renamed the Arts of North Texas. It was a joint effort of neighboring cities to create a 2,100-seat performing arts venue as a regional cultural arts magnet. There was a bond election at the time, and Frisco voters approved $19M towards creating this facility.
In 2006, a Comprehensive Plan was formed for Frisco created by citizens who had a vision for Frisco's future. One of the objectives was, "Establish Frisco as a center for arts, education, and entertainment." Other points included: "Increase cultural opportunities and choices through initiatives including more public art venues," and "Enhance the role of downtown as the cultural and social center of the city; reinforce and strengthen downtown as the heart of Frisco."
With this Comprehensive Plan in place, a new bond election occurred in 2006, and voters approved $5M towards Frisco's own "science and cultural arts facility," a separate bond from the larger Arts of Collin County project located in Allen, TX, right on the outskirts of Frisco.
In 2010, the Frisco Discovery Center was born. It was created by converting the former aerospace building on Cotton Gin Road and the Dallas North Tollway into the Sci-Tech Discovery Center (a children's science museum), a 120-seat Black Box Theater, an "Art Gallery" (one hallway and central lobby space in the building), and a back-of-house space that could be used for special events. Frisco Association for the Arts, the city's official arts agency, was chosen to be the managers of the entire space.
In 2011, all hell broke loose.
I can't pinpoint how it all started, but I can say, it was BIG. Big enough to recall the 2002 bond measure for $19M that was already approved, big enough to have so much campaigning and politicking for or against the bond measure that it caused irrevocable damage to the community's understanding of the arts. Friends became foes, lines were drawn in the sand, and the city became divided. . . over the arts. Being pro-arts was considered fiscally irresponsible, rhetoric like "needs vs. wants" or "arts is a hobby" became pervasive, and there was no middle ground. You either supported Frisco's infrastructure and safety, or you were a crazy arts person. You couldn't be both.
Essentially, Frisco voters were given an opportunity to change a bond measure that had already been approved in 2002. How did that happen? Why was it targeted? That in itself is disturbing. But what's just as disheartening is that the project was less than $300,000 away from getting the shovel to the ground, and had it started before 2011, there would have been no turning back.
The end result was that in 2011, Frisco voters revoked the city's authority to issue the remaining $16.4M from the original $19M. The City Council members stated that they couldn't support a performing arts center that was not in Frisco. If it were located in Frisco, some councilmen assured, they would have voted for it.
Once Frisco pulled out of the 3-city project, it died. There was no recovery. Frisco was blamed for ruining the project and having no vision, but on the flip side, Frisco was also called a hero by those who believed it was the most fiscally responsible thing to do in an economic downturn. And again, it wasn't in Frisco.
It's 2014. Suddenly, a perfect storm has arrived. A judge ruled that the 3 cities involved in the Arts of Collin County project will receive a small portion of funds back from their initial investment. A week later, I gave a presentation with 2 other volunteers/arts advocates and the Community Development Corporation president to the 2015 Citizen Bond Committee in favor of a Cultural and Performing Arts Center IN Frisco and BY Frisco, asking for $20M in bonds to show the city's commitment to the arts and to attract a quality, dedicated partner.
The very next day, there were 4 forms of media asking our team's input on this issue: KRLD News Radio, Dallas Morning News, Community Impact News, and Channel 11. The number one question? What do you say about Frisco voting down the Arts of Collin County project in 2011? Is it too early to be asking for an arts venue in Frisco given the history?
Is it too EARLY? I submit it is 14 years TOO LATE!
As we get close to entering the new year, we must change the conversation about the arts in Frisco. Art is the most beautiful form of human expression, a universal form of communication. Art unites, it does not divide. Art inspires, it does not create enmity. We must remove the fear and negativity that surround the arts in Frisco. No one likes a nagging wife who can't let go of an issue and keeps bringing up what didn't work, especially after it has been resolved. That's how this 2011 issue is treated; we have to LET IT GO. If we just keep looking back at this dark history, we will never move forward.
I believe that this 2015 Bond election is a litmus test in time. Future generations are going to point to this moment, this particular bond election, and make a determination about what we value. The character of the city is on the line. What is Frisco all about? Are we designing a well-rounded city? Are we preserving our culture and creating sustainability for the remaining 40% left to build? Or will we continue to be known as the best place to raise a professional athlete because of our public commitment to world-class sports facilities? Will we only focus on the bones of the city (infrastructure), and neglect the heart and soul (arts), which is what gives every city its unique identity? Will we decide a facility for the arts can wait another 5-7 years until the next bond election in 2020? Or can we finally fulfill a 14-year vision for the arts to create a balanced face for Frisco?
These are all questions that I will be bringing to the table at our Citizen Bond Committee meetings in January 2015. I expect opposition, but I know I am in the right place at the right time for this issue in Frisco. And I hope that someday, the arts will become part of the very fabric of Frisco as it is in all great cities, and that we will be known as the place to be for the arts, not in spite of it.