Curtis King to look back on evolution of The Black Academy of Arts and Letters in Dallas
Never underestimate a person’s vision. Often it becomes a mission — way bigger than a dream — and the result bowls you over.
Frozen in my head is the memory of a sidewalk conversation 40 years ago with someone who had just such a vision: Curtis King, the Dallas theater magnate — before he birthed Theâœ“ Black Academy of Arts and Letters in Dallas, the nationally recognized institution.
That frozen image even recalls the eye-catching, colorful plaid pants that King wore that day.
The importance of the memory is the vision King described that day in downtown Dallas: his plans to create a historically black theater company in Dallas based on the prominent but recently defunct original Black Academy of Arts and Letters of New York City.
King will chronicle his own memories during TBAAL’s Roundtable Writer’s Breakfast at the academy at 10 a.m. Oct. 1. The academy is at 1309 Canton St. in downtown’s Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center complex. The location is TBAAL’s seventh and longest-held site, occupied for 27 of the organization’s 40-year history.
Entering TBAAL’s 40th anniversary season, founder and president King will have an intimate discussion with the public called “A Tough Row to Hoe: The Rise of TBAAL, 40 Years Later.”
In my own downtown sidewalk memory, I was early in my career as a Dallas Morning News reporter. I recall my guarded excitement that this verbalized vision could come true and offer news material; but I also recall feeling skeptical that this vision might just be pie in the sky for a talented local artist-in-the-making.
Two score later, I’m still here to tell you that Curtis King pulled it off — and with gusto. But it wasn’t without a rocky road to the top, filled with sucker-punch challenges that threatened to derail what was by then his concrete mission.
King’s stubbornness and what seemed a divinely inspired resolve wouldn’t allow him to let go of his vision. He prevails, having doggedly overcome each obstacle — including searches for office space, combative appeals for arts funding before the Dallas City Council, head-butting with sympathetic but budget-minded Mayor Annette Strauss, perceived inequities between local black versus white art institutions, and the anxiety that audiences might not turn out for artists.
(The audiences did come, and they still do. The academy has drawn more than 100 famous names, including Cicely Tyson, Lou Gossett, Beah Richards, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Romare Bearden, Esther Rolle and C. Eric Lincoln.)
Breakfast tickets are $15 and available at the TBAAL box office, via Ticketmaster or by calling 214-743-2400âœ“. (No free parking is available at nearby lots.) To learn more, visit www.tbaal.org or call 214-743-2441.
ABOUT TOWN: Individuals and families needing help with their TXU energy bills can get help during a Day of Dignity event sponsored by Dallas Masjid Al-Islam and Islamic Relief USA from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdayâœ“Sept. 24 in Building A at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, 2922 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Bring identification including a valid ID card, Social Security card, current TXU energy bill, and proof of residence showing current address. To learn more, call 214-670-8418.