When attorney Mike Birrer accepted the 2011 Obelisk Award from the Business Council for the Arts on behalf of his Carrington Coleman law firm last Wednesday, Birrer humorously recalled his own brush with the arts back in grade school. When young Mike turned in an artistic depiction of a “baby chick,” he recalled, his teacher Mrs. Nelson sent the picture back with these three words written across the top: “Not very good.”
In contrast to Mrs. Nelson’s discouragingly blunt style, the Obelisk Awards are intended to encourage those who practice art — and commerce – in an effort to enhance Dallas-Fort Worth’s quality of life and economic development. The Nov. 2 “Obelisk Luncheon and Awards Ceremony” at The Fairmont Dallas drew a crowd of more than 340 people from local companies and arts groups who watched as the nonprofit BCA gave a total of nine awards.
Proclaimed Katherine Wagner, the business council’s CEO: “Today we recognize the companies and business leaders whose commitment to this region is creating a better tomorrow for all of us.”
First, though, there was a bit of soulful hilarity. Just as guests were finishing up their lunches, dancers from the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, cleverly clad as waiters and waitresses, broke out in frenzied dance to a disco song. Tom Leatherbury, the BCA Chair, mounted the stage and said with a laugh, “They asked Nancy [Nasher] and me to do the encore, but we didn’t.” Nasher, the business council’s Founder’s Chair, was a tad more serious during her remarks, pointing out that the arts generates “over $1 billion annually” for the North Texas economy.
Then, it was on to the much-anticipated awards.
Birrer, of Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal, accepted the Arts Partnership Award for mid-size businesses, for Carrington Coleman’s support of the Creative Arts Center of Dallas. The Arts Partnership Award for small businesses went to SullivanPerkins for its support of Kitchen Dog Theater, while the Arts Partnership award in the large-business category went to the Texas Instruments Foundation, which supported Richardson’s Eisemann Center.
Three firms also received New Initiatives Awards. RD2 Inc. nabbed the honor in the small business category for its support of the Asian Film Festival of Dallas, while the Dallas Cowboys Football Club and the Jerry Jones Family were given the award for mid-size businesses, for their decision to integrate a “stunning art collection” into the design of Cowboys Stadium. (Gene Jones accepted the award for the family and the club.) Wells Fargo snagged the award in the large business category, for the bank’s support of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
Three additional individual awards were given out as well. The Arts Leadership Award went to Jennifer Junker, president of the John F. Clark Co., for her work on behalf of the Trinity River Audubon Center. Ron Whitehead, city manager for the Town of Addison, was given the Lifetime Achievement Award, for his efforts to make Addison a place where art is an “accessible, integral part of everyday life.” And Capital One Bank took the Arts Education Award, for its sponsorship of the Dallas Wind Symphony.
Accepting the Education award for Capital One, the bank’s Jorge Calderon said
that it was Pat Porter, the BCA’s former CEO, and the late businessman/art collector Raymond D. Nasher (who helped found the business council in the late 1980s), who first “got me involved in the community.” Today Calderon sits on the BCA board.
The banker’s story was personal, sure. But it was also a powerful testament to the BCA’s very real, long-term — and growing — influence on art and commerce in North Texas.