How a Texas Community Is Using Art as Its Microphone

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Because this probably isn’t the Texas you thought you knew.

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The banner is about three arm’s-lengths wide and spells out its reason for existing loud and clear: “Black Lives Matter” in big white letters. On the border, painted icons represent a wide range of countries and continents. Three high schoolers are methodically but messily working away on it at Trans.lation, an arts and culture center that serves the largely immigrant population in the Vickery Meadow neighborhood of Dallas. Community centers like this one may be feeling a financial squeeze in the coming months: President Trump’s first budget proposal planned to slash funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, a change that could trickle down to the smallest local groups.

Trans.lation started in 2013 without federal funding, and its original intent was to create “socially conscious community projects in Dallas,” project manager Carol Zou says. Now the organization hosts broad programming like tutoring, English-language practice and “know your rights” workshops specially tailored to the needs of this community. The amount of diversity present in Dallas belies its big-oil, big-ranch reputation. Zou says the idea that the state is monolithic is the first misconception that Trans.lation fights to dispel. Half the residents in Texas’ third largest city are nonwhite, according to 2010 census data.

For Zou, naming the best part of her job is easy: the mission. “Community transformation happens when you empower as many people as possible,” she says. “For us, these are public art pieces, but they are public education pieces as well.”

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