Best of Dallas — 2015 Guide
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Culture & People

Best TV News Reporter

Janet St. James, formerly of WFAA/Channel 8

In March, award-winning journalist Janet St. James announced she was leaving her job of 19 years at ABC affiliate WFAA and moving to public relations. The next month came worse news: St. James had been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. The news of her diagnosis and subsequent double mastectomy came from St. James herself in videos posted on Facebook. “I am fierce and strong. But I have breast cancer,” she said. She has continued posting updates through chemotherapy treatment (now over). After all those health stories for Channel 8, including exclusives on last year’s Ebola patients at Presby, St. James may be doing her best work reporting on her own medical crisis and recovery. (Follow her on FB or on Twitter @janetstjames.)

Readers’ Pick: John McCaa, WFAA

Best Party Photographer

The Naked Lens

Here’s the short-but-simple online biography of The Naked Lens: “I figured the world already had enough wedding photographers,” he writes. “Most of my best friends are hookers, strippers or burners.” The Naked Lens is photographer Mark Kaplan, a former naval air crewman and lifeguard who now works as a freelance shooter. Kaplan can be found photographing parties and events far off the beaten path, definitely not the dressy society wingdings the shiny sheets cover. His pix celebrate the tattooed, pierced, pink-haired and scantily clad. Burlesque shows are a favorite. Kaplan likes his subjects to have some skin in the game.

Deep Ellum, 214-444-FOTO,

Best Comedy Club

Dallas Comedy House

Dallas Comedy House isn’t where you go to see a big-name headliner, but that’s what makes it good. Head to the recently relocated Deep Ellum institution if you want to catch Dallas’ best up-and-coming stand-up comedians (who might one day become big names) trying out new material and honing their acts. You can take an improv class here, too, and it’s the site of the annual Dallas Comedy Festival, which serves as a showcase for hot comics on the way up in the biz.

3025 Main St., 214-741-4448,

Readers’ Pick: Addison Improv

4980 Belt Line Road, No. 250, 972-404-8501,

Best News Radio Station


As what’s left of talk radio on the AM dial rants itself red in the right-wing echo chamber, KERA-FM just keeps quietly, calmly providing news, interviews, panel shows and features from local, regional and national sources. The National Public Radio and Public Radio International affiliate is where you’ll find This American Life; Morning Edition; Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me; and All Things Considered. The local component is the noontime Think, hosted by the unflappable Krys Boyd. Nearly commercial free, the station switches to BBC news overnight, a reminder that news does happen elsewhere in the world.

  1. 1 FM,

Readers’ Pick: 90.1 KERA-FM

Best Radio Talk Show

Think, KERA-FM

With its wide variety of guests — authors, arts leaders, politicians, performers — local host Krys Boyd’s noontime talk and call-in show on KERA-FM/90.1 offers a calm, wellinformed two-hour break from the angry voices doing talk radio elsewhere. Boyd’s good at letting her guests make their points with minimal interruption. Listen and learn.

Readers’ Pick: Kidd Kraddick in the Morning

  1. 1 KISS-FM

Best County Official

John Warren, Dallas County Clerk

Big ups to Dallas County Clerk John Warren for changing his mind for the right reasons. In 2013, after saying for years that he opposed same-sex marriage because of his religious beliefs, Warren came out in support of marriage equality. This year he dutifully prepared his office for the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, ensuring that Dallas County would be able to issue marriage licenses to couples as soon as the ruling came down. In June, Warren issued the first same-sex marriage license in Dallas County to Jack Evans and George Harris, who’d had to wait 54 years to attain legal status for their union.

Best Actress

Jenny Ledel

Versatile, classically trained Jenny Ledel is half of one of Dallas’ most powerful theatermaking duos. Husband Alex Organ, our Best Actor pick, is artistic director at Second Thought Theatre. Ledel is a company member at Kitchen Dog, where she was a comic delight in Lee Trull’s zany Wilde/Earnest. She played a neurotic wife in creepy Belleville at Second Thought. Opposite her hubby’s Iago, she was riveting as Emilia in Othello. Why does she act? “Every day I read something in the news that ignites my sense of outrage,” Ledel says. “Acting allows me to proclaim it on high more eloquently than I could ever do on my own.” Offstage, Ledel voices anime and is a certified notary public. We certify that she’s a notable actor.

Best Actor

Alex Organ

Sure, Alex Organ is great in the big classic roles: Coriolanus at Shakespeare Dallas, Iago in Othello at Second Thought Theatre (where he’s artistic director now). But it was in Undermain Theatre’s weird and wonderful production of Annie Baker’s The Flick this season that this Yale-trained actor really showed the depth of his talent. As a 35-year-old movie usher who barely spoke and spent most of the three-hour play sweeping and mopping, he was as heartbroken and heartbreaking as Hamlet (and in way fewer words). It takes a great actor to make long silences into a bravura performance.

Best Theater Company

Undermain Theatre

For several decades, the 90-seat basement space in Deep Ellum has staged avant-garde plays by emerging writers. This season, however, something clicked on a higher level with the world premiere of Gordon Dahlquist’s scifidrama Tomorrow Come Today, the tightly focused work of actor Shannon Kearns Simmons as the title character in The Testament of Mary and the impeccably acted and directed (by Blake Hackler) The Flick, Annie Baker’s Pulitzer winner about three nobodies working in an old cinema. Undermain’s married founders Katherine Owens and Bruce DuBose have lined up another challenging season, including Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, which regional theaters rarely touch (it opens early next year), and the current premiere (through October 17) of Meg Moroshnik’s The Droll (Or, a Stage Play about the END of Theatre), about a time when all theater is banned and one troupe puts on a secret Hamlet. End of theater? Not at Undermain.

3200 Main St., 214-747-5515,

Readers’ Pick: Dallas Summer Musicals

Fair Park, 909 1st Ave., 214-421-5678,

Best Small Theater Troupe

Theatre Britain

Founder and director Sue Birch’s small professional company in Plano keeps the accent on all things English in seasons packed with murder mysteries, farces and traditional holiday “pantos.” Production quality is consistently tickety-boo (as Brits would say), with fairy-tale panto shows designed like storybooks come to life (and scripts designed to make adults giggle, too). You’ll find authentic English snackies at intermission (try the prawn crisps). Shows frequently sell out. “I see a great deal of affection for all things British,” says Birch. Alan Ayckbourn’s saucy comedy How the Other Half Loves is playing through October 4. The next panto is King Arthur, opening November 28.

Cox Building Playhouse, 1517 H Ave., Plano, 972-490-4202,

Best Local Playwright

Jeff Swearingen

He often starts with a title: A School Bus Named Desire. Then writer-director Jeff Swearingen creates an ingenious homage to the original play, but with the twist of using children and teens as characters. As the cofounder and director of all-youth Fun House Theatre and Film, Swearingen has wowed critics and audiences with his smart Mamet spoof, Daffodil Girls (a Glengarry satire about the cutthroat world of Scout cookie sales); his holiday-themed take on Albee called Yes, Virginia Woolf, There Is a Santa Claus; and the pie-throwing Game of Thrones, Jr. His best might be Stiff, a showbiz farce that had a Sweet Smell of Success in its plot about a theater critic whose untimely death threatens an opening night. If one of Swearingen’s brilliant little comedies-with-kids is opening, we’re there.

Fun House Theatre and Film, 1301 Custer Road, Plano, 972-357-5092,

Best Theater Director

vickie washington

With this season’s world premiere of Dallas playwright Jonathan Norton’s moving drama Mississippi Goddamn, vickie washington (she likes it lower case) reminded us that she’s one of the finest stage directors in North Texas. Expert at bringing new works like Norton’s to stages at South Dallas Cultural Center, Jubilee Theatre and in her day job at Booker T. Washington School for the Performing and Visual Arts, washington says the future of Dallas theater is secure because there’s so much talent here. Her group Reading the Writers is focused on “finding pieces that aren’t on the beaten path and bringing them to life,” she says. Sounds like a move in the right direction.

Readers’ Pick: Matthew Posey

Ochre House, 825 Exposition Ave., 214-826-6273

Best Scenester

Scenic designer Rodney Dobbs

Theatrical set designer Rodney Dobbs regularly makes something out of nothing. Starting with a bare stage, with some plywood, paint and lots of imagination, he can re-create 1960s Southern suburbia, as he did for the play Mississippi Goddamn, or go multilevel with fancy staircases and video screens for Uptown Players’ glossy musical Catch Me If You Can. As a founder of low-budget Pocket Sandwich Theatre, Dobbs learned how to stretch a dollar while making visual magic. And he’s used to backstage hazards. “It’s not a finished set,” he says, “until I’ve bled on it.”

Best Theater Festival

Festival of Independent Theatres

The four-week summer round-up of onehour shows by small local companies bounced back in a big way this year. Producing presenter David Meglino chose eight diverse productions filled with energetic talent eager to introduce audiences to fresh pieces of live theater. Top draws were The In-Laws’ dreamlike new mini-musical Decline of Ballooning, DGDG’s all-male dances-with-text Show about Men and WingSpan’s lovely Shoe Confessions. Sold-out houses and big crowds at the after-show cabarets mean FIT has a following that’ll keep it flying for years to come.

Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive, 800-617-6904,

Best Moment on Dallas Before It Got Canceled Again

Dallas the cable reboot got the boot this year after just two seasons, but dang, it had some dandy moments, even if the scripts about Alaskan fracking contracts and Mexican drug cartels were dumb. The addition of Emmy and Tony-winning actress Judith Light gave the TNT series a temporary boost of high drama. Playing evil brothel owner Judith Ryland, Light found the creamy nougat center of every scene she chewed up. The best single moment of the new Dallas had her sidling up to a handsome cowboy, sniffing a fat line of coke off his meaty hand and pausing to let it burn down her throat before she growled, “Mama like.” Oh, Judith, you were the new J. R. and we liked you, Mama.

Best Dallas Fashion Designer

Charles Smith II

Charles Smith II has whatever “it” is, and it’s brought him success in the realms of basketball, modeling and now fashion design. The New York-born designer moved to Dallas to play basketball at Lincoln High School and his skills on the court got him scouted by the NBA. Even now that he’s switched tracks to fashion, with a degree from the Art Institute of Dallas, he has no intention of fleeing to his much more fashion- oriented hometown; Smith is determined to influence Dallas’ high fashion scene for the better. His signature aesthetic is gothic (imagine what a bagpipe-playing motorcycle gang might wear), featuring a lot of black and white, leathers and zippers. He’s put out a couple of high-end couture lines, but recently launched a more affordable ready-to-wear line, S2. You can purchase his wares online now, but look for them in brick and mortar stores in Dallas soon.

Best First Date Activity

Voodoo Chile

They say questions such as “Do you like scary movies?” can be high predictors of compatibility. We just skip the cutesy smalltalk and take dates to Voodoo Chile, a record/ art/vintage clothing/glass pipe/gift shop in a red one-story house off Lower Greenville. It’s a bastion of character and weirdness. And Voodoo Chile has plenty in common with scary movies anyway. Art by mysterious owner Jimi Fukushita is laden with creepy, provocative imagery and the shop stocks a bunch of books about the Third Reich. You can learn a lot about a date just by asking, “Have you read Mein Kampf?”

5643 Bell Ave., 214-752-0266

Best New Festival

Dallas Medianale

Dallas Medianale is the experimental film festival you didn’t know you wanted to go to until you did. In February, the Video Association of Dallas took over The McKinney Avenue Contemporary to curate a month of film screenings, video art installations and intermedia performances, which included internationally renowned video artists such as Bruce Nauman. Chicago-based duo Cracked Ray Tube gave a performance in which they manipulated video and audio on stacks of old Tvs and computer monitors. We’re all so accustomed to screens these days that video art seems more accessible than ever, and the diversity and enthusiasm of attendees throughout the festival confirmed it. Dallas Medianale will return biennially, so put it on your calendar for Spring 2017.

Best Movie Theater

Texas Theatre

To some, the Texas Theatre is best remembered as the place where Lee Harvey Oswald tried to hide out after assassinating President Kennedy. But since its revitalization a few years ago, and thanks to creative and thoughtful programming, the landmark with a dark history is enjoying a second life as a key player in Oak Cliff’s cultural renaissance. Occasionally it shows a big hit, but more often it’s the place to catch a documentary or cult classic that’s not showing on the big screen anywhere else. The theater frequently pairs its movie screenings with burlesque shows, stand-up comedy and performances from Dallas’ coolest local bands behind the screen. The retro vibe of the building and its orange velvet couches add to the air of swank. It’s the only movie theater bar that people visit even when there’s nothing playing. There’s also a gallery space upstairs, The Safe Room, where emerging artists show work.

231 W. Jefferson Blvd., 214-948-1546,

Readers’ Pick: Alamo Drafthouse

100 S. Central Expressway, Richardson Heights Village, Richardson, 972-534-2120, drafthouse.Com/dfw

Best New Book by a Dallas Author

Blackout by Sarah Hepola

Write a book about experiences you don’t remember. It’s a riddle of a premise, but Dallas native Sarah Hepola wasn’t afraid of a challenge. Her relationship with alcohol, which continued despite crippling blackouts, is the subject of her memoir, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget. It’s a tale of recovery that will move anyone who’s struggled with substances or knows someone who has, but it’s relatable on other levels. It’s a beautifully and often humorously written exploration of memory and the pain of reconciling big dreams with bigger doubts. Hepola dedicates the book to “anyone who needs it.” If you ask us, that’s everyone.

Best Comedian

Clint Werth

Because secondhand embarrassment is real, we sometimes get nervous before seeing stand-up comics. Good jokes take risks, which means any comedian with hope of being good is just as likely to get crickets as big laughs. When Clint Werth takes the stage, however, you forget to be nervous for him. Werth is not just funny “for a little-known stand-up” or “better than you expected of a local comic.” His stage presence and dark, self-deprecating perspective — on topics such as his neighbors, who treat him like he’s a pedophile or a shutin, never suspecting that he might actually just be stealing their cigarettes — may remind you of other depressive yet outrageous comics like Louis CK, but Werth’s material doesn’t feel derivative.He’s his own hilarious animal.

Best Old School Impresario

John Hardman

At some of the nation’s top shopping malls, the “Santa experience” is being retooled. A Santa show produced by DreamWorks, for example, promises a “fully immersive story hosted by characters,” including “a thrilling four-minute flight on Santa’s sleigh.” The shows Dallas puppet maestro John Hardman has produced with his Le Theatre de Marionette for 40 years are a flight in the opposite direction, back to a pre-pixel Punch and Judy time. His free Scrooge Puppet Theatre at NorthPark Center every holiday season — witty ad-libbed insults from Dickens’ old miser — is borne of an ancient art form that entrances even today’s overentertained children and adults.

John Hardman Productions, 214-824-6435

Best School Board Member

Mike Morath

No matter what you’ve heard about the Dallas school board over the last year, picking the best member isn’t easy. Miguel Solis, for example, did a yeoman’s job as board president, stitching together consensus in a body ripped by controversy. But Mike Morath is the one who has suffered the worst slings and arrows, usually for his devotion to research and logical thinking. Through it all he has displayed a remarkable ability to grin and bear it. Asked recently if he thought the end could be near for public education, he said, “If we give up on public schools, we give up on America.”

District 2, Dallas Independent School District, 214-925-3700,

Best City Council Member

Scott Griggs

District 1 (Oak Cliff ) Dallas City Councilman Scott Griggs is known outside his district for leadership in citywide battles against bad stuff like fracking operations near homes and schools and that stupid toll road they want to build along the river. But he’s better known inside his district for the unheralded hard work of constituent services, seeing to it the parkways get mowed and business start-ups don’t get shut down by red tape. A constituent said she was surprised recently that Griggs had heard about her getting mugged and had spoken to the police department about the incident on her behalf. “I’m just a nobody,” she said. But nobody’s nobody in Scott Griggs’ district.

District 1, Dallas City Hall, 1500 Marilla St., Room 5FN, 214-670-0776,

Best Mayor

Philip Kingston

Wait a minute, he’s not the mayor. Philip Kingston is just a City Council member from East Dallas. But he’s out-mayoring Mike Rawlings by doing all the things a mayor should do. He stands up to the Dallas Citizens Council, for example. (They’re the old mossbacks who’ve been calling the shots in Dallas since before Elvis.) Like the time they told him he couldn’t at tend their political luncheon, so he went anyway and made them throw him out. That’s the kind of cool stuff a mayor should do — stand up for the city and the people who live in it.

District 14, Dallas City Hall, 1500 Marilla St., Room 5FN, 214-670-0776

Best Community Garden

Bonton Farms

Tucked under the knee of two freeways, with a wild, forested flood plain at its southern edge, the neighborhood around Bonton Farms organic community garden has long been the urban island in a part of southern Dallas that isn’t quite paradise. It was a place where kids might not even know there was a big, beautiful world growing just beyond it. But Bonton is turning that around. Habitat for Humanity has built almost 200 homes in this stretch of about 100 small blocks. And the best and happiest thing to happen has been Bonton Farms itself, a faith-based community garden with goats, chickens and a guard dog still working on the idea of guarding the chickens, not eating them. From seedlings of great ideas, bigger, better things sprout. Let the good times roll in an area of Dallas that’s just starting to blossom.

6905 Bexar St., 469-400-9601,

Best Obi-Wan Kenobi

The Reverend Peter Johnson Peter Johnson was a teenager in Louisiana when he joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the mid-1960s, serving first as a gofer and bodyguard to Martin Luther King Jr. And other SCLC leaders, later moving up as an advance man and organizer. He landed in Dallas in 1969 and as the founder and CEO of the Peter Johnson Institute of Non-Violence has been working for social change ever since, going to the City Council to argue that guns and rifles (carried by ROTC) didn’t belong in the MLK Day parades, speaking out for peace, living wages and racial equality. Johnson, like Obi-Wan, is a powerful soul in touch with a greater uniting force.

Best Loser

City Council candidate James White

Just putting yourself out there, standing up in public and saying “Vote for me” is hard enough. Not winning is a bummer. Instead of sulking, however, candidate James White viewed his third-place, 23 percent showing in the May 9 10th District Dallas City Council election as not bad for an unknown, unfunded newcomer. Then he turned it into a solid plus by offering his support to second-place Adam McGough, after McGough came out strong against the Trinity toll road. White’s help probably made the difference in McGough’s subsequent victory in a run-off. That’s the way to lose.

Best Fall Outing

Autumn at the Arboretum

Last year Fodor’s Travel Guides named “Autumn at the Dallas Arboretum” as “One of America’s Best Pumpkin Festivals.” Oh, it’s that and more. The Arboretum’s fall festival of giant orange squash, running through November 25, offers a lot more than thousands of uncut jacko’- lanterns. When the searing Dallas heat begins to subside and you can almost consider wearing a jacket, the fest on the landscaped park east of White Rock Lake is the perfect time and place to stroll among 150,000 blooming flowers scattered lavishly across 66 acres of beds and lawn. If Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin existed, he’d come here to celebrate.

8525 Garland Road, 214-515-6615,

Best Outing For/With/ Because Kids

Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo

Fun for adults, too, but definitely designed with the little people in mind, the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo has things like “The Underzone,” with a crawl-through tunnel that takes curious tykes up close to dwarf mongooses (small ferret-like, snake-killing mammals), hornbills (wild-looking parrotsorta birds) and naked mole rats (you just have to crawl through the tunnel and see them). The Children’s Zoo has an interactive aviary, pony rides, a stream and lots of keen stuff to do. Fifteen bucks for adults, $12 for seniors and kids under 13, kids under 2 free.

Dallas Zoo, 650 S. R.L.Thornton Freeway (I-35E Marsalis exit), 469-554-7500,

Best Public Art Downtown

Pegasus at the Omni

On New Year’s Eve 2000, Dallas celebrated the unveiling of a brand new, high-tech replica of the city’s iconic Pegasus sculpture atop the 29-story near-century-old Magnolia Building. The original weather-beaten Pegasus, installed in 1934 as a temporary advertisement for the first annual meeting of the American Petroleum Institute, had lasted for two-thirds of a century, long enough for the flying red horse to become the city’s unofficial emblem. But where did it go when the new one took its place? Art historian June Mattingly and developer Jack Matthews found it in a Dallas barn. They meticulously restored it and this year installed it in front of the new Omni Hotel, where it is — at least for now — the best public art downtown.

Omni Hotel, 555 S. Lamar St., 214-744-6664,

Best View of Downtown from a Distance

McCommas Bluff Landfill

When you stand at the peak of the McCommas Bluff Landfill, possibly holding your nose, depending on wind direction and recent deposits, you are about 110 feet above the elevation of downtown Dallas. The skyline is 10 miles to the northwest, and from the trash mountain, it’s a very striking view, the more so for what’s underneath your feet — a manmade hillock of solid waste. By the way, the landfill is free to residents of the city, and a trip out there offers an other-worldly sort of post-apocalyptic experience well worth having at least once. Just take something to throw out, so you won’t look like an idiot.

5100 Youngblood Road, 214-670-0977

Best Trinity River Guide

Charles Allen

The Trinity River in Dallas is a much more interesting float than you might guess, but it’s also a little less user-friendly than you might expect. The currents are more massive than they may look from the freeway bridges, and at certain times of the year, the river can present sudden obstacles and serious perils. Nobody knows the river more intimately than Charles Allen — where to find its hidden secrets, how to avoid problems and when the most opportune times may be for an expedition by canoe. He can set you up and put you in, or he can go with you, which is the better deal because he really does know and love this deeply misunderstood old river.

Trinity River Expeditions, 304 Lyman Circle, 214-941-1757,

Best Chicken Sitter

Urban Chicken Inc.

If you grew up on a farm, had to visit a farm every summer because that’s where the grandfolks lived, had to learn at any point in your life how hard real farm work is, then your first thought when you heard about the urban backyard chicken fad was that the city folk would never stick with it. “Those slickers,” you may have thought, “will ditch those chickens the first time they want to fly the coop and go off surf sailing in the Virgin Islands.” Well, no. If they’re responsible poultry- raising urbanites, they’ll hire Urban Chicken to send out a highly trained chicken tender who will feed, water, clean up and collect the eggs. About the only thing Urban Chicken’s sitters can’t do is teach those feathered friends to play tic-tac-toe. Not yet.

11342 Dalron Drive, 469-524-9342

Best Evening Stroll

Deep Ellum Wine Walk

Pay 10 bucks for a glass when you sign in, then join a convivial mob to wander and shop in wine-welcoming Deep Ellum venues. If you haven’t been that way in a while, the once-amonth wine walk sponsored by the Deep Ellum Community Organization is a great way to reacquaint yourself with the funky warehouse district. Rich in music and art, at the eastern edge of downtown, Deep Ellum’s scary-bad skinhead days of yore are pretty much gone. Instead, you will find amiable company among grown-ups who love music, visual art and vino. Walk. Talk. Stop. Sip. It’s a lovely meander.

Kettle Art, 2714 Elm St., 214-573-7622

Best Development in Dallas Politics

Vonciel Jones Hill’s City Council term limit

No politician, no matter how cosseted, would dare rail against transparency. And yet former City Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill — her colleagues referred to her as “Judge” because of a long-ago position in the municipal judiciary — did exactly that. Repeatedly. She was wrong about just about everything else, too, in particular transportation, in which key city and regional appointments gave her particular sway. She was outspoken about homosexuality, publicly condemning it. In addition, her swimming pool, as the Observer discovered last summer, was a fetid mosquito swamp. And yet Hill was elected four times. But that’s it. Because of term limits, she has left the council.

Best Politician

Dwaine Caraway

No member of the Dallas City Council was quite as theatrical as Dwaine Caraway. Whether urging young folks to pull up their pants, doling out absurd economic development incentives to a (fantastically delicious) fried-chicken joint or proposing that the Trinity River be rerouted through downtown, Caraway never stopped being awesome. The best part: He really genuinely cared. No one at City Hall fought harder for constituents. Term limits have ended his time on the council, but in what may prove to be his most exciting and entertaining move yet, he is challenging embattled County Commissioner John Wiley Price for the office Price has held with an iron grip for almost three decades. Get your popcorn ready.

Best Supreme Court Win

Inclusive Communities Project

For years, Dallas has pushed city-sponsored low-income housing into heavily poor minority areas on the rather flimsy pretext that a shiny new apartment complex might spur revitalization. This was the norm, despite reams of research showing that poor people — kids especially — in mixed-income neighborhoods fare far better than peers in exclusively low-income areas. The Dallas housing nonprofit called Inclusive Communities Project has been trying to change the way Dallas, via the state government, allocates low-income housing tax credits, but to little avail. They had minimal leverage to change things until the Supreme Court’s decision this summer in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, in which justices ruled that the way Dallas does affordable housing is discriminatory. Undoing what’s been done will take decades, but they now have the nation’s highest court on their side.

Best DISD Innovation

Eduardo Mata Elementary School

Recently departed DISD Superintendent Mike Miles’ legacy is complicated and controversial, but he leaves behind a handful of successes, chief among them Mata Montessori in East Dallas. The first in what was intended to be dozens of “schools of choice” — neighborhood- focused campuses with the specialty programs of a magnet but without the competitive admissions — Mata did a remarkable job of fitting the Montessori model of carefully guided self-direction into an often rigid DISD structure. Teachers and administrators there are passionate, energetic and wholly committed to students’ success. A-plus.

7420 La Vista Drive, 972-749-7500

Best Experiment in Legal Education

University of North Texas- Dallas College of Law

UNT-Dallas opened its new law school at a shaky time for legal education. Tuition-hungry law schools had been convincing far too many students to rack up far too much debt in pursuit of jobs that didn’t exist. And yet, despite the glut of lawyers, there remained huge segments of the population who were legally underserved, unable to access or afford necessary legal help. UNT-Dallas is focused on correcting that gap by curating public-service- minded students and giving them considerable hands-on training with the help of downtown law firms and the courts. Key to the school’s mission is its cost, just north of $14,000 per year, which is less than half of other law schools. Without the crushing burden of six-figure debt for a degree, turning out lawyers willing to work serving underserved populations might actually be a possibility.

1901 Main St., 214-752-5959, lawschool. Best Use of Iambic Pentameter

Shakespeare in the Bar at The Wild Detectives

When it comes to the Bard, our theater critic Elaine Liner is emphatic: If William Shakespeare were alive today, he’d write for The Daily Show. Too often when contemporary actors are tangling their tongues around iambic pentameter, it’s all so classical and reverent. Pish posh, say the players of the much more informal Shakespeare in the Bar troupe. Much Ado about Nothing and Love’s Labour’s Lost have never been so infectiously amusing as they were when watched with a beer in hand from the porch of The Wild Detectives bookstore in Oak Cliff. The young troupe of actors who romp through Shakespeare in the Bar tackle a new (old) play about once per season, giving us a Will to live for.

314 W. 8th St., 214-942-0108,

Best Art Exhibit

DreamArchitectonics at Dallas Contemporary

An exhibit at the Dallas Contemporary last fall used an intricate web of computer coding to create an immersive, interactive experience. The audio-visual installation called DreamArchitectonics produced dreamlike sequences based on the tone and emphasis of a human voice reading lines of poetic imagery by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. New media artists Frank and Kristin Lee Dufour of the group Agence 5970 created DreamArchitectonics to explore the way the brain responds without the stimuli of sight or sound — unique moments of reverie be Stowed by two pioneers of hyper-media art.

161 Glass St., 214-821-2522,

Best Dance Troupe

Danielle Georgiou Dance Group

With her namesake troupe, Dallas choreographer Danielle Georgiou blurs the lines between theater and dance. Her shows combine original dialogue, live music and vibrant choreography — men partner men, women partner women — and explore topics focused on gender identity. With Georgiou’s The Show about Men at the most recent Festival of Independent Theatres, she had her all-male cast singing and dancing about masculine anatomy as they stripped to their skivvies. In NICE, part of the Wyly Theatre’s Elevator Project, she presented a moving movement study of female behavior as reflected in old etiquette manuals. Georgiou doesn’t dance around controversy; she kicks it up a notch.

Readers’ Pick: Ruby Revue

Best Neighborhood


We complain about Uptown. It’s too popular, too crowded. But it’s got a lot going for it: grocery stores, navigable sidewalks, a plethora of restaurants and bars. Yes, and overpriced apartments. It’s a real estate goldmine and the developers are moving in and building up. That palpable lack of personality is exactly what they’re trying to sell in neighborhoods known for their authenticity. They’re looking at you, Deep Ellum. They’re coming for you, Lakewood. There are even designs for a West Village-style development in Oak Cliff. You can’t avoid it much longer.

Readers’ Pick: Deep Ellum

Best Art Gallery

Liliana Bloch Gallery

Liliana Bloch moved her namesake gallery this year from a modest space in Deep Ellum to the more art-centric Design District. It was a shrewd business decision, but it also signaled a step forward for the gallery, which continues to book some of the most complex, thoughtful shows in the city. For the inaugural show in the new space, Letitia Huckaby presented a series of her large photographs of Sisters of the Holy Family Motherhouse in New Orleans, the first Roman Catholic order of African American nuns. These portraits and landscapes, printed on quilts and linens, gave this exhibition a breathtaking texture. Each of Bloch’s exhibitions and her choice of artists, both local and international, are evidence of this gallerist’s exquisite taste and sharp eye for curation.

2271 Monitor St., 214-991-5617,

Readers’ Pick: Kettle Art Gallery

2650 Main St., 214-573-7622

Best New Thing in Town

Deep Vellum Publishing

If print is dead, it seems publisher Will Evans didn’t get the message. In a little over a year, he’s published seven books translated into English from other languages including French, Spanish and Russian. His commitments to both his translation company, Deep Vellum Publishing, and to the city of Dallas have injected new energy into the Dallas literary scene. In year two, Evans says, he plans to publish a dozen new titles, including the translation of a book written in French from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That’s how you turn the page into the future of the publishing biz.

Best Performance Artist

Erica Felicella

Oak Cliff’s Erica Felicella describes her art as “endurance performance.” She’s stayed awake for a week straight to explore the depths of depression. She’s sat in a confessional booth listening to visitors share their darkest thoughts and feelings. She’s locked herself in a box for two days, writing the same sentence over and over. Her work as a self-taught photographer, new media and installation/performance artist is thoughtful, personal and meaningful — and always challenging to expectations of what art should and can be.

Best Not-Music Festival

Oak Cliff Film Festival

The Dallas arts landscape is crowded with festivals each year, but the Oak Cliff Film Festival has emerged as a do-not-miss event. Founded by the partners behind The Texas Theatre, who are filmmakers themselves, this fest picks a theme each year, exploring a particular era of filmmaking, for example. (This year’s fest looked at the No Wave cinema style of the 1970s and ’80s.) Like a never-ending party, the OCFF rolls into locations scattered around Oak Cliff, and after a few screenings, audience members get friendly and chatty. For cineastes, it’s a gas.

231 W. Jefferson Blvd.,

Readers’ Pick: Deep Ellum Arts Festival

Best Place to Buy Your First Piece of Art

Kettle Art

No art gallery in Dallas is more welcoming to artists and art lovers than Kettle Art in Deep Ellum. Owners Paula Harris and Frank Campagna keep a strong rotation of local artists’ work on their walls. For firsttime buyers, it’s where you get that painting you’ll be glad you acquired when the painter’s work was still affordable. Go ahead and invest early and often. After showing at Kettle Art, a painter’s career has been known to pick up steam.

2650-B Main St., 972-834-6964,

Best Use of a Car in an Art Exhibit

The WCD (Washington Crossing the Delaware) Project by Francisco Moreno

Dallas-based painter Francisco Moreno’s most recent piece, WCD (Washington Crossing the Delaware), was a re-interpretation of the famous Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze painting of George Washington. Moreno abstracted the image using a technique known as “dazzle camouflage.” He then painted a 1975 Datsun Z in corresponding shapes and had his auto mechanic brother install a motor and drive it in circles as part of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Soluna Festival. Moreno, winner of the Dallas Museum of Art’s Anne Kimbrough Artist Award, described the project as a “camouflage interpretation of a symbolic American story executed by a German painter to inspire European revolutionaries that includes a Japanese car … swapped with an American engine that was completely rebuilt by three Mexicans.”

Best Local Podcast

Street View

Rashad Dickerson hosts the Street View podcast, an occasional program recorded in the basement of the downtown Dallas Public Library. When Dickerson started the podcast with Jasmine Africawala, DPL’s community engagement administrator, he was homeless. He says he wanted to speak directly to his community through storytelling, conversation and discussion of services and companies that help the homeless. There’s a lot of public good happening in these episodes, but there’s also honest insight into the ups and downs of life on the streets.

Best Storyteller

Rawlins Gilliland

“The Man Who Lived to Tell” describes 70-year-old storytelling master Rawlins Gilliland. A former sales director for Neiman Marcus, now a KERA radio commentator, this Dallas native spent the past year regaling audiences with three shows full of stirring, soulsearing stories from his rich and varied life. In a series of standing-room-only nights at Sons of Hermann Hall and the Kessler Theater, Gilliland shared brushes with death, encounters with great minds and adventures from a lifetime of what he describes as “simply showing up.” He says his most recent show was his last, but we refuse to believe that. When and where Gilliland shows up next, we’ll be there.

Best Artistic Middle Finger

Richard Sharum’s Observe Dallas Project

When East Dallas street photographer Richard Sharum announced that he would install a series of enormous photographic prints on the outside walls of buildings throughout downtown Dallas, he described it as a “war” with the city. It was his way of giving City Hall the bird, he says, for not doing enough for marginalized populations. Sharum, founder of the real estate photography biz Shoot2Sell, put his epic-sized photos of homeless people and Latinos in prominent, impossible-to-ignore spots to force viewers to stop and see the faces of his subjects. His public gallery of gorgeous portraits honored people too many in Dallas would prefer remain invisible.

Best Arts & Crafts Classes

Oil & Cotton

Since opening in 2010, this “creative exchange” in Oak Cliff has become a haven for art makers and crafters. Pick up materials for a new project here, or take affordable hands-on classes with local artists and creatives. Founded by art conservator Shannon Driscoll and piano teacher Kayli House Cusick, Oil & Cotton has become one of the neighborhood’s most beloved small businesses. Current classes include lessons in watercolor, macramé, calligraphy, leatherwork, enameling and tapestry weaving. If there’s an art to making people more artistic, they’ve mastered it.

817 W. Davis St., No. 110, 214-942-0474,

Readers’ Pick: Painting With a Twist

5202 W. Lovers Lane,

Best Art Party

Art Conspiracy

Originally intended as a one-night auction and party to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, Art Conspiracy kept going and is now one of the largest, rowdiest events for a good cause in this city. The organization has grown into a nonprofit community- wide charity that “conspires” to raise money and awareness for local arts programs and social causes. Last year the annual Art Con party (sponsored in part by Dallas Observer) benefited the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico. The benefit of the benefit is what a great get-down the party is, with a hot mix of artists, musicians, socialites and business titans moving and shaking for the right reasons.

3824 Cedars Springs Road, Suite 106,

Best Poetry Night

WordSpace’s Pegasus Reading Series

WordSpace, a nonprofit literary organization, has been a vital source for the Dallas literary scene for two decades. The new Pegasus Reading Series, arranged by WordSpace member and poet Sebastián Hasani Páramo, is a new forum where emerging and established writers and poets read new work. Happening monthly, in collaboration with galleries such as Kettle Art, the event includes an open mic after the featured readings, offering a safe space where words take wing.

Best Museum

Meadows Museum

Next to a tree-lined boulevard, fronted by sculptures by Henry Moore and Claes Oldenburg, the Meadows Museum on the Southern Methodist University campus houses one of the foremost collections of Spanish art outside The Prado in Spain. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, this small but impressive museum, funded by Dallas oilman and philanthropist Algur H. Meadows in 1965, houses works by Velasquez and masterpieces from the last 500 years of Spanish painting and portraiture.

5900 Bishop Blvd., 214-768-2516,

Readers’ Pick: Perot Museum of Nature and Science

2201 N. Field St., 214-428-5555,

Best Musical

Stagger Lee, Dallas Theater Center

Years in development at Dallas Theater Center, February’s world premiere of the musical Stagger Lee, written by DTC playwright-inresidence and Meadows Prize SMU writer Will Power, filled the Wyly Theatre with impressive talent — Cedric Neal (now living in London and starring in West End musicals there), M. Denise Lee, Traci Lee (Denise’s daughter), Akron Watson, Major Attaway, Ricky Tripp, DTC company member Hassan El-Amin, power-belter Tiffany Mann, Saycon Sengbloh and Brandon Gill — in a near-epic retelling of factual and mythical black history. Power, who wrote book and lyrics, with music by Justin Ellington, says this is still a workin- progress. But the lavishly designed and visually stunning production directed by Camille A. Brown, in its debut here, had a thrilling emotional pull. Its powerful take on “black lives matter” made for a wrenching commentary on what’s happening in the real world.

Readers’ Pick: Book of Mormon

Best Bridge

Continental Bridge

It was around dusk one evening during Dallas’ monsoon season last spring, and clumps of people were sprinting off the Continental Avenue bridge, just steps ahead of a wall of fat raindrops. The downpour was expected, but the lure of standing above the swollen Trinity River and watching downtown Dallas enveloped by inky clouds had been too striking to pass up. The bridge, which closed to traffic several year ago and reopened last spring as a pedestrian-only linear park, will never be as popular as Klyde Warren. It’s too monotonous, with too much concrete and too little shade to have that type of pull. But it offers majestic views of downtown Dallas and the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, a sorely needed pedestrian connection across the Trinity River and a welcome splash of whimsy (Dallas turned a car bridge into a park?!?), all without the danger of being flattened by cars.