The Influentials
Catherine Cuellar

The new Arts District executive director on Dallas' embarrassment of riches

The new Arts District director on Dallas' embarrassment of riches

Catherine Cuellar, executive director of Dallas Arts District
“Dallas deservedly has a reputation as the working artist capital of the U.S.,” says new Arts District executive director Catherine Cuellar. Photo by Sylvia Elzafon

There is no area of the city more vibrant than the 68-acre Dallas Arts District, the largest area of its kind in the nation. There, major cultural institutions share space with innovative architecture, burgeoning high-rises, and restaurants from the city’s culinary stars.

The Arts District’s promising future is now in the hands of new executive director Catherine Cuellar. A former community arts columnist for the Dallas Morning News, KERA reporter and managing editor of Pegasus News, she has also served on the city’s Cultural Affairs Commission for years as an at-large member.

Cuellar started her art career as a teen docent at the Dallas Museum of Art, and her childhood memories include the laying of the building’s cornerstone. Her new role is a homecoming of sorts, with a two-fold goal of enhancing communication among district stakeholders and being an ambassador for the arts in Dallas.

She’s excited to share what she sees as an “embarrassment of riches” with both our city and the world. “We’re living in a real Renaissance time right now,” she says. “We’re going to look at this moment the way people look at LA in the ’70s or Paris in the ’20s. I think Dallas deservedly has a reputation as the working artist capital of the United States.”

Below, just a few of the things that make Cuellar’s world go ’round:

What is your chief characteristic?

Connecting good people and ideas. My dad, who grew up with hundreds of cousins, calls me “the Kevin Bacon of Dallas.”

Your idea of happiness?

It may not sound believable given my new role, but really it is enjoying concerts and exhibits with friends and family.

Your idea of misery?

My home is across the street from Vogel Alcove, and I’m reminded every day my problems are first world. I see the challenges my neighbors are facing due to poverty and domestic violence, and I have nothing to complain about.

Your favorite food and drink?

My parents have a Tex-Mex restaurant called El Corazon de Tejas, and I eat there at least three times a week. And I love the original recipe of Dr Pepper from Dublin, Texas, before they stopped making it.

I do like to go to Cedars Social or The Chesterfield and have the bartender make me something, depending on what I’m in the mood for.

Your favorite motto?

My motto is, “She who laughs, lasts.” It’s my variation on “He who laughs last, laughs best.” There’s also a quote I really like that I think President Truman said: “It’s amazing how much you can get accomplished if you don’t care who gets credit.”

Your favorite heroes in real life?

Teachers, because I really feel education is the solution to all our other problems. I had great teachers I’m still friends with, and my mom was a public school teacher before I was born.

If not yourself, who would you be?

That’s an absurd question! I don’t know… my sister? Stevie Wonder? I don’t know! [laughs]

What is your favorite pastime?

Walking is my favorite; I joke that I lead a radically pedestrian lifestyle. I’ve carved out this Manhattan fantasy in my hometown, walking past priceless architecture and art every day. It’s luxurious to not deal with road rage.

What do you love most about Dallas?

There are so many talented people sharing their gifts here. I’m really humbled to be here. My entire family is here, and I’ve been here most of life, so I love seeing friendly faces wherever I go.

What would you change about the city?

More parks and fewer parking lots.

What makes a true Dallasite?

There are a lot of things: vision, humor, flexibility, grit or pluck. The accessory for a true Dallasite would be bright red lipstick.