DALLAS — Monica Johnson is the type of partner you want if you have something extraordinary to accomplish.
The president of the Dallas Arts Association since 2014 and a credit analyst at Citizen’s Bank in Dallas, Johnson knows how to jump and get things done — and she does it without fanfare.
“She’s the kind of person that always brings a level of commitment and support that helps to ensure a project’s success,” said Dallas Economic Development Director AJ Foscoli, who worked with Johnson on this year’s inaugural Dallas mural contest. “She really does have a passion for art and anything that adds to a general quality of life. She understands the value that art brings to a community, even though it’s sometimes difficult to quantify in hard numbers.”
The contest asked people of all ages to submit paintings of wings of any sort for a chance to paint them in murals in the downtown area. Entries were divided into age groups, and the top three in each group were chosen to be displayed on the wall of one of 12 businesses.
The effort was a collaboration between the arts association, Dallas Downtown Association, the city of Dallas and local businesses. Foscoli said.
“It was the first time we had an art contest to get the whole community involved,” Johnson said. “We had over 80 entries.”
Though not a painter — Johnson was a dancer growing up — Johnson and other mural project partners Eddie Nelson, with the DDA, and Sheila Peirce, with the city of Dallas, helped the artists paint a few of the murals.
“We did have a muralist come out, Kev Kohler, who did help kind of give ideas to the artists who never actually painted on a such a large scale. But some of them just needed that extra help to get it done within the time frame that we had,” Johnson said. “Of course, I’ve house painted, but not actually painted anything on anything, directly. It was fun to watch all the kids and see all the people who had painted on a smaller scale to actually come to life as this very large element.”
The project now is the subject of a book, which the three entities are putting together in conjunction with the administrators of the Dallas Community Bulletin Board Facebook page. It will showcase the 12 artists, and is likely to reinvigorate interest in the wings.
One of the goals of the project was to bring people downtown to explore what Dallas has to offer. Some of wings murals are hard to find, so they draw people to places they otherwise wouldn’t go.
“From what I’ve seen of the tags, they are not all from Dallas, so folks that have never been here and they catch sight of the wings, they do wonder what is up with that and they will take pictures and tag them,” Foscoli said. “I think it’s done well. I’m hoping next year, whatever we do art wise, new people will still discover the wings.”
Johnson and her partners are already working on the follow-up contest, through this time it might not be murals.
“We are still working on that to see what we want to actually put together as far as if it wants to be painting or some other type of art project,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to over saturate with murals everywhere, so we want to bring different elements to the community.”
Sally Clark, a longtime board member of the arts association, said Johnson is skilled at keeping momentum behind projects.
“I think she is the best leader the arts association has ever had. She’s very good at keeping things moving forward without being bossy,” Clark said. “She just has a way about her that makes you want to follow her to help her out. She just so nice about it, the way she does things. She’s a talented leader.”
The arts association’s most visible project is Art in the Park, which is part of Krazy Dayz’ Sunday in the Park activities. Johnson said the year before she got involved with the association, the event had 25 artists with booths.
In the years since, the event has grown. She decided to bring in food vendors to serve lunch to accompany the artists, and live entertainment. It’s been such a success, that side of the park could be described as crowded on that Sunday in July.
“We brought in food vendors so that people can stay in the park longer to enjoy the music and performing arts,” Johnson said. “There’s sometimes that you can’t even walk on the pathway. It’s great. I love to see that.”
Clark attributes Johnson’s success as a leader to her ability to establish and cultivate partnerships. She said Johnson recruited Nelson and Peirce to serve on the association board and has helped out with the DDA and city’s events in turn.
“She had been volunteering, helping them, so that we could partner,” Clark said. “She’s built a lot of partnerships with committees within Dallas.”
The arts association also is involved with the Art & Wine Walk, this year’s Falls Family Fun Festival, and was involved with The Polk County Folklife Festival, which ended after this year’s event.
Johnson said the arts association has become a resource for artists and those running events. She said it has contact with more than 400 artists of all kinds.
“We got quite a few connections that we can send out if somebody is looking for somebody,” she said.
Johnson said she believes her role, and that of the arts association, is to find ways to be supportive of the arts in the Dallas area.
“We’re not out to gain publicity of any of kind, to take away from anybody’s (event),” she said. “But we want to help, and we want to get out for artists and things that showcase their art. If there’s places we can do that, then that’s what we want to do.”