Looking Back at 50 Years and the Wild TV Debut of a Crucial Arts Alliance

TACA’s Surprising Back Story

BY // 09.07.17

As TACA (The Arts Community Alliance) celebrates its 50th anniversary with a black-tie gala at the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek on Friday night, we look back at its surprising television debut — a wild, dial-for-dollars televised auction in 1967.

It’s 1967 and phones are ringing off the hook at TACA’s live TV auction — the first televised event of its kind in Dallas. Viewers clamor to place bids on everything from exotic vacations and evenings out to sports equipment and live animals, with all of the proceeds ($60,000 raised) going to the Dallas Theater Center, TACA’s first beneficiary.

What was on the auction block? Item 1227 boasted an Armadillo valued at $500. “yes, an armadillo …” the auction booklet read, “a registered armadillo, which is better than an unregistered armadillo. Plays dead.”

Item 3911 came from the now-shuttered fashion boutique, Gazebo — a design-at-home ensemble of black-and-white crepe. “It’s man-made, it’s exciting,” said the description.

Former Dallas mayor Earle Cabell donated a United States flag that had “flown over the U.S. Capitol.”

Interior designer and architect John Astin Perkins put “his favorite chair” on the block — an Italian-made reproduction of an antique French provincial piece.

Even the Dallas Cowboys ponied up, donating a Don Meredith jersey worn by the quarterback.

And the Adolphus Hotel offered a luxurious weekend, during which “You’ll dine in the new Heidelburg room, or from Room Service. Champagne flowers and your own bar will be furnished in your two-bedroom Imperial Suite, the most elegant in the city. It will be a Friday, Saturday and Sunday that will make even blue Monday joyous.”

When co-founders Evelyn Lambert and Jane Murchison stumbled across a group in Seattle raising funds for the arts through the then newfangled television medium, they knew they had to bring the concept home.

The duo joined forces with other powerhouse fundraisers Sis Carr, Virginia Nick, and Virginia Linthicum, and before long Dallas was dialing in, too.

The following year, influential connections were tapped and over-the-top donations secured to make the auction even bigger, this time adding the Dallas Civic Opera to its list of beneficiaries. So began an upward path that TACA would follow for the next half a century, funding dozens more arts organizations with each passing year.

With its scope and mission growing, TACA offered a self-definition in a 1974 issue of the Dallas Morning News: “What does TACA stand for? Everyone asks, and the answer: it stands for nothing, except the arts. The word itself is a coined one invented to find a memorable word that would mean ‘auction for the arts.’ TACA was the answer.”

While many things about TACA have not changed — its dedication to the arts, big-thinking supporters and growing number of benefactors — the memorable acronym has acquired a less flippant meaning. Today, TACA stands for The Arts Community Alliance and provides myriad resources and services to Dallas artists in addition to funding.

The final word on the last 50 years: To date its distributed more than $27 million to 167 emerging and established performing arts organizations. And to think, it all started in the ’60s with TACA TV.

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