She’s always had a thing for the fine arts. But what was once an interest has turned into a full-blown culture coup for Casa Linda resident Gigi Antoni. Working with the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs and the nonprofit company Big Thought, Antoni is bringing the arts to the kids of Dallas ISD.
Thing is, none of those students — save perhaps Antoni’s own daughter — even know whom to thank for their trips to Dallas art museums, drama camps or craft workshops. But she doesn’t mind that Big Thought works behind the scenes to fund and initiate these projects. Antoni works hard because she believes in Big Thought, not for the recognition.
“I am very passionate about the idea that all children should have really great opportunities in their lives to create and express themselves; it’s an important part of learning,” she says.
She didn’t even necessarily intend to end up CEO and president of the organization.
“I did not aspire to be CEO, but it’s what I’m passionate about and it just happened,” she says. “Now that I am older and focused, I am comfortable and confident enough to play this role.”
Antoni is pretty much an expert, having been with Big Thought for more than 20 years, first as an artistic director, then as the executive director. Big Thought supporters say that since Antoni has been at the helm, the organization secured a huge education gift — $8 million from the Wallace Foundation of New York.
Pat Porter, CEO of the North Texas Business for Culture and the Arts and a Big Thought adviser, says Antoni has done an unprecedented job.
“She is the premiere arts education goddess. She pulled it off with no fear, and no one else in the country has ever done this,” Porter says.
The money specifically funded the Dallas Arts Learning Initiative — now known as “Thriving Minds” — a cooperative project involving the DISD, the city and the Dallas Public Library, along with Big Thought, which ultimately brings students and culture together. Through Thriving Minds, every school in the district has access to the city’s cultural resources during the day, and the program brings weekly music and art instruction to classrooms.
The collaboration is allowing Big Thought to do bigger and better things all the time, and Antoni intends to keep pouring her heart into the operation, making sure the schools and students are equipped with every learning opportunity possible.
“It’s about pulling a community together and helping them plan together for their kids,” she says. “We don’t want any kids falling through the cracks.”
Antoni says it’s proven that children who have four or more years of arts education do better academically on all levels.
“I am very honored to be a part of this with my community and I want to work here as long as I am useful,” Antoni says. “It is a labor of love.”
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.