Art’s Biggest Cheerleaders

Wilhem, Self named 2021 TACA Silver Cup recipients

Every year, The Arts Community Alliance honors the biggest supporters of Dallas arts, and 2021 is no exception – even though a pandemic has made appreciating art an exercise in creativity over the past year.

Preston Hollow’s Donna Wilhelm and Sam Self will be honored as TACA’s Silver Cup Award recipients in a luncheon this Spring, the organization announced.

Wilhelm and Self will be the 43rd recipients of the award, which each year spotlights two individuals who have made lasting contributions to arts and culture in the Dallas community.

“This year we’re thrilled to honor Donna Wilhelm and Sam Self, two philanthropists who’ve been faithful arts supporters and who are an inspiration to me personally,” said TACA board chair Tara Lewis. “They’ve made a notable difference in the vibrancy of our city through their gifts of time, talent, and treasure.”

Author of A Life of My Own, A Memoir, Wilhelm dedicates her book sale profits to build the capacity of underserved women, girls, and youth education. She is a life trustee of KERA, North Texas Public Broadcasting and regional Dallas Theater Center; board member of TACA, SMU Data Arts, The Nasher Sculpture Center, and a past trustee of DFW World Affairs Council. Nationally, she serves as a trustee of National Public Radio, and globally, she supports education-based initiatives in developing world countries.

After a 34-year career at Texas Instruments, Self retired in 2002 as senior vice president, corporate controller, and chief accounting officer. Since, he has served in many capacities with Dallas arts organizations, including past roles as president and executive director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra during a transition period for the organization, as well as past chair of the DSO Foundation. He serves currently as a DSO building committee member.

We talked to Wilhelm and Self about being an arts patron in a pandemic year. You can see the full conversation at

Dallas is known for being an arts-loving city, but it’s been a weird year. How do you remain a patron of the arts when a great deal of it is not as available in the ways you’re used to?

Wilhelm: Just as our arts organizations have adapted to the pandemic, I’ve had to change how I attend and support the arts. When arts performances and exhibits switched to virtual online experiences, I faced uphill challenges to improve my IT skills and expand my home office capabilities. My funding refocused to support and sustain arts vitality and resilience. All my arts board meetings are now via Zoom, however I yearn for return to in-person convenings.

Self: It is very difficult but some organizations have been creative in making their art available via the internet. For example, the DSO has continued having concerts in the Meyerson for around 150 patrons and has made those concerts available online. In addition it has taken elements of the orchestra out into the community. The Tate Lectures at SMU and, I believe, the DMA lectures are being presented using Zoom.

Thanks to the pandemic, been a very hard year for a lot of arts organizations. How does the arts community rebound from all of this?

Wilhelm:  I recommend two excellent research reports on successful arts rebounding, available from SMU Data Arts:

1) The Alchemy of High Performing Organizations, and (2) In It For the Long Haul.  Key findings include assessing how meaningful work is to local community; maintaining an adaptive culture; disciplined standards for financial health;  and objective,  strategic decision making.

Self: I think it can but it likely won’t be a quick rebound and some of the smaller organizations may be unable to bounce back.  Many employees…musicians, actors, dancers, staffers… for organizations that have completely shut down may have moved on to other jobs or locations.

I’ve interviewed several people involved in various philanthropic efforts, and one prevailing thought they all independently voice is that while they’re reluctant to say anything involved with the pandemic is a silver lining, they do think that the fact that it’s forced nonprofits to look into new ways to reach the public and fundraise will make them stronger later, even after the pandemic is over. What is your assessment?

Wilhelm: Adversity compels us to change. In order to survive and thrive, every non-profit organization must undergo rigorous assessment of strengths,  weaknesses and whether current capacity is sufficient to meet community needs.  Filling gaps may direct new collaboration, partnering and—if closely allied in culture, mission and values–mergers of compatible organizations.  Tools for successful outcomes need to be fine-honed—our ability to listen and learn from others who hold different opinions and represent diverse backgrounds.

Self: Most of the nonprofits with which I’m familiar were already using every way to fundraise but some new creative ways will surely emerge.  However, I think traditional donors, such as foundations that have stepped up during the pandemic with extra giving,  will need to continue to help nonprofits recover.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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