Just about every arts leader in Houston gathered with elected officials on the stage of Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts to tout the benefits of the city's burgeoning arts scene at the annual Elected Officials Reception for the Arts, hosted by the Houston Arts Alliance.
Amid banners with the words, "Cultural tourists spend more and stay longer," "Houston has more than 500 cultural, visual and performing arts organizations," and "More Art," Mayor Annise Parker announced the implementation of a five-year cultural arts budget using revenue from the hotel occupancy tax.
"Instead of doing it a year at a time, I wanted to give it five years of funding to get some stability," she said. "It's a time to think about where we want our arts community to be in the future. Is it about investing in more visual arts in the community? Is it about investing in arts education? It is about public facilities or is it about making sure our universities are turning out artists who are writing and performing and dancing here in Houston?"
"It's a time to think about where we want our arts community to be in the future."
Houston City Council recently passed the budget which calls for $85 million to be spent on the arts over five years, assuming that hotel occupancy rates remain high in the booming Houston economy. The city receives 7 percent of the hotel occupancy tax with 1.3 percent going to the arts. So for every $100 hotel room, $7 goes to the city and of that amount, $1.35 goes to the arts.
For the most recent fiscal year, arts groups received $14 million from the hotel occupancy tax, said Minnette Boesel, the mayor's assistant for cultural affairs.
An additional unspecified amount of hotel occupancy tax funds (known as HOT funds) will be used to create a long-term plan for the arts in Houston. A committee of arts leaders, with a lot of community input, will spend up to two years creating the blueprint for Houston's cultural future.
"The last one was done 20 years ago and the arts have expanded so much since then," Boesel said. "It's a whole new approach of how we fit in both regionally and globally."
Cities — big and small — across the nation are devising plans to maximize arts funding. In 2012, Chicago published a comprehensive roadmap for the city's cultural and economic growth, identifying 200 proposed arts initiatives and 10 priorities for "the vision of culture in Chicago to be realized."
Closer to home, the city of Sugar Land has created a Culture Arts Strategic Implementation Plan and Guide "to lay out a formal decision making process to assist in the prioritization of funding requests."
At the arts reception, city controller Ron Green noted that more than 146,000 people are employed in the arts in the Houston area, more than the the Texas Medical Center by almost 50 percent. "That's a major economic impact on our community," he said.
"We have been able to build the case for how important the arts are to our overall economy," Parker said.
City Council members David Robinson, Jack Christie, Mike Laster, Dave Martin and Richard Nguyen, along with State Rep. Gene Wu mingled with the large group of arts leaders, including Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Director Gary Tinterow, The MATCH Board president Emily Todd, Texans for the Arts executive director Ann Graham, Contemporary Arts Museum director Bill Arning, new Asia Society of Texas director Bonna Kol, Alley Theatre managing director Dean Gladden and Houston Cinema Arts Society executive director Trish Rigdon.
Also on hand were honorary Consul General of Austria Gerald Seidl, honorary Consul General of Colombia Miguel Rafael Lopez Mendez, Acting Consul General of Indonesia, Prasetyo Budhi and Houston poet laureate Gwendolyn Zepeda, who read a poem she had written for the occasion.
Houston Arts Alliance chairman of the board Marc Melcher, HAA president and CEO Jonathan Glus and board members Philamena Baird, Shannon Buggs, Michael Cordúa, Laurette Cañizares, Cissy Segall Davis, Denise DuBard, John Guess, Jr., Andrew Huang, Suresh Raghavan, M. Kaye DeWalt, Fatima Mawji and Boesel welcomed the crowd.
Other arts leaders included gallerists Barbara Davis and Nicole Longnecker, Houston Chamber Choir executive director Becky Tobin, DiverseWorks executive director Elizabeth Dunbar, Fresh Arts board chairman Harry McMahan, SWAMP executive director Mary Lampe, Houston Ballet executive director James Nelson, Art League executive director Michael Peranteau, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra executive James Rowland, Blaffer Art Museum director Claudia Schmuckli, Houston Metropolitan Dance executive director Michelle Smith, Musiqa executive director Joe Wilson, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft executive director Julie Farr, and Mercury artistic director Antoine Plante.
From the business community there were Yellow Cab president Roman Martinez, whose company sponsored the reception, Bank of America’s David Ruiz and Van Ngo and Boeing’s Dayni Alba.