Houston's Future Plans

Want to see the plans for Houston's future? New vision for the city being laid out by power players

Want to see the plan for Houston's future? New vision for city in play

Cultural Arts launch event at Ensemble Theatre
Mayor Annise Parker officially launched the City of Houston's Arts and Cultural Plan at a gathering at the Ensemble Theatre Monday. Photo by David A. Brown
Cultural Arts launch event at Ensemble Theatre
Project Row Houses founder Rick Lowe, left, Mayor Annise Parker, Council Member Ellen Cohen and philanthropist Philamena Baird. Photo courtesy of the Mayor's Office of Communications
Cultural Arts launch event at Ensemble Theatre
Alongside a committee of 30-plus arts stakeholders, the team will lead this five-year initiative. Photo by David A. Brown
Cultural Arts launch event at Ensemble Theatre
Jessica Craft of Black Sheep Agency, left, Javier Fadul of Culture Pilot, Aimee Woodall of Black Sheep Agency and Melissa Darragh of Mayor's Office of Communications. Courtesy of Mayor's Office of Communications
Cultural Arts launch event at Ensemble Theatre
A green and red dot democratic exercise asked guests to vote on keywords that could limn the zeitgeist of Houston's arts and culture scene. Photo by David A. Brown
Cultural Arts launch event at Ensemble Theatre
Cultural Arts launch event at Ensemble Theatre
Cultural Arts launch event at Ensemble Theatre
Cultural Arts launch event at Ensemble Theatre
Cultural Arts launch event at Ensemble Theatre

How to change Houston's image from a city where someone comes to make a living to a place where one wants to live?

With such a charge in mind, Mayor Annise Parker officially launched the City of Houston's Arts and Cultural Plan at a gathering at the Ensemble Theatre this week. In the presence of the who's who of the city's arts cognoscenti, Parker introduced the key players at the helm.

Philanthropist Philamena Baird and Project Row Houses founder Rick Lowe will be volunteer chairs — whom Parker endearingly dubbing them "Batman and Robin" — while assistant for cultural affairs Minnette Boesel and lead consultant Debbie McNulty have accepted the responsibility of piloting the document. The last official plan that addressed Houston's cultural sector was completed in way back in 1993.

Alongside a committee of 30-plus arts stakeholders, the team will lead an ambitious, open-sourced initiative that uses a portion of revenue from the hotel occupancy tax, from which the arts are allotted 1.3 percent of this tourism levy.

 "If Houston is truly a leading indicator for America's future, we want to make sure that the arts thrive, that the arts are appreciated and that the arts are supported."

"In my time as major, I get eye rolls from other city officials when discussing Houston as the largest unzoned city in the country," Parker says. "Just because we don't have zoning, it doesn't mean we don't do planning — but we really don't plan as much as we should."

The project is part of a Houston General Plan currently being developed by the Planning and Development Department. This overall framework, scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2015, will explore how the city needs to prepare to accommodate the more than one million residents who're expected to relocate to the Bayou City in the next two decades. The General Plan will comprise a blueprint for the future of libraries, parks and bike paths, in addition to arts and culture.

"If you don't know where you want to be, how can you tell if you are on the right track?" Boesel says. "The first few months are all about listening. We're here tonight to listen and dialogue with each other, for city and organization staff to listen to the general public, and to activate arts and culture as an important topic of conversation throughout our city."

Such a lively interchange of ideas began with the event guests that included Houston Symphony CEO Mark Hanson, Houston Ballet executive director James Nelson, Miller Outdoor Theatre Cissy Segall Davis, Houston Grand Opera managing director Perryn Leech, Fresh Arts executive director Jenni Rebecca Stephenson, gallerists Nicole Longnecker and Barbara Davis, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston director Bill Arning, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston director Gary Tinterow, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts executive director Karen Farber and Houston Arts Alliance president and CEO Jonathon Glus.

 ByYou City website is an online platform for civic engagement that will serve as an interactive tool to gather public opinion.

Each was given green and red dots as a democratic exercise to vote on keywords that could limn the zeitgeist of Houston's arts and culture scene. While descriptors such as "collaborative" (next to which Andrea Cody of Dance Source Houston wrote in "synergy" as a relevant suggestion), "transformative," "multicultural," "education," "relevant," "meaningful" and "international" received the most endorsements. Terms such as "trendy," "hip" and "competitive" were overwhelmingly given the thumbs down.

Others such as "faith" and "accessible" had enough representation on both sides that further powwow would be required to define their role within the strategic planning process.

To collect input from outside the typical art consumer, Boesel announced the engagement of Black Sheep Agency's founder Aimee Woodall and chief strategy officer Monica Danna. The duo will be instrumental in driving Houstonians to the newly launched ByYou City website, an online platform for civic engagement that will serve as an interactive tool to gather public opinion.

"Will the cultural plan address education? Will the cultural plan concentrate on the marquee organizations or will it support individual artists?" questioned Parker. "Fortunately, now we will know.

"If Houston is truly a leading indicator for America's future, we want to make sure that the arts thrive, that the arts are appreciated and that the arts are supported."