The sluggish economy has presented challenges to Houston arts groups, but the arts scene remains lively, diverse and exciting. We asked a sample of Houston arts leaders to tell us why the arts are integral to the city. Here's what they had to say:
"The arts are a universal language that inspires and enables us to communicate in ways that transcend cultural, age, political and economic boundaries."
— Alecia Lawyer, founder and oboist, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra
"Brain science is demonstrating that creativity is not a specialized activity but rather a basic part of the operation of the human brain. Creativity is implicated in every aspect of our mental lives: Every time we change our mind or say something new, we are creating outcomes that have never existed before. In fact, we would have a hard time turning the creativity off! The arts matter because they are the outward expression of internal processes that we all share: They help us know ourselves more deeply and each other."
“George Santayana wrote, 'Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' The arts are a pleasurable way to understand prior eras as well as facets of the contemporary world.
History is recreated for us in many forms. For instance, from portraits we learn human attitudes, styles of dress, and societal values in how people present themselves and the objects that surround them.
A captivating face might lead us to investigate more about the subject’s accomplishments and failures and the time in which they lived. Photographs of the Great Wall of China led me to books on why border walls have historically never worked to prevent invasions.
The arts present us with the full range of human emotions from joy to grief and from peace to horror. What provoked the artist to evoke a particular mood or scene? Whether its music, literature, film, or the other visual arts, I ask myself: 'What did this artist want me to think? What am I encouraged to feel?'
Testing our powers of observation, we perceive revealing details, shifts in palette and scale. Through our questions we come to understand the artists’ perceptions and put them in the context of their specific era and culture. From looking, listening, and measuring, I learn.”
— Anne Wilkes Tucker, The Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
"Art transforms us — artist and audience alike. Great art is not always beautiful, calming or entertaining, but it provides insight into ourselves and those around us, changing the way we understand the world."
-Sixto Wagan, Co-Executive Director & Performing Arts Curator, DiverseWorks
"The arts truly are part of what binds humanity together. They provide a forum for expression and communication, a platform for imagination and creativity, and establish a framework for broader cultural understanding by encouraging us to view the world in new and different ways."
— Diane Barber, Co-Executive Director & Visual Arts Curator, DiverseWorks
"Why are the arts important? Because there is no other kind of human activity that inspires, delights, irritates, moves, and motivates us more."
— Matthew Dirst, Associate Professor of Music,Moores School of Music, and Artistic Director, Ars Lyrica Houston
"In the face of what's being called 'the creativity crisis,' the arts transport us to the part of our selves that is truly unique. Both when we are creating art and when we are enjoying art, we find ourselves suddenly able to think new thoughts."
— Robin Reagler, Executive Director, Writers in the Schools (WITS)
Writers in the Schools writer Eric Higgins inspires his class to think creatively using art from the Menil Collection as the subject.
"I think the arts are more important now than ever. Interaction with a work of art — painting, music, a poem — lifts us out of the daily grind and brings us to another place, one where we feel, think and experience deeply that which could otherwise be ignored; art brings us real renewal.
Just the other day, I stopped at a red light and turned on the car radio to hear the closing minutes of Beethoven's last string quartet (coincidentally, in the St. Lawrence Quartet's live performance for Da Camera last season). In just minutes, I was lifted out of a state of banal impatience, waiting for the light to change, and transported to a place of spiritual transcendence; I was moved. This is the magic of art."
— Sarah Rothenberg, Artistic Director, Da Camera of Houston
"Art is important because it fulfills the inherent need and desire to create and express. It is a part of daily life whether one is 5 or 50 years old. Art gives pause to think, feel and appreciate an idea, action or craft."
— Mary Magsamen, Curator, Aurora Picture Show
"Anyone can dance, sing, paint or make music — some far better than others. But these acts are part of human expression and it's what draws us to the arts. What I find so powerful in classical ballet is seeing the human body in near perfect form as a vehicle for self expression engaged in movement that defies our expectations.
Combine that with the shared experience of a live performance, and through dance we unite a community through inspiration and imagination."
— James Nelson, General Manager, Houston Ballet
"Art at its best is pushing the creative boundaries so far to the edge that you create a new edge."
— Reginald C. Adams, President/CEO, Museum of Cultural Arts Houston (MOCAH)
"Why are the arts important?
At first blush, the simplest of answers is that arts allow for the expression of thought and provide a sense of entertainment; however, we here at Theatre Under The Stars know that exposure to the arts provides manifold benefits beyond simple artistic expression and entertainment.
Empirical evidence confirms that young people who take part in after school arts programs are four times more likely to win school-wide attention for academic achievement, four times more likely to participate in a math or science fair, and three times more likely to win an award for school attendance. Compared to their peers, young artists are more likely to participate in youth groups nearly four times as frequently, read for pleasure nearly twice as often, and perform community service more than four times as often. The story doesn’t end here, though.
To demonstrate how far the long arm of the arts extends, even businesses recognize the effect of the arts in the workplace. It’s no secret that exposure to the arts spurs creativity, innovation and the applied skills that accompany innovation. To translate this point into the working world, the business environment has become so competitive that business leaders across the nation look for not only a high level of education but also intangibles such as creativity and innovation to attain a better competitive edge. Further, when weighing options for relocation, businesses typically include quality of life into their consideration. Houston’s thriving arts community is one element of our city that attracts and retains business.
Another reason the arts are important is the social attribute. The experience of engaging in the arts weaves people together with the common thread of shared experiences. Arts events serve as a source of pride for the city’s residents, providing a sense of connection among individuals to the larger Houston community. Art has the ability to convey a message that speaks for entire communities – art can commemorate a community’s history and identity, provide a voice to a largely unheard population and express frame-breaking points-of-view.
From the students in school to the job field, from local business to social spheres, Houston’s arts scene sets the stage for cultural and educational enrichment for one and all. For these reasons, TUTS has dedicated itself to enriching life through the experience of quality musical theatre and positively impacting lives beyond the stage through innovative education and community outreach initiatives."
— John Breckenridge, President and CEO, Theater Under the Stars (TUTS)
"For me, the arts are what make us human. Since the dawn of time, we humans have been expressing ourselves through art. The arts spark creativity, improve education, enlighten, stimulate, provoke, amuse, startle, soothe. The arts build bridges between cultures.
The performing arts have been part of my life since I was a child---they have enriched me beyond my wildest imagination. To be able to share my passion for the performing arts with hundreds of thousands of Houstonians and visitors each year at Miller Outdoor Theatre gives me great joy. Especially with the children. I hope that a performance they see here might be the spark that ignites that same passion in them. And that what they create will touch another life and then another and another…."
— Cissy Segall Davis, Managing Director, Miller Outdoor Theatre
"This year we've seen devastating budget cuts in the arts. However, these cuts do not diminish the importance that the arts have in our lives and especially in the lives of our youth.
When I was in my teens my art expression was dance and it motivated me to go to high school and then to be the first in my family to attend college. Because of my art I was thrown together with people from all walks of life which taught me how to work with others, tolerate diversity, it also helped me develop my self-confidence and determination. Some day soon, I hope our government will recognize the importance of the arts and truly support them."
— Cressandra Thibodeaux, Executive Director, 14 Pews
"The arts are what make us human. Painting, music, fashion, movies, even the chairs you sit on can all bring beauty and lift the heart. In an increasingly graceless world, I think such moments should be encouraged."
"The arts help us to connect to the deepest and most intimate aspects of our beings; the irony is that when we retreat into our own personal memories and emotions through the arts, we are not more isolated, but more unified with our fellow man."
— Julie Thayer, French Horn, Houston Symphony