It's In Your Art

A count for the arts? Houston Grand Opera pushes the 2010 Census as a culture aid

A count for the arts? Houston Grand Opera pushes the 2010 Census as a culture aid

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One local arts organizations is in a frenzy over Houstonians' participation in the 2010 Census, suggesting that low citizen response to the decadel procedure may be the harbinger of an era of artistic decadence.

In a recent email to patrons, the Houston Grand Opera announced, "Would you believe that by filling out your 2010 Census form, you are helping Houston Grand Opera?" According to HGO, an accurate count of Houstonians translates to more funding for arts organizations in the city.

Each year, organizations like the Opera rely on funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, the U.S. Department of Education, and other government agencies, and the HGO is warning that the population size of Houston affects the size of the grants received.

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) director of development Amber Winsor seconds HGO's sentiments. "Participation in the 2010 census is vital to arts organizations," Winsor said. "Employees working in fundraising utilize census information when writing proposals for grants, so the CAMH asserts that an accurate count very directly affects the quality of life in the community."

The Society for the Performing Arts (SPA) agrees."Greater population growth over the last 10 years since the 2000 Census will result in greater opportunities for funding for SPA from national foundations," SPA marketing director Marie Jacinto said.

The Opera's concern over the count derives from a meeting in January presented by Houston Counts, a city and Greater Houston Partnership initiative to motivate Houstonians to complete the questionnaire by April 1.

Yet many arts organizations don't seem quite so spooked by the possibility of a statistics' fallout. "The primary source of funding for arts grants is derived from hotel occupancy tax revenues," Houston Arts Alliance CEO Jonathon Glus said. "What drives the amount we receive to distribute grants is directly related to business travel and tourism."

Vance Muse of The Menil Collection seconded that arts organizations receive government funding based on HOT subsidies.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston director Peter Marzio said that the three primary government agencies that provide funds — the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and Institute of Museum and Library Services — do not base grants on population figures but on the quality of a grant application. For the MFAH, these three agencies' contributions account for less than one percent of the annual budget.

C.C. Conner, managing director of the Houston Ballet, agrees that direct grants from the NEA are not based on population numbers, but are determined by the organization's own panels. Conner noted that a higher census figure would win more seats in Congress — which might direct federal dollars to Houston arts — but that's not a guarantee.

To participate in the democratic process — and perhaps protect the arts — visit Houston Counts to retrieve the form that you've probably already lost. Arts organizations may not be shuttering their doors after the count, but an accurate figure will certainly result in a higher quality of life in Houston: Transportation upgrades, parks and air quality issues will all be addressed when a higher figure is reported.

And you just might help a tenor.