Art Shakeup

Two major Houston arts groups are merging as Jenni Rebecca Stephenson takes a power position

Two major Houston arts groups are merging as Jenni Rebecca Stephenson takes a power position

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Fresh Arts Coalition and Spacetaker are tying the knot. The groups' boards of directors announced a merger Tuesday, which is scheduled to be completed in several months. Courtesy of Spacetaker
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Jenni-Rebecca Stephenson, Spacetaker's executive director will lead the new entity, Fresh Arts. Courtesy of Spacetaker
ARTernative
Spacetaker and Fresh Arts have previously implemented education workshops, outdoor festivals like Julydoscope at Discovery Green and the ARTernative Festival at CityCentre and Sugar Land's Town Square (pictured.)
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ARTernative

Fresh Arts Coalition and Spacetaker are tying the knot. The groups' boards of directors announced a merger Tuesday, which is scheduled to be completed in several months. CultureMap was first to report that this merger was coming back on Nov. 10.

The new entity will be wed as Fresh Arts. According to Spacetaker's website, the name is aligned with the missions of both nonprofits and share a joint vision for the future. 

It's already been determined that Jenni Rebecca Stephenson, Spacetaker's executive director, will be at the helm of the consolidated operations. Wells Fargo vice president of business development Harry McMahan will lead a joint 14-member board. A new website is in the works.

The staffing structure will evolve as Stephenson plans on adding innovative individuals passionate about the arts community. Position descriptions will be posted soon. In the meantime, the Houston Endowment has committed funds to work out procedural logistics during the transition.

"The Houston Endowment, a generous benefactor of Houston's arts and tireless seeker of efficiencies, was delighted with news of the merger discussions and provided funding for its execution," Stephenson tells CultureMap. "We are so grateful for the Endowment's vision, guidance and support through this process." 

The move comes at a critical time for Fresh Arts, which has gone without an executive director since Ian Garrett was fired from the post in November because of "a difference of vision." Karen Farber, the coalition's board president at the time, told CultureMap that Fresh Arts was looking to grow in a different direction and she wanted to ensure the needs of the members were being met: Garrett's bold approach didn't cut it. 

 As a unified front, it's the hope that this new entity creates more resources to serve emerging artists, small to midsize nonprofits and art consumers.

But if this year's Glasstire/Fresh Arts Coalition "Disaster Ball" is any indication of community support, the crowd of more than 400 is testimony that Fresh Arts stakeholders stood behind the transition hoping for the best.

Informal merger talks began even before Garrett's tenure. But proper discussions didn't start until shortly after his dismissal.  

"The merger negotiations have been smooth, " McMahan says. "Synergies between the organizations were evident from the beginning."

Both Fresh Arts and Spacetaker have been hard at work, exercising their due diligence for five months, parsing through growth options with the help of consultant Kim Sterling of Sterling Associates. As a unified front, it's the hope that this new entity creates more resources to serve emerging artists, small to midsize nonprofits and art consumers.

"A significant aspect of successful marketing is leveraging public relations and advertising, " Stephenson says. "Spacetaker has historically been very strong in the public relations realm, whereas Fresh Arts has had a large advertising reach. Combining these two components strategically will result in better results in both arenas."

Spacetaker and Fresh Arts have previously implemented education workshops, outdoor festivals like Julydoscope at Discovery Green and the ARTernative Festival at CityCentre and Sugar Land's Town Square.

Sure, there are small areas where their offerings intersect and overlap. From an outsider's view, it may appear that both organizations tread in similar waters. But they don't.

Think of Spacetaker as a support system for emerging artists of any genre. At its Artist Resource Center, visitors will find cutting edge exhibitions, financial workshops and opportunities to connect with the public. An online portal allows artists to create individual profiles and promote their work. Regular mailings keep artists apprised of work openings and available grants.

The brainchild of photographer David Brown, Spacetaker was set up to assist up-and-coming talent.

Founded by Marita Fairbanks in 2002, Fresh Arts acts as a marketing arm for a select 25-member roster of art presenters. Each pays a yearly fee for advertising and related support services. In the coalition are Stages Repertory Theatre, Opera in the Heights, Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra and Southwest Alternate Media Project.

Whereas Spacetaker has a strong brand in the indie art community, Fresh Arts is better known to cash-giving philanthropists.

Editor's note: Joel Luks is a former member of Spacetaker's board of directors.