Here in Houston we create and celebrate arts and cultural heritage the same way we do so many other things – with bold strokes, rambunctious energy, and great good humor. More below…

Arts and Culture Dashboard

We’re particularly proud to brag on our most prominent and celebrated institutions, crowing (correctly) that we’re one of the few cities in the United States that boasts permanent resident companies across the major performing arts disciplines – symphony orchestra, grand opera, theater, and ballet. Not to mention exceptional fine arts museums. So yes, we’ve got good reason to toot our trumpets. These institutions have a storied history. They’re well-respected and well-reviewed throughout the country and around the globe.

Of course, when we consider Houston’s arts and cultural heritage in broad terms, we’re not all about the high-brow. Our folk and vernacular traditions encompass everything from neighborhood renditions of free expression such as the Beer Can House to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The rodeo, in fact, may be the single largest ambassador of the Houston region’s cultural identity. A recent editorial in the Houston Chronicle noted that the rodeo has become “so successful that it draws more visitors than all the people in the entire city of Houston” while still engaging a diverse and burgeoning hometown population. The Chronicle identified the rodeo and the Houston Grand Opera as exemplars of organizations that have “embraced the obligation to … reflect the community.”

Indeed, our major institutions do an admirable job of connecting with the Houston region’s diverse constituencies. And all those varied communities have generated a fertile artistic and cultural universe that reflects our manifold cultures and backgrounds, as well as our gloriously colorful future.

So when we decided to study the Houston region’s arts and cultural heritage, we knew we’d be working from a rich palette. We also knew this topic would present particular challenges, unlike those encountered in earlier reports. The arts by nature capture a subjective version of our world, and for that reason prove resistant to quantification. In the absence of hard data, the temptation is to talk about what we like or don’t like. But our aim here is not to produce a qualitative review of our arts and cultural scene. Nor is it to assess the economic or social impact of arts and culture on our region. Our aim is to come to some understanding of how well the greater Houston region cultivates, encourages, and nourishes artistic and cultural expression, particularly in terms of financial sustainability.

The Arts & Cultural Heritage Community Indicator Report focuses on three regional topics – cultural organizations, funding for the arts, and people and jobs. The work strives to capture longitudinal trends and challenges with comparisons to competitor regions within Texas and around the nation. We selected individual indicators following a literature review, and consultation with dozens of arts and cultural leaders throughout the region via interviews, focus groups, and peer review meetings. The chosen indicators reflect both the priorities voiced by these leaders, as well as practical considerations related to the availability of the existing data.

Several points stand out:

The Houston region benefits from an exceptionally generous body of supporters, and these supporters have stepped up their giving during challenging times:
  • When tracking gains in total revenue among Houston’s arts and cultural nonprofits, contributions increased by more than 80 percent over the first decade of the new millennium.
The bulk of that support has gone to the biggest, most well established institutions:
  • Nearly 88 percent of the increased contributions went to just 27 organizations, representing five percent of the total number of arts and cultural nonprofits.
The Houston region offers fertile ground for ambitious innovators:
  • More than 40 percent of the arts and cultural organizations here did not exist before the year 2000.
These new organizations struggle with funding, particularly compared to other parts of the nation. Nationally, close to a third of cultural organizations are new (founded since 2000), and bring in less than one fifth of the revenue:
  • In the Houston region, these new outfits account for 40 percent of our arts and cultural institutions, yet account for only 10 percent of the region’s total revenue accrued within the sector.
The region’s much heralded ethnic diversity is more and more reflected in its arts and cultural establishments:
  • Houston’s “ethnic and cultural awareness” nonprofits increased in number by 82 percent between 2000 and 2011, and now represent 13 percent of the region’s cultural organizations.
These organizations also struggle with funding:
  • Though representing 13 percent of the region’s arts nonprofits, cultural and ethnic awareness organizations account for less than 2 percent of the total revenue secured by the sector as a whole.
After adjusting for cost of living,
  • artists have more earning power in Houston than in any comparable region except Los Angeles.
Artists are underrepresented in nearly every occupational category when compared to the national average:
  • For example, fine artists are nearly 50 percent less prevalent in the Houston region than in comparable regions.

So it’s a story of growth and abundance, but an abundance that does not benefit as many within our region as it might. Houston is a great place for artists to get started, or to be at the top, but without any clear path from the bottom to the top, people will move on. We hope our work stimulates provocative questions and spirited conversation about how to make our artistic and cultural bounty available to all of our residents.