The organized arts and humanities generally don’t save lives directly during emergency situations. Yet they save our culture — our shared memory — over the long run. Here are some ways the state and national communities are responding to Harvey and where the help will be most needed.
The National Endowment for the Arts is working with the Texas Commission on the Arts to assess the situation. NEA Chairwoman Jane Chu: “As the current situation stabilizes, the NEA is prepared to direct additional funds to these state arts agencies for re-granting to affected organizations, as we have done in the past.”
The Texas Library Association and Texas State Library and Archives Commission are working to coordinate a response for the affected library community.
While some smaller arts facilities have been devastated on the coast (see image from Rockport), the massive Houston Theatre District has sustained enormous damage, as it has in previous storms (much of it was built underground not far from Buffalo Bayou).
At the Alley Theatre, the small Neuhaus Theatre and its lobby were flooded. The same spaces were severely beat up during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.
The Wortham Theatre Center, where Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet perform, took water on the Brown Theatre stage and out front of the house. The basement with its costume and prop storage, however, was totally flooded.
On the other hand, the Hobby Center and Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, came off relatively unscathed, although the parking garages were inundated.
The former head of the Texas Book Festival will now lead the Texas Cultural Trust.
Heidi Marquez Smith takes over as executive director at the statewide arts advocacy group after the departure of Jennifer Ransom Rice.
“As a long-time, passionate advocate for literacy and the arts, I am thrilled to be part of an organization that promotes the vital role of the arts in education and actively supports our state’s many talented artists and educators,” Marquez Smith says. “I look forward to advancing the work of the Trust to build awareness of the quantifiable impact of art in the classroom and the Texas economy, and the important role of the arts in building a competitive workforce for the future of our state.”
Most recently a consultant with her own firm, Marquez Smith is actively involved in the leadership of the Texas Lyceum, St. David’s Foundation, Dell Children’s Trust and Texas Book Festival. She also volunteers at Eanes Elementary School, Hill Country Middle School, Eanes Education Foundation, Pop-Up Birthday, LBJ Presidential Library and the city of Rollingwood.
Perhaps most impressively, she served as Special Assistant to the President for Cabinet Liaison under President George W. Bush.
It takes quite a diplomat to run the Trust, which hands out the Texas Medal of Arts in a grand biennial ceremony; directly promotes arts education; and meanwhile attempts to convince Texas legislators to support dollars for the arts. Recently, that august body reduced funding by 28 percent, which means that soon only $6 million will be spent by the state each year on the arts. By way of contrast, the city of Austin alone spends $12 million.