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Thank you for joining Houston's arts sector on Monday, June 12

for The Mayoral Forum on Arts & Culture. 

If you'd like to learn more about the event, see

Houston Public Media, Houston Arts Journal, and Glasstire.

The Mayoral Forum on Arts & Culture was organized by

Houston's seven state-designated cultural districts,

including Arts District Houston, East End Houston Cultural District,

5th Ward Cultural Arts District, Houston Museum District,

Midtown Cultural Arts and Entertainment District, Third Ward Cultural

Arts District, and Theater District Houston. 

With special thanks to ALMAAHH Texas, Arts Accountability Houston,

BIPOC Arts Network and Fund, Hobby Center for the Performing Arts,

Houston Alliance for Latinx Arts, Houston Arts Alliance, Houston Endowment

and Poppi Georges-Massey.


QUESTION: Do you have an Arts & Culture policy plan or policy statement? If so, please send a copy.


Amanda K. Edwards: While I do not currently have an Arts & Culture policy plan, my core focus is about building a Houston where each of us can thrive here, including the artistic community that brings such value and character to our city. As a former Project Row Houses Board President and At-Large Houston City Council Member, I know the significance of supporting both large and small performance and visual arts & culture in our community. Arts & culture is one of our most significant gems in our city. I look forward to working with cultural advocates like Cultural Launch to fully address the needs of Houston’s artists. My vision for this community is to make Houston’s Arts & Culture a more prominent part of the Houston narrative and ensure that we promote and support this gem both internally and externally. While I was on City Council, I led a widespread effort that resulted in the SuperBowl paying for Art murals painted by the community in different parts of our city.


Robert Gallegos: As mayor I will build on the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) to make sure the City's Civic Art Program reflects the diversity of our city. I will advocate the importance of continuing the City of Houston's Civic Art Program Equity Review each year.  It will give artists in our diverse communities the opportunity to be part of our City's Civic Art Program.


Gilbert Garcia: I support increasing the Quality of Life for all Houstonians and Art and Culture play an important role in achieving that goal. To show my dedication to this important issue, I released a 7-point Pledge to Houston to elevate Houston to be one of the great world cities. Art and culture enhance the aesthetic apparel of Houston but also contribute to community unity, education, and economic development. 


Lee Kaplan: I don’t have a specific plan, but I have long been a supporter of the arts and that would continue as Mayor.


Sheila Jackson Lee: Yes. See document for policy statement.


John Whitmire: At this time I have not published policy plans or statements on any issue, but my thoughts on Arts & Culture are the city of Houston should 1) continue to increase exposure to the arts and cultural events throughout the city; 2) foster the growth of a strong arts community that truly reflects Houston’s diversity; and 3) use City-controlled funds to leverage more state, federal, and private sector funding for the arts. I am especially interested in providing young Houstonians with the opportunity to experience and participate in diverse artistic and cultural experiences.


Robin Williams: I currently do not have an Arts & Culture policy but I have openly supported various artists. I will stand and fight for artists publicly.

QUESTION: How do you personally participate in the arts and culture both in Houston and when traveling?


Amanda K. Edwards: Like any proud Houstonian, I love the variety of arts opportunities available to us as residents, from world-renowned endeavors like Houston Opera to one-of-a-kind events like the Art Car festival. But one of my most fulfilling volunteer accomplishments over the course of my career was serving as board president of Project Row Houses, a phenomenal local organization dedicated to providing cultural and artistic opportunities as it builds community within the Third Ward area.


Robert Gallegos: As the district council member representing downtown, I was instrumental in bringing the Dia De Los Muertos Downtown Festival and evening parade to Houston which has been very successful.  When traveling I enjoy attending plays and cultural events in the city I am visiting.  


Gilbert Garcia: I am passionate about the arts and my wife DeeDee and I are large donors. We support, finance and produce Broadway shows. We have been involved in the production of “Tina”, “Cinderella”, “New York New York” and “Over The Rainbow.” I am an official Tony nominated producer of New York, New York. I feel supporting these shows is an excellent way to contribute to the cultural landscape and bring the joy of theater to audiences. In Houston I personally support financially and attend plays and musicals at The Hobby Center, The Miller Outdoor Theatre, The Alley, and the AD Players and even the funny Houston Night Court. Supporting and attending local productions is crucial for nurturing the art community and promoting a thriving cultural environment. I also love concerts and attend every chance that I can! In addition I am on the Board of the Children’s Museum and I support their summer programming and love the educational programs they put on for children.


Lee Kaplan: My wife Diana and I have been season ticketholders to the Ballet since we first arrived in Houston after law school. Diana has been Chair of the Board of the Lawndale Art Center and we have frequently donated to other arts-related groups. Through my longtime association with Troop 212 in Third Ward, I have encouraged and participated in multiple Eagle projects, as for example the recent painting of a mural by Scouts on a building at the Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ. Finally, I am an amateur painter and have several pieces hanging in my firm’s offices.


Sheila Jackson Lee: I view the arts as a vital lifeline in Houston and any city in America. My involvement in the arts has been long standing and I might say extensive. I am very pleased to have been a member of the Houston Industrial Board that created one of the most significant art facilities in the country, the Wortham Theatre. The creative work the board did was to use industrial bonds to help provide the city’s contribution to this facility. I have been a member of the Houston Grand Opera Board, a member of the Ensemble board, a founding member of the Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC). I have worked to provide resources to MECA, and the Houston Ambassadors Folklorico. I am excited to have also been a founding member of one of our special museums, the Children's Museum. I have advocated for and supported the new downtown mural initiative, and as a member of Congress, I have been one of the strongest supporters of the National Endowment for the Arts. I also believe in supporting small art organizations and cultural events and neighborhood arts, and I encourage and participate in the High School for Performing Arts in their artistic presentations. When traveling, I view the art and culture of my destination as an important part of my visit if I have the appropriate time to do so. But in Washington, D.C., I have been a strong supporter of the Kennedy Center and have hosted a musical program at the Kennedy Center highlighting the art of gospel music for ten years. I am the Chair of the Jazz Caucus in the US Congress, and was the leader and initiator through legislation to bring the historic sculpture of Sojourner Truth to the US Capitol and supporting bringing the statue of Rosa Parks to the US Capitol. I would like to think that my view of the arts is, again, that it is living, that it gives life, and that it gives substance to our communities, and I will want to continue that in a large way with Houston's arts and culture community.


John Whitmire: As my schedule allows, I enjoy attending arts events. While traveling to Chicago, I was able to see “Hamilton,” but visiting museums here at home is a pleasure.


Robin Williams: I have always been enamored by the arts and the cultures that created it. Throughout my campaign I have hosted “poetry slams” and spoke at different cultural festivals. Providing artists with a platform to express or share their gifts/talents is imperative to my campaign. While traveling, I am instantly drawn towards local artists and their stories. I try to “purchase with a purpose” and pay artists their desired fee. Many artists work full time on their crafts and take pride in building up their image.


QUESTION: What specific strategies would your administration undertake to ensure the growth and stability of the creative sector?


Amanda K. Edwards: Just like too many Houston residents, artists often struggle to make ends meet, taking on work outside of their creative field just to pay the bills, and too many of these jobs do not pay a living wage. That is why the City of Houston’s recent efforts on minimum wage have been so important, and why I will fight to continue to expand wage and benefits protections as mayor. I will ensure that arts funding through our local agreement with HAA is adequate, and I will implement a citywide arts & innovation festival to provide more awareness about the vast arts community in Houston. I will also use the convening power of the mayor to bring artists and arts organizations together with public and private funders and local developers to address the particular needs of artists with respect to live/work options. Solving these issues starts with a collaborative stakeholder effort to identify the specific housing and workspace barriers artists are up against and – through research including a survey of other cities’ best

practices -- to identify potential solutions that will work here in Houston.


Robert Gallegos: My administration will work with Independent School Districts (ISDs) within the city on the importance of art education for public school students to expand their awareness in the arts and culture which will provide a larger base of future artists, patrons and supporters.


Gilbert Garcia: I think Education is an important part to ensure the stability of the creative sector so I would work with all the school districts to ensure students have access to arts programming.  This would also ensure appreciation for the arts and encourage possible creative careers for some students. I would also advocate for our arts organizations and artists with favorable art policies making sure every group has a seat at the table so that every voice is heard. I would collaborate with other government entities to ensure our communities are enriched with art by supporting more marketing and increasing visibility for our artists. This may mean that we use social media to highlight our local artists to attract more audiences and encourage a thriving art scene.


Lee Kaplan: Making our city safer and cleaner will ensure the growth and stability of every part of our city, including the creative community. Beyond that, I publicly support the creative community and will use my public voice to promote key artistic projects.


Sheila Jackson Lee: I would seek to meet with the creative sector of our community every quarter and listen to their needs and suggestions for amplifying the uniqueness and excellence of Houston's art community. I will establish in my office a cultural arts ambassador outside of the regular structure where the ambassador will seek to engage with every part of the cultural art community. Through this process, we will gain a better understanding of the needs of the cultural arts and the visual arts community. We will emphasize that the arts are essential for education and bring more students into the activities of the arts. We will strengthen education by giving more students access to the arts. My administration will amplify and ensure the growth of all of the arts. Finally, through the regular meetings held every quarter, we will consistently be able to stay ahead of the needs of the creative arts community and seek collaborative partners in corporate Houston and through Houston's foundations to seek additional stability and growth for the creative sector.


John Whitmire: First, my administration will continue to support Houston-based artists through HAA grants and will actively seek additional state and federal support. Second, we will work to include more representatives from Houston’s diverse communities in the grant selection process and encourage individual artists and groups throughout Houston to seek funds. Third, we will work to involve the arts and design community in more City projects. Finally, we will work to encourage public-private partnerships to increase the amount of funding that is available to the Houston arts and creative community and do what we can to stimulate the continued philanthropic support of the arts.


Robin Williams: I currently have an amazing poet on my team and I understand the magnitude of growing the creative sector at city hall. “Earl The Poet” has set the tempo for future artists to join my administration. Houston is full of dynamic artists and I plan on weaving artists into every aspect of different cultures. In addition, Houston is the most diverse city in the United States. I truly believe in the culture and the different “fruits it bears” .


QUESTION: What opportunities exist for Houston’s artists and creative community to work more closely with city departments?


Amanda K. Edwards: A significant number of our city construction contracts have a percentage of public art funding attached to them. I will enhance that avenue of securing public art. I want Houston to be known nationally for its public art murals and visual arts performances so I will increase these elements. Another way of supporting underserved communities would be to examine where opportunities exist to use our landmark district designation to support our diverse neighborhoods, unique landmarks, and cultural spaces. These designations can really highlight the cultural spirit of our neighborhoods and provide a point of connection for

small businesses, artists and community residents. As mayor, I will also advocate for creative partnerships that can target arts engagement directly to communities with the least access, including through arts-specific after-school and summer enrichment

programs for young people.


Robert Gallegos: As mayor I would have MOCA work with city departments to encourage artists to be involved in the design and aesthetics of infrastructure projects.


Gilbert Garcia: Public Art can be added to city projects murals or mini murals or sculptures and housing to make areas more desirable and vibrant. City Buildings can also incorporate public art and art shows/exhibits in libraries and city buildings and parks and even surrounding areas like the airport. Which would create opportunities for artists to show their work and engage the community. By collaborating with city departments new grants can be sought to fund public art initiatives. These grants can support the creation and maintenance of public art installations. Public- private partnerships are another valuable avenue for securing funding and resources to support the arts. I believe opportunities exist to work with the super neighborhood alliances to identify needs in each area of town to create a comprehensive plan for public art. This would ensure that the projects would align with the specific characteristics of each neighborhood making them more meaningful and impactful. During my time as Metro Chairman, I was intentional in adding art at different Metro locations created by Houston artists. This showcased the local talent we have in our diverse community.


Lee Kaplan: I will continue to support Houston’s Civic Art Program. Beyond that, I believe that everyone’s contributions will be necessary to make Houston the best it can be. Therefore, I will seek input from the creative community for solutions to issues throughout our government.


Sheila Jackson Lee: The city will benefit from the creative community working with its many departments, as it will be an open door to have collaborative activities with the city and the creative community. Specifically, our parks and recreation could benefit from more art installations. The people in the parks will benefit from more arts — new art installed will be for our neighborhoods and their visitors to enjoy. I'd like to have more open space in the parks: hearing from the creative community, I will take suggestions as to how that would be best utilized. I will put together time at the Houston Planning Department for the arts community to speak, so that they may contribute to enhanced planning that would reflect the input from the creative community. And it would be helpful that the Public Works Department would engage with our creative sector to contribute to the overall beautification of our city and the public works projects that are built regularly. Finally, it is important that the mayor's cabinet is aware of the creative community, and as we

continue our quarterly meetings, we will maintain a good relationship that will further develop creative art input. This will help establish Houston's brand as a destination city, which in reality has the best art assets and the best creative community that is welcoming to artists around the world and around the nation. We will ensure artists are welcome and that we support the creative community.


John Whitmire: We should include art and design early in almost everything the City does. By working with Houston’s arts and creative community, we can improve the experience people have when coming in contact with the City. 


Robin Williams: City hall currently has a poet position available. However, I plan on expanding opportunities for local artists. In addition, providing new incentives for artists joining my administration. Having an artist to articulate the concerns of mental health, crime, flooding, and homelessness can bring awareness that changes need to happen.


QUESTION: The amount of public funding for the arts through grants is currently limited to HOT funds. Would you consider any additional funding mechanisms and if so, please explain?


Amanda K. Edwards: I would consider an additional funding mechanism for the arts in the form of new revenue. A solution that some cities have employed is a voluntary arts contribution program, in which individuals have the option to direct a specified amount from their property tax payment to support the arts. As an At-Large City Councilmember, I led a revenue review that resulted in my identifying millions of dollars in budget revenue that became available for operational use. This type of creative thinking is necessary as we develop a sustainable funding plan for our valuable arts sector.


Robert Gallegos: As mayor I will ask MOCA to work with Management Districts and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones (TIRZ) to agree to spend a percentage of their funds in cultural districts and/or community assets.  I would have my administration push for state Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funding to be used with the passing of state bill 1057 as an additional funding mechanism.


Gilbert Garcia: I would be open to exploring different options for funding the Arts in Houston. I would encourage more Public/ Private Partnerships and work with developers to ensure art is part of each development.


Lee Kaplan: I believe that Houston must take care of basic city services first. They are tackling crime, picking up the trash in every neighborhood, and addressing our critical infrastructure needs and preventing major flooding. These steps will help every aspect of our community. Once these needs are properly addressed, I would consider more funding for the arts.


Sheila Jackson Lee: Regarding additional funding mechanisms for the arts, yes, I would consider them. I believe Houston has the best arts program in the nation and is competitive with other major West and East Coast cities. We must tell the stories of the different museums, musical forums, dance, visual arts, and sculptures that exist in this city.  Besides the HOT funds, a mayor must take leadership in seeking an enhanced corporate funding investment. We must explore potential use of capital funds and general funds, and my team would study the possibility. However, in addition, I have been very effective in bringing federal funds to Houston, and I will seek enhanced opportunities to receive federal grants and direct funding through the National Endowment for the Arts, supported by the city's applications. I also know that national foundations, not tied to a specific state, offer possibilities for specific programmatic arts, including our unique museums. I believe that a unified arts community would be successful in securing these additional funds, and I will be a real partner to the creative community in seeking more resources. I will also promote the arts community through our channels, such as Houston First, among others.


John Whitmire: In addition to HOT funds, there are funds for civic art collected through the Civic Art Ordinance. Currently, only vertical projects are eligible for civic art funds; we should consider including some horizontal projects. We will also encourage the private sector to include more art in their projects.


Robin Williams: Yes, I would add additional funding to the arts. However, I would honestly have to review the budget to ensure that every organization is granted the proper funds.


QUESTION: Which recommendations would you prioritize from the FY22 Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) Equity Review?


Amanda K. Edwards: The FY22 MOCA Equity Review highlights some important progress the city has made toward a civic art program that represents the full representational breadth of our city; it also makes clear that we have some way to go to fulfill that goal. What connects the different observations and recommendations in the report is the need for real, substantive community involvement in our decision-making as a city. Whether deciding about city art acquisitions or whether and how our public development projects incorporate public art, it matters that community voices are at the decision-making table. As mayor, I will prioritize actively seeking and incorporating input from all of our diverse communities as we make Houston a truly world class city with respect to art and culture.


Robert Gallegos: Changes to the Civic Art Program Selection Process and Program Practices have resulted in more diversity among applicants, panelists, and commission opportunity finalists. Gathering information on race/ethnicity and gender from all artists applicants resulted in more nuanced racial/ethnic and gender representation and broader demonstration of cultural diversity within the Civic Art Collection.


Gilbert Garcia: I believe the city’s art collection implemented in the Civic Art Collection funded by the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) SHOULD reflect the ethnicities of the citizens of Houston as determined in the census. This will ensure that we strive for diversity and representation in the collection that will celebrate the rich cultural heritage and diverse identities of all of Houston’s residents. I have first hand experience and commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion. My firm Garcia Hamilton and Associates is minority owned and run and I have won many diversity awards. It would be my goal to foster a sense of belonging and cultural pride among different communities by including art from various ethnicities.


Lee Kaplan: I would prioritize the recommendation to publicly release an annual Equity Review report and present findings to cultural organizations locally and nationally to encourage the implementation of best practices around inclusion of everyone in the artistic community in public art collections.


Sheila Jackson Lee: Every artist and every art community must be valued. Houston's art and creative community is strengthened when every aspect of our arts community has a seat at the table and no part of the creative community is diminished. Our priorities will be increasing opportunities for women artists and ensuring that art diversity is represented in all neighborhoods, from River Oaks to the East End, from Fifth Ward to Southwest, from Third Ward to Northeast, and everywhere in between. We should actively seek ethnic and racial diversity, and I believe my administration will be able to include all aspects of the creative community. Specifically, I will also ensure that we include a focus on increasing gender diversity in our creative community. We cannot be fearful of broad outreach and must strive to reach the ultimate diversity of our city. My administration will discover the  hidden art treasures in Houston, such as downtown's Sam Houston Park, the historic homes, and the heritage house in the midst of downtown Houston. We will also highlight the various sculptures in downtown Houston. We will achieve equity by recognizing and supporting both visual and performing arts all over Houston. Our funding will reflect that equity. My funding approach will be a reflection of the different art types, from performance to visual arts. By meeting with the arts community, we will receive input from artists. We cannot be fearful of broad outreach and must strive to reach the ultimate diversity in our city.


John Whitmire: I will prioritize inclusion and transparency –– widening who benefits from the City’s programs (both those who create and those who experience art) and ensuring Houstonians can see how their City funds are being spent and how we are progressing in achieving our diversity goals.


Robin Williams: Artist demographics, gender, ethnicity, program changes that have an impact on artist opportunities, and the collection process of the civic art collection are recommendations that I would prioritize from the FY22 MOCA review.

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