Not only is Houston Grand Opera no longer holding such intimate dinners on stage at Wortham Theater Center, but performances have been cancelled due to the pandemic. (Photo by Wilson Parish)
Robin Angly & Miles Smith (Photo by Wilson Parish)
Melanie Gray & Mark Wawro (Photo by Wilson Parish)
Past Best Dressed honoree Vicki West in Dolce & Gabbana, Ralph Burch (Photo by Johnny Than)
The shocking realization/fear that 50 percent of Houston’s performing arts groups might not survive the economic disaster of the pandemic has many philanthropists stepping up to the plate in support of these groups.
In this second in a series on those who are going the extra length to help support the performing arts during this crisis, we visit with three couples who have a long history of supporting the city’s various arts groups.
Vicki West & Ralph Burch
Supporting the performing arts has long been an avocation for both in this dynamic duo. Vicki has been a patron and board member of the Houston Symphony and Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music for 20 years. Ralph began his involvement with the symphony as ConocoPhillips’ representative on the board some 10 years ago, and has continued his involvement as a board member since retiring last year. He is also a board member of Stages and was formerly a trustee of the Houston Grand Opera.
“We are driven to support the performing arts because they are fundamental to defining Houston and what makes it so extraordinary to live here,” Ralph Burch says. “We believe that our support of the performing arts not only adds to our enjoyment but also facilitates their ability to serve every segment of our community both through free performances and community embedded musicians and as well as providing access to their world class facilities and other resources to students.
“All of the performing arts organizations have had to cancel many performances because of COVID-19, and this has created unprecedented financial challenges, as well as questions as to how and when they can resume operations . . . These organizations need extra attention and support now to ensure they will be here when we are able to resume our daily lives.”
Robin Angly & Miles Smith
Frequently seen in city theaters and attending fundraisers for various performing arts groups, this couple has a deep interest in the arts. And frequently contributing under the radar, Robin Angly and Miles Smith are ardent supporters of the performing arts. Robin is on the Houston Grand Opera executive committee and HGO’S newly created COVID committee. Miles serves on the artistic and orchestra committee of the Houston Symphony board while Robin serves on the Da Camera board and executive committee and on the Opera Circle of Ars Lyrica.
A true philanthropist who understands the dire straights in which Houston nonprofits find themselves, Robin has committed proceeds to the city’s performing arts groups from her recent sale of a commercial building. She made contributions and issued challenge grants for Houston Grand Opera with $400,000 ultimately raised and for Ars Lyrica, which was able to pay their artists whose performances were cancelled due to the pandemic.
Likewise, she joined in a challenge grant for DaCamera that allowed the nonprofit to pay its young artists who participate in the community outreach program. Her gift to the Houston Symphony inspired others to give to the symphony’s relief fund and as a result of her challenge other individuals contributed thereby raising $750,000 for musicians’ relief fund.
“When the pandemic began, my first thought was what would life be like with no arts,” Robin Angly tells PaperCity. “I also realized what a huge role they play in my life. They provide me with a sense of community . . . A recent survey predicted 50 percent of the arts will disappear because of the pandemic. Let’s not let Houston loose a single one.
“They are also vital to teaching young people about the arts. What would we do without the symphony’s imbedded musicians in the school and HGO’s Opera to Go?”
Melanie Gray & Mark Wawro
Both attorneys — Melanie Gray, retired partner at Winston & Strawn LLP, and Mark Wawro, partner and general counsel at SusmanGodfrey LLP — have long been supporters of the arts. Melanie as former board chair and current board and executive committee member of Society for the Performing Arts and Mark as former president and board chair and currently on the Presidents’ Council of Inprint, director and vice president of Houston Cinema Arts Society and board member of Gulf Coast Literary Magazine.
Melanie: “The performing arts are facing an existential crisis as a result of COVID-19. It may be a sad reality that not all will survive. We can ignore this reality and be left with a community and broader society that is less creative, less enriched, and less engaged. Or we lean into our favorite performing arts organizations and support them in every way we can — financially, as patrons, and as ambassadors.”
Mark: “Social distancing, which appears to be our reality for many more months, makes performing and visual arts very difficult to support by attendance. But the arts can’t exist without the artists, and it is critical to do what do all that we can to make sure they have an outlet, and financial support, for their creativity going forward.
“The performing arts brings people together, transcending boundaries and differences by connecting with the human spirit in each of us. It fills a need in all of our lives and in the lives of each other. “