Arts / Performing Arts

With Nonprofit Arts Losses at $5.5 Billion and Rising, These Caring Houston Couples Advocate for the Performing Arts

Trying to Save a Creative Scene

BY // 06.15.20

As stay-at-home restrictions are eased and restaurants, museums, and stores are opening, at least to some degree, the performing arts stages remain dark as companies struggle with the new normal induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing in a theater presents all manner of challenges.

While the curtains are down, performers, staff and leadership are all suffering the fallout. We continue our series on Houston advocates for the arts, tapping supporters for their insights on the situation.

Our first subject in this edition, Shawn Stephens, puts the problem in clear perspective with this observation: “The national research and advocacy group, Americans for the Arts, reports that (as of May 18, 2020) the C-19 losses to nonprofit arts and cultural institutions are at $5.5 billion and rising. It reports that 62 percent of artists/creatives are fully unemployed and that individual lost income will total $50.6 billion in 2020.”

Shawn Stephens & Jim Jordan

Jim Jordan & Shawn Stephens (Photo by Wilson Parish)

There could not be a couple more committed to Houston Ballet than this and few couples are so involved in supporting and promoting Houston nonprofits across the board. Stephens and her husband, Jim Jordan, are the only couple in the company’s 50-year history to have both served as board chair and president with Stephens’ two-year term concluding this month. Add to that active involvement with Theatre Under the Stars, the Moores School of Music and the Houston Symphony League, as well as other Houston nonprofits and add Stephens’ tenure on the Texas Commission for the Arts.

“We both believe the arts have intrinsic value and that fact alone should be reason enough to support the arts. The arts allow us to explore and express beauty. They also allow us to grapple with troubling societal issues, sorrow, and grief. They allow us to memorialize our heroes,” Stephens says.

“But there are also sound business reasons for supporting the arts.  The arts bring tourists and diners to our City.  The arts attract big employers, looking for a vibrant city in which to locate, to Houston. And the arts employ all types of people — not just artists, but accountants and bookkeepers, HR professionals, teachers, administrative staffers, facilities managers, costume and production teams, etc… — so they are important to our city’s economy.” 

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Carrie & Sverre Brandsberg-Dahl

Sverre & Carrie Brandsberg-Dahl (Photo by Wilson Parish)

This artfully-involved duo with a love for the performing arts is one of the most fashionable urban chic couples in the city. Their sense of style works to spotlight their participation in fundraising concerts and galas across the social terrain because who can miss this striking couple? Houston Grand Opera, the Houston Symphony and the Menil Collection are their first loves but they also have been involved with Houston Chamber Choir, Mercury The Orchestra, Opera in the Heights and most recently AIDS Foundation Houston.

“Sverre and I have always been interested in creativity and life outside of the norm,” Carrie tells PaperCity. “We’re not afraid to take risks. Routine is the enemy of anything that wants to grow. Berlin is one of my favorite cities and there opera and symphony are a way of life. I want our girls (two daughters) to grow up with all forms of the arts being engraved as part of their very being.

“Funding is the biggest word and key for exposing the youth to Opera/Symphony (performing and visual art) here in Houston . . . That is our struggle. The younger donors are not able to contribute as much financially so our voices are smaller. Although it sometimes still feels limited, the arts are doing their best with youth outreach making it easier to manage the generation change. That is my passion and we are here to help with that!”

On a personally rewarding note, she says, “We met some of our closest friends through HGO, the Symphony and Menil event. I think energy is attractive and brings like minded individuals together. It’s easy to support something you are passionate and believe in. Houston is a large place and the arts community is a safe spot. There is already a potential friend connection in the arts.”

Duyen & Marc Nguyen

Marc & Duyen Nguyen (Photo by Wilson Parish)

This ultra-glam couple are familiar faces at fundraisers throughout the year supporting a variety of arts groups by their continual participation in events ranging from serious-minded luncheons to black-tie galas supporting the arts.

“This is the crisis time in the arts. Arts organizations and their many performing artists that rely on grants, donations, performances revenues, fundraising events, are now facing tremendous losses, and unforeseen future,” the Nguyens note. “They need our help in these difficult times just as much as those who work in other service industries. We all have to pay attention and offer whatever support we can.

“What drives us to support the arts?  The art is a universal language. It crosses all barriers and boundaries. Arts are essential in our society. Arts are the foundation of a healthy community. Arts hold a critical role in getting us through this pandemic and after this crisis is over. We need to keep the arts alive.”

Part of the Special Series:

PaperCity - Advocates for the Arts

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