Stages' performance of 'The Fantasticks' was performed in The Gordy before the pandemic shut down the performing arts. (Photo by Amitava Sarkar)
Leigh Smith heads the Houston Arts Alliance which is working to raise funds for unemployed Houston artists. (Photo by Katy Anderson)
Stages board chair George Lancaster, in the background an inner tube sculpture by William Cannings.
Tenenbaum Jeweler's Tony Bradfield is a trustee of the city's three major performing arts groups and is an avid Astros fan. (Photo by Wilson Parish)
With recovery from the floods of Hurricane Harvey barely allowing Houston’s performing arts groups to thrive again, the coronavirus pandemic has dealt yet another blow with performances canceled, and therefore revenue stalled, for who knows how long.
Dancers, singers, musicians and actors are out of work. Staffers have been furloughed. Budgets are beyond strained. When considering the pandemic fallout, consider too that Houston Theater District is second only to that of New York in the United States with five flagship venues that can seat more than 12,000. Seven resident companies of actors, dancers, performers and musicians call the Theater District home.
In addition to the financial shortfall of canceled performances, many of the mainstay fundraisers have either been put on ice or canceled altogether. The Houston Symphony, Theatre Under the Stars, the Alley Theater, Houston Grand Opera, and Society for the Performing Arts all have had to forgo the funds — generally into seven figures — that are usually garnered during the spring social season.
It’s a devastating time for those working in the performing arts and a somber time for those who view these arts as an integral part of humanity and the cultural soul of the city.
With that in mind, we are reaching out to arts supporters for this new special series and asking them to share with us their interest in the arts and how they are offering support in this difficult time. These are Houston’s Art Advocates:
This arts powerhouse couple, Reggie and Leigh Smith, understand the importance of the arts. Leigh currently chairs the Houston Arts Alliance in addition to serving on the board of Houston Ballet and serving on the subcommittee for Modern and Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and serving as co-chair of the National Council for Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, Colorado. Supporting the arts is very much a family affair with Reggie Smith supporting Leigh’s contributions and himself serves as a board member of Anderson Ranch.
“HAA is raising funds for the Greater Houston Area Artist Relief Fund as part of a coalition which includes the Museum and Theater Districts, Houston First Corporation, Dance Source Houston, the University of Houston College of the Arts, and Houston’s cultural districts,” Smith tells PaperCity. “To date, we’ve raised nearly $300,000, ($100,000 of which came from Houston Endowment) which will be distributed in small but important grants to hundreds of individual artists and creative industry individuals who apply for basic needs assistance during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Even with external sources, artists’ individual incomes are low, with a majority of artists earning less than $30,000 annually. They have truly felt the impact of necessary stay-at-home measures.”
Supporting the arts is very much a family affair with Reggie Smith supporting Leigh’s contributions and himself serves as a board member of Anderson Ranch.
Long involved with Stages , Lancaster serves as board chairman.
“In stay-at-home times when Zoom and Netflix are the new normal, I think we can all agree the painful absence of the shared experience and escapism of the performing arts underscores the contribution they make to our quality of life, our mental health, and our collective humanity,” Lancaster says. “I can’t wait to get back to Stages and all of Houston’s superior cultural offerings.
“That having been said, my time alone has created a new appreciation of home and a confirmation that substance wins over style. . . Hence, the same jeans, the same navy-blue T-shirt and the same Converse slip-ons keep working for me day after day — ironic that the show I can’t wait to see at Stages as soon as it reopens is Honky Tonk Laundry. Art imitates life, ultimately, so let’s all support its future which, by any measure, is in jeopardy.
A longtime supporter of the arts, the Tenenbaum Jewelers impresario is Trustee for Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet and the Houston Symphony and Tenenbaum is the Preferred Jeweler to all three arts groups.
“Our many institutions have been virtually dismembered with the inability to provide their craft for consumption coupled with their inability to be self supporting utilizing their craft,” Bradfield says. “Taking it to the next level, on an individual artist’s level, those actors, dancers and musicians are not able to actively seek work outside the core company because most all social events— weddings, parties, exhibitions, tutorials, etc. — will not take place for months and possibly years.
“It is essential that we do our best as a society to continue to support, protect and most importantly, share our arts with all. The arts provide a common neutral ground for experience. . . a universal language that crosses boarders (and walls at times) and many times without political, religious and social influences.”