Obama Favorite Named Houston’s New Arts Czar

Bringing Washington D.C. Swagger to the Bayou City’s $10 Million Budget

BY // 09.28.17

Come November, one of Houston’s most high-profile arts organizations gets a new leader at the top.

At Houston Arts Alliance, the CEO post vacant since February will be filled by John Abodeely, a passionate and savvy advocate for arts education, armed with a unique CV. The new hire arrives from Washington, D.C., where he held policy-making and shape-shifting roles at the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, including interacting with the committee’s honorary chair: First Lady Michelle Obama.

Most recently, Abodeely presided as the man at the top — acting executive director (since January 2017) and previously, deputy director (August 2013 to January 2017). Prior to the President’s Committee position, the arts administrator managed national partnerships for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He began in D.C. with a role at the Americans for the Arts as manager of arts education. Concurrently, from 2009 into 2014, Abodeely was a grad-school professor at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, teaching a seminar on education policy.

HAA board member Craig Massey — who chairs the Civic Art Committee — summarized the new CEO’s qualifications for PaperCity:

“Armed with two degrees and Washington, D.C. swag, John understands the balance between the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) and the delivery of art management to our citizens and visitors. Expect great management.”

Board chair Philamena Baird, who had stepped in as acting CEO, said, “John’s experience, skill, and high energy are just what we need in Houston and at Houston Arts Alliance.”

Holiday Gifting

  • Elaine Turner - GiGi Flats
  • Cle Du Peau - Nail Polish
  • Museum of Fine Arts Houston
  • Loeffler Randall - Clutch
  • Mariquite Masterson
  • Cotton Club
  • Cotton Club
  • Cle Du Peau - Lip Gloss
  • Bond No 9 - Candle
  • Elaine Turner - Felicia Stole in Magenta
  • Asher Gallery
  • Mariquite Masterson
  • Loeffler Randall - Shoes
  • Wayne Smith
  • Oscar De La Renta - Earrings
  • Oscar De La Renta - Clutch
  • Wayne Smith
  • Bond No 9 - Perfume

Abodeely fills the position open after long-time CEO Jonathon Glus resigned this spring “to pursue new challenges.” Glus subsequently has landed a plum spot as the director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, where he’s been on board since mid-summer, charged with implementing a new cultural plan for the state’s capital.

Glus served for nine years at the first head of Houston Arts Alliance. He was a well-known figure at the helm of the public-private partnership, which had spun out of the Cultural Arts Council of Houston/Harris County (CACHH), as well as three other city programs, merged by Mayor White in 2005-2006.

Glus became a fixture on Houston’s art scene, extending the visibility of HAA into the evening hours, and representing the organization at cultural events from art openings to black-tie galas. He oversaw temporary to permanent public arts projects — from the memorable Blue Trees to the moving Jaume Plensa figures that stand guard along Allen Parkway.

Under his tenure, the agency began its annual spring benefits, which honored performing artists and creatives. Luminaries from Rita Moreno to Lee Daniels to date have come to town as HAA headliners at black-tie fêtes held at the Hotel ZaZa.

Folklore has also part of HAA’s programming mix. “Transported + Renewed,” which focused on the city’s East End and its rich diversity and role in the Houston’s commerce, culture, and industrial prosperity, was a three-month-long creative place-making projected green lighted by Glus. Presented in the fall of 2014, it coincided with in the centennial for the Port of Houston. See Allison Hunter’s video, commissioned for the occasion, that was projected upon grain silos along the banks of Buffalo Bayou.

All of the above, from public art to grants and programming, and even maintenance of the City’s art collection, fall under HAA’s umbrella.

Abodeely’s got the background and breath demanded of the job in his C.V. — from leading a bi-partisan delegation to Cuba following President Obama’s historic visit in March 2016, to appearing on Art21 in a series about “Creative Chemistries” where he interviewed talents such as LaToya Ruby Frazer about the intersection of art and education.

And John Hopkins MBA promises to bring a blend of practicality and idealism to the CEO post. Check out John Abodeely’s writings on the mission of art education here.

A D.C. Legacy

Among the most lasting legacies of his time at the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities is the Turnaround Arts program, which he expanded from eight schools to 68 across the country, tapping the arts to activate student achievement. Along the way, he raised $5 million to fund this signature education initiative of the Obama White House. See Abodeely in action here.

The new CEO’s first day of work at Houston Arts Alliance is Monday, November 6.

At HAA,, Abodeely will hit the ground running, overseeing an annual budget of $10 million dollars, and administering an amplified grants program funded by a redeployment of the Hotel Occupancy Tax. He will also have the benefit of the latest Arts & Economic Prosperity Study, to be released October 20 at the Houston Partnership Luncheon, that will underscore the economic engine that the arts drive for employment and commerce throughout Houston.

And HAA, under Abodeely, is expected to play a role in the roll out of new art for the reconfigured $600 million Terminal D at Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Stay tuned.

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