Culture / Newsy

Houston Declared Cultural Capital of South by National Magazine

It's More Hometown Glory for the Hottest City in the World

BY // 07.08.19

Houston. Space City. The Bayou City. Clutch City. The New Capital of Southern Cool. A rose by any other name would smell just as great, and H-Town’s got a stunning new appellation that sounds oh-so-sweet.

Yes, Houston’s wowed again, this time turning heads at Worth Magazine. The publication has officially dubbed Houston the emerging “Cultural Capital of the South.”

With chosen Houston as the Cultural Capital, it’s hard to pin down just what the capitol building would be — references to cultural institutions abound, from the ever-expanding MFAH and Menil to the Wortham Theater Center in Worth‘s story.

Houston’s overflowing with culture, and while people’s ears are perking up across the nation, it’s good to have this clarion call. The James Beard Foundation semifinalist announcements taking place in H-Town was just the beginning.

Worth, a magazine devoted to American finance, wealth management and lifestyle, argues that Houston “just might be entering its Golden Era.”

Writer Sandra Ramani reels readers in with a vibrant lure — a description of Jonathan Delgado’s Popston carts dotting the Houston  Museum of Fine Arts’ campus,  with their sticky-sweet, all-natural goodness offered up in the midst of the Cullen Sculpture Garden and The Glassell School of Art.

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“This intersection of arts, culture, cuisine and design is at the heart of what’s driving Houston these days and what’s elevating its profile to the national stage,” Ramani writes.

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Houston is the Cultural Capital of the South. (Photo by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)

The reporter isn’t quite definitive when it comes to the length of “these days,” but she does point to Houston’s trajectory to overtake Chicago as the third largest city in the country.

“The south Texas metropolis feels like it’s coming into its own, finding its voice and expanding beyond its oil and gas roots,” the Worth piece reads.

Any Houstonian — native or adopted — will tell you that there hasn’t been some sudden switch-up that’s gotten us to this point. This city’s been flourishing for a while now.

And John Breeding, president of the Uptown Houston District and administrator of the Uptown Redevelopment Authority, tells Worth just that.

The Harvey Comeback

“In the last five or so years, we’re suddenly being dubbed an overnight success. But it’s really due to 40 years of dedicated work,” Breeding says.

And a lot of that work has really picked up in the last few years, after the wrenching devastation of Hurricane Harvey. But Houston is moving ever forward, going from devastated to thriving, with a commitment to revitalizing its institutions and looking toward sustainability in the future.

Cultural cornerstones captured the spirit of Houston’s resilience, from the Houston Ballet to the Houston Grand Opera to the Wortham.

Ramani speaks with Jim Nelson, executive director for the Houston Ballet, about the company’s continued performances in the face of plight. The “Resilience Theater” sprang up in the convention center, providing performance space for the city, proud of its world-class arts status, desperately seeking a sense of normalcy.

“It was a true lemons-into-lemonade scenario, but everyone — all the way up to the mayor, who was very supportive of the arts — spun the challenges into something creative, and people really responded,” Nelson says.

Hurricane Harvey delayed the MFAH’s 14-acre expansion, but it’s on track to debut this fall, another sign of Houston’s perseverance and devotion to the arts.

“It’s an exciting time to be in Houston, as it makes an extraordinary transition from a regional city to an international hub,” MFAH director Gary Tinterow tells Worth. The majority of Houston’s visitors come to check out our cultural scene, Tinterow argues.

No conversation of Houston’s cultural scene can be complete without mention of the sweeping Menil and its new $40-million Drawing Institute, which Ramani credits as being engaging and never, ever exclusive.

“The focus on inclusivity is also front-of-mind when locals talk about the dynamic culinary landscape, which is itself a product of Houston’s cultural diversity,” she writes.

Ramani runs down the James Beard Foundation’s 2019 semifinalists, announced from none other than Hugo’s in Houston, from former Houston champs and nominees such as chefs Chris Shepherd, Hugo Ortega and Trong Nguyen to first-timers like Himalaya’s Kaiser Lashkari and Indigo‘s Johnny Rhodes. Other examples of culinary richness include the opening of modern Cajun-Creole spot Eunice and the upcoming restaurant incubator Bravery Chef Hall.

The takeaway? Houston’s cultural greatness is intrinsically tied to its diversity, which touches everything from its mix of culinary traditions to art performances.

Worth leaves it up to Nelson to carry the point home. “It’s an amazing time to be a Houstonian because it doesn’t matter where you’re from. Once you’re here, you’re welcomed — and welcome to make a great life for yourself,” he says.

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