The City of Houston has supported arts and culture through a range of programs, some dating back 50 years. But not until 2006 were they brought together under one roof as the Houston Arts Alliance (HAA), Houston’s designated, nonprofit, local arts and culture agency.
Four previously existing programs merged to form HAA. The Municipal Arts Commission (MAC) had been established in 1965. Made up of volunteers appointed by Houston’s mayor, it advised City Council on cultural matters, including permanent and temporary civic art. The Cultural Arts Council of Houston and Harris County (CACHH) came along in 1977 to assist city and county departments to implement periodic civic art programs and administer arts and culture grants funded through the City of Houston Hotel Occupancy Tax.
The Municipal Art Conservation Office (MACO), created in 1996, catalogued, conserved, maintained, and promoted the City’s art collection. CACHH also provided professional staff to the Civic Art Committee (CAC), another volunteer organization established in 1999 to develop an annual civic art program.
In 2005-2006, Mayor Bill White led the effort to consolidate these four programs into Houston Arts Alliance. In 2007, the HAA Board appointed by Mayor White hired Jonathon Glus, an experienced public arts administrator, as HAA’s first President and Chief Executive Officer, tasked with creating what amounted to a new organization.
A new staff was assembled and new policies and procedures set in place. Through its grants program, HAA remained committed to fostering the growth of arts and culture organizations of all sizes. HAA’s Capacity Building Initiative (CBI) continued to strengthen the management capabilities of arts and culture organizations so they may grow and deploy their resources effectively and responsibly.
The agency launched major new programs, including Civic Art + Design and Folklife + Traditional Arts (changed in 2016 to Folklife + Civic Engagement per the HAA bylaws). Civic Art + Design initiates, manages, and maintains public artworks—both temporary and permanent—throughout Houston. HAA has commissioned public artworks of extraordinary scale and impact throughout the city, including the George Bush Intercontinental/Houston and the William P. Hobby airports and along Buffalo Bayou.
The nationally recognized Folklife + Civic Engagement program documents and presents music, dance, crafts, storytelling, and other forms of oral expression that express the life of Houston’s culturally diverse neighborhoods, as well as promotes heightened neighborhood involvement in the artistic life of the city.
As part of its strategic plan, HAA attracts new product to increase tourism, such as its successful efforts in bringing international art fairs to Houston.
As part of its mission to advance the arts and culture, HAA impacts policy-making through in-depth research studies. Every five years HAA releases the economic impact of nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences in Houston/Harris County as part of Americans for the Arts’ national Arts & Economic Prosperity studies.
In 2012, HAA published its first Creative Economy of Houston study, providing a comprehensive look at the creative sector’s impact on Houston’s economy. Three years later, HAA published the second creative economy report, stating “The Houston regional creative economy is a sleeping giant—a $26 billion industry that has grown by 18% since 2004 and employs nearly 180,000 highly skilled workers.”
Glus emphasizes that HAA “is an agency designed to work in partnership and in alliance. That’s tremendously rewarding because it means we work with academia, business leadership, government leadership, and tourism leadership and play a special role in enhancing the city and enhancing the arts,” he says. “It allows us to be in a position to help reimagine what our city can be like on a daily basis.”