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About Us

Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) is the local nonprofit arts and culture agency that enhances the city’s quality of life through advancing and investing in the arts and diverse cultural programming. The work of HAA encourages Houston’s development and shapes its global reputation by fostering tourism and supporting and promoting the city’s creative economy.

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Public Art

Creating public spaces for civic and cultural use requires artists, designers, architects, and the community to collaborate. By actively fostering these partnerships, both public and private, HAA’s Civic Art + Design program initiates, manages, and maintains public artworks throughout Houston. It serves a vital role as catalyst for change that generates a culturally relevant and rich environment for residents and visitors alike.

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Folklife + Civic Engagement

Houston Arts Alliance’s Folklife + Civic Engagement program identifies and honors the artistic and cultural traditions of the city’s tremendously diverse and various communities and works to address the needs of all residents through engagement, citizen-driven initiatives, and equitable community outcomes. The Folklife program has been in existence since 2010. The addition of Civic Engagement to its portfolio was enacted through an HAA bylaws change in 2016.

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Grants are a fundamental means of promoting excellence in the creative sector. On behalf of the City of Houston, HAA awards approximately 225 grants annually to nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and individual artists through a competitive grant allocation process.

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Capacity Building

Houston Arts Alliance provides voice and leadership through its support of arts organizations and individual artists with programs and services that help build and foster a vibrant and creative community—these programs and services help to ensure that the arts professionals’ creative contributions remain a vital part of community life across Houston and the region.

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As the designated, nonprofit local arts and culture agency, Houston Arts Alliance provides a public forum for arts and culture issues that our relevant to our community. Throughout the year, Houston Arts Alliance hosts conversations and panel discussions that are free and open to the public. HAA also periodically convenes the arts and culture field for special opportunities important to the sector.

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Houston Arts Alliance continues to play an important role in arts and culture research projects, initiating and participating in studies that demonstrate the far-reaching impact of arts and culture on our economy and quality of life.

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Get Involved

Looking for a way to lend a hand? Investing in the arts and culture is an investment in the quality of life for all Houstonians. Join Houston Arts Alliance as a donor, member or volunteer!

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Houston Arts Alliance utilizes different vehicles to communicate with it diverse audiences, ranging from the city’s arts and culture community to residents to tourists. Find out more about HAA’s electronic newsletters and connect with us through social media. Our online Press Room provides resources for members of the media.

Thursday, September 28, 2017
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Thursday, October 5, 2017
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Thursday, October 5, 2017
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A National Conversation: How Local Arts Communities Organize

How Local Arts Communities Organize

Tuesday, July 14, 2015
2:30 – 4 p.m., Panel; 4 – 5 p.m., Reception
The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Founders Club, 800 Bagby St.

America’s cities organize themselves in a variety of ways to support and advance the arts, culture and creative sectors. Often called the arts ecosystem, the local field will include nonprofit arts/cultural organizations, individual artists, cultural tourism programs, preservation conservancies, community and educational institutions, advocacy organizations, arts education initiatives, professional associations such as art dealers and artist unions and various forms of discipline-specific service organizations. These systems grow organically, and often in tandem with Local Arts Agencies (LAA/LAAs). These cultural intermediaries, LAAs, are created in various structures and have varying roles in their respective cities, shaped to the needs of their community.

As Houston’s designated local arts agency, HAA hosted this round-table discussion for an in-depth conversation on how other American cities organize themselves through the arts, the form and function of their LAA models, and trends across the country.


  • Olga Garay-English – Arts Consultant and former Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs
  • Michael Killoren – Local Arts Agencies & Challenge America Director, National Endowment for the Arts
  • Matthew J. Nielson – Deputy Commissioner, City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events - Cultural Planning and Operations Division
  • Jody Ulich – Convention & Cultural Services Director, City of Sacramento     

A brief question & answer period followed.




Across the United States, thousands of Local Arts Agencies (LAAs) provide a wide range of programs and services to help support and enable arts and culture at the local level. LAAs are intermediaries, serving artists and arts organizations, local residents, visitors and other partners.  No two LAAs are alike ─ whether they serve a single village or town, a large city, county, or a multi-county region. Some LAAs are departments of local government, others are nonprofit organizations, and still others are hybrids of the two.

Characteristics: LAAs may present and/or produce arts programming, commission and manage public art, administer grant programs, provide technical assistance to artists and arts organizations, and guide cultural planning efforts. Still others may own, manage, and/or operate cultural facilities and be actively engaged in community development, and partner with entities in tourism, social services, public education, housing, economic development, and public safety. All strive to enhance the quality of life in their communities by working to increase public access to the arts. You will also find national and statewide arts service organizations in the LAA portfolio that work primarily with a network of LAAs.


A local arts agency (LAA) promotes, supports, and develops the arts at the local level to strengthen the daily fabric of community living. There are more than 5,000 LAAs in the U.S.: 75% are private nonprofit organizations; 25% are agencies of city or county government. LAA budgets range from all-volunteer to over $150 million dollars. Each LAA in America is unique to the community that it serves and each changes as its community changes—no two are exactly alike. What they all share is the goal of enabling diverse forms of arts and culture to thrive, ensuring their broad accessibility to the public and building healthier communities through the arts. 


Arts Consultant and former Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs

Olga Garay-English most recently served as Senior Advisor on Local and International Cultural Programs to City of Los Angeles Councilman Tom LaBonge. She is Creative Strategist to UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance; Program and Resource Development Consultant at the Emerson College Office of the Arts; Senior Advisor on International Cultural Affairs to Fundación Santiago a Mil in Chile; and Director of the California Institute for the Arts (CalArts) Latin American/Latino Initiative. Olga was Executive Director of the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (2007-2014) managing a FY13/14 $50-million budget portfolio and raising $23 million for DCA and its programs. As Founding Program Director for the Arts for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (1998-2005), Olga was responsible for one of the largest national arts funding programs in the United States; while at DDCF she awarded $145 Million to the country's leading presenting organizations, theaters, and arts training institutions for young people as well as national service organizations to re-grant on behalf of the Foundation. Olga was named a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 2012 in recognition of her “significant contributions to the arts, literature, or the propagation of these fields”.  In 2011, Los Angeles Magazine named Ms. Garay-English one of ten “Game Changers”, women who make an impact in LA every day. In 2006 she was awarded a “Bessie”, the New York Dance and Performance Awards, for sustained contribution to the field of dance.


Local Arts Agencies & Challenge America Director, National Endowment for the Arts

Michael Killoren serves as the director for Local Arts Agencies and Challenge America at the National Endowment for the Arts. He is responsible for the grantmaking processes for Local Arts Agencies (LAA's), developing partnerships to advance the LAA field as a whole, and the Challenge America program.

Most recently, Killoren served as director of Seattle's Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, a cabinet-level position, from 2002 through 2010, where he led the city department's funding and public art programs, developed policy initiatives to increase public access to arts and culture, and established a groundbreaking partnership to restore arts education in Seattle Public Schools.

Prior to July 2002, Killoren was Seattle's first director of cultural tourism for Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau, where he launched an initiative to promote the region's cultural assets.  He also served as an arts program coordinator and later executive director of the King County Arts Commission, where he worked to increase access and participation in arts and culture, with a focus on rural and suburban communities.  He also served as managing director of the Alice B. Theatre, all three organizations based in Seattle. For three and a half years prior to moving to Seattle in 1993, Killoren was part of the programming staff at the Sheldon Arts Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri.

Killoren has served as president and vice-president of the U.S. Urban Arts Federation of Americans for the Arts, and as a member of the Downtown Seattle Association Marketing Committee, among other community service positions. He has a BA in media arts from Webster University in St. Louis and completed graduate studies in telecommunications at Indiana University, Bloomington.


Deputy Commissioner, City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events - Cultural Planning and Operations Division

Matt Nielson is Deputy Commissioner for the Cultural Planning and Operations Division of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), where he oversees venues, initiatives and policies which make Chicago an international cultural destination and enhance the quality of life for its residents.  

Currently, Mr. Nielson’s responsibilities include the management, operation and function of Millennium Park, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Historic Water Tower/Water Works complex, and the Clarke House Museum. This role also includes oversight of leasehold and arts partner agreements with the Millennium Park Foundation, the Chicago Children’s Choir, the Lookingglass Theatre Company, StoryCorps, the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, the Chicago Park District, After School Matters and Choose Chicago.  He also worked with the adoption and ongoing implementation of the 2012 Cultural Plan of Chicago, which has provided over $5 million dollars in support for free neighborhood cultural programming, arts education and new grant opportunities.

He has over 20 years public and private sector experience in arts and cultural facilities management, real estate development and urban planning which includes target projects for the Democratic National Convention in 1996, revitalization of Chicago Housing Authority mixed-income communities, the Lookingglass Theatre project, and numerous restoration projects at many of the cultural venues overseen by DCASE.

Mr. Nielson received a Bachelor’s Degree from Iowa State University in Community and Regional Planning, and graduate study in Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  He also serves on the Planning Advisory Council to the Chair for the Department of Community and Regional Planning, College of Design at Iowa State University.   

Mr. Nielson is a member of the American Planning Association, Urban Land Institute and the City Parks Alliance. 

His civic involvement includes service on the Board of Directors of the Howard Brown Health Center, the League of Chicago Theatres, and the Glessner House Museum.


Director of Convention & Cultural Services, City of Sacramento

Prior to Sacramento, she served as President of the Arts Council of Fort Worth for seven years and ten years as the cultural service director for the City of Tempe, Arizona. Through her strong leadership and vision, a number of partnerships and programs were initiated, including the passage of a sales tax dedicated to the development and funding of a $66 million performing and visual arts center.

Her Department currently manages convention operations and a range of associated services for the municipality. This includes administration of physical facilities at the Convention Center, the Center Theater, a 2,452-seat venue that hosts the Sacramento Ballet, the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra, the Sacramento Opera, and national touring artists; and the Memorial Auditorium and Jean Runyon Little Theater, 3,800- and 272-seat venues respectively, used for events, concerts and theater performances. The Department has a budget of $18M, and oversees a staff of 245. In addition, the department has an extremely close working relationship with the Crocker Art Museum, Fairytale Town, Sacramento Zoo, Powerhouse Science Center, Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, Historic Old Sacramento Foundation, Sacramento Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, The Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance, and many other non-profit organizations.

Reporting to the City Manager, the Director of Convention and Cultural Affairs oversees the various convention venues, cultural organizations, attractions, and their respective shared-service providers of the City of Sacramento.

July 16
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