Texas in the News

Emily Todd

Texas is much in the news today. Its environmental record and education reforms are bandied around as political hot potatoes in this year's presidential race. So what has George W. Bush, governor of the state, done for the arts in Texas? Basically, he has kept arts funding stable in the state budget. On a more personal level, the Bushes received the first two state arts affinity license plates (Texas's arts license plates are the most popular affinity plates in the state) and have agreed to serve as co-hosts of the Texas Medal of Arts event in spring 2000. Laura Bush uses her office as a changing art gallery. The Bushes support is appreciated. However the state still ranks a grievous fiftieth in per capita state support of the arts, mustering a miserable 27 cents per person in 2000. (1)

In 1993, led by John Montford, a state senator from Lubbock and chairman of the state finance committee (and now chancellor of Texas Tech), the Texas Cultural Endowment Fund was launched so that the Texas Commission on the Arts might be assured of funding without a biennial struggle for the largesse of the governor and state legislators in the budget. Some might say that this Fund was launched to combat the ingrained disinterest in — not to say hostility toward — arts funding in state government. Revenues for the Fund come from the state legislature, private donors, and from fees generated by the “State of the Arts” license plate. To date, the endowment totals $13 million. In recent months a professional development staff has been hired to jumpstart this campaign toward its $100 million goal. As it is, Texas Commission for the Arts gives $5 million to nonprofits each year in 1200 grants spread thinly across this very large state. In addition, city and county arts councils support the arts in their areas. In Houston, the Cultural Arts Council of Houston/Harris County, probably the most active of the local arts agencies, distributes $7 million in state, county, and city funds to well over one hundred groups. These large dollar amounts are still inadequate to meet the demand for arts funding.

Where public support fails, private philanthropy has sometimes stepped in. Numerous notable building projects around the state are funded in large part by private philanthropy. Rafael Moneo's Audrey Jones Beck building for The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Tadeo Ando's new Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art, and Fort Worth's Bass Performing Arts Hall are a few of the large scale capital projects that generate millions in giving. Houston boasts exceptional museums, theaters, and performing arts groups whose program needs are substantially met by the wealthy and generous few. Philanthropy in this region is dominated by individuals and family foundations and usually reflects the personal interests of the donors. Large donations are most often made to the largest organizations that tend to be the oldest, the most prestigious, and among the most traditional.

At the same time, myriad small and midsize groups across the state have grown up and flourished. Excellent, innovative work is being produced in Texas in the visual, literary, and performing arts, and impressive work is being generated out of every age and ethnic group and in every corner of the state. Superb arts administrators are scattered across the state and many organizations are inventing exemplary education and outreach programs. While all this results in local, regional, and international clout, many of these marvelous organizations suffer from a lack of access to the state's mega-donors and national funders only rarely show up on their lists of donors. As is true in many regions, Texas's small and midsize organizations struggle to attract positive attention and dollars. Texas is rich but the bulk of that largesse goes to our largest organizations.

I invite you to come visit our state, discover new territory, and learn about our resourceful and creative arts organizations. Texas is a big place and for the most part friendly. I guarantee it will be worth your time.

Emily Todd is grant officer, Houston Endowment Inc.

1. This figure would fall to fifty-sixth if American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands were included in the calculation. (National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, March 2000).