In the wake of a natural disaster, some types of damage are more visible than others.
Among the less visible is the blow to artists, who may lose the tools of their trade or struggle to find work as their community rebuilds. Similarly, it can be difficult for small arts organizations that don’t have adequate financial reserves to help sustain them through a difficult time.
Following Hurricane Harvey, it became clear that Houston-area artists and cultural organizations had been hit hard. They lacked a clear path to access recovery assistance. They also lacked an advocate to assert that they should have access to assistance.
“There’s no one who stands up for the arts and culture groups after an event like this,” said Dwayne Jones, executive director of the Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF), who is still helping his organization to recover from Hurricane Ike almost 10 years later.
A collection of arts services entities – including CultureWorks Houston, Dance Source Houston, Fresh Arts, GHF, Houston Arts Alliance, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, Preservation Houston and the University of Houston Center for Art and Social Engagement – had already been in conversation with Houston Endowment about capacity-building resources in the sector before the storm. This connection made it easier to pick up the phone during Harvey to discuss response and recovery.
Together they formed Harvey Arts Recovery (HAR), a first-of-its-kind initiative. Houston Endowment provided initial grants for the fund’s administration and for re-granting, as well as connections to national groups with experience in helping creative communities recover from disasters.
“Houston Endowment reached out in a sincere way, without necessarily having the answers. I don’t think they had those more than anyone else did,” said Jones. “They understood that there was a need and that there were answers out there. They brought people together to find them. Without Houston Endowment, I don’t know who else would have done it.”
To date, HAR has raised nearly $100,000 in additional support and has awarded more than $84,000 to small and mid-size organizations and individual artists across the ten-county Houston region.
HAR has also begun to advocate for disaster-assistance policies that support artists and to build local infrastructure for coordinated preparedness and response for the next disaster.
“We realized there were important lessons we could learn through this process that we should be documenting to make sure we were better prepared the next time,” said Marci Dallas, executive director of Fresh Arts. “We are trying to formalize the program so that when something happens again, we can pick up where we left off and get going.”
Other cities are taking note. It’s not hard to see why.
“Knowing that somebody cared about what happened to artists and small arts organizations in Houston meant a lot to people,” said Dallas. “Those are the kinds of things that stop artists from leaving a place.”
“Knowing that somebody cared about what happened to artists and small arts organizations in Houston meant a lot to people. Those are the kinds of things that stop artists from leaving a place.” Marci Dallas, executive director, Fresh Arts
Houston Endowment Investment in HAR: $100,000 to Fresh Arts to establish the Harvey Arts Recovery fund (2017), $25,000 to Houston Arts Alliance to seed the Harvey Arts Recovery fund (2017)