Glasstire has received a memorandum from the group Arts Accountability Houston (AAH) which has organized around seeking “accountability from the Mayor of Houston, and by extension, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) and Houston Arts Alliance (HAA).” AAH, in their memorandum, describes a mishandling of grant allocations after COVID-19 significantly reduced projections for Houston’s Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) revenue. This revenue funds city grants for artists and organizations.
“Because of a projected 50% reduction in HOT funds, Houston artists who were awarded grants by HAA for 2020 have been left in a precarious and uncertain position, with particularly negative effects for working-class artists and artists of color,” the memorandum states. It continues: “For communities in Houston, the arts are the lifeblood, a way of imagining new futures, and a platform for vital cultural expression in these difficult times”
AAH is making the following demands of the Mayor of Houston and all relevant decision-makers:
1) MOCA and HAA immediately create a plan to pay, in full, all 2020 individual grantees through whatever means necessary without any interruption to future arts funding awards or amounts; this includes both the Support for Artist and Creative Individuals (SACI) and Let Creativity Happen (LCH).
2) The Mayor, MOCA and HAA will halt the current funding structure for arts grantmaking based on projected HOT funds and work towards immediately implementing one with guaranteed allocations for artists without any interruption in future arts funding awards and amounts. HAA must work with MOCA and Mayor Sylvester Turner to ensure this change is implemented.
3) That MOCA and HAA create a plan and implement the best practices of other publicly funded granting models (Austin, Denmark and New Zealand) in both their compassionate Covid-19 responses as well as ensuring greater equity for working-class artists and artists of color. This is to take place in paid consultation with elected artists and community members of this city.
AAH has published a list of supporters on its website, and encourages all who support their initiative to sign an online form here. Among organizations to announce their support of the AAH statement include The Houston Alliance for Latinx Arts (H.A.L.A.) and Zine Fest Houston. Artists who have signed on in support include current HAA Grantees Anthony Almendárez, Brandon Tho Harris, Ceci Norman, Jaison Oliver, Julie Bata, Peng Zuqiang, Tony Diaz, and Francis Almendárez, among others. The complete list of supporters as of September 14, 2020, is available here.
In the statement released to Glasstire, AAH says that its demands are “an opportunity for the Mayor of Houston to recognize the indispensable function of cultural workers by committing to support the vibrant and critical art community during this pandemic. Inherent to any such commitment comes with an understanding that arts grants funding must be maintained throughout this entire crisis.”
In response to Glasstire’s request for comment, HAA’s Chief Executive Officer, John Abodeely, announced three one-and-a-half-hour grantee forums on September 18 and 19. The forums will focus on “how to support 2020 grantees whose expected grant amounts and scopes of work were deeply curtailed by the pandemic, and the long-term vulnerability of predicted income in the event of a similar global disaster.”
Abodeely further explained that city-funded annual grants and grant amounts are awarded based on projected HOT income, which is forecasted in November of the prior year. In addition, Abodeely noted that other support HAA has given to artists over the past few months includes emergency relief grants through the Greater Houston Area Arts Relief Fund ($249,575 to 416 grantees) and the CARES Act relief program, although he noted that “the CARES Act cannot legally replace government revenue, and it dictates its funds be distributed separately from existing HOT grants.”
Regarding the HOT funding process, Abodeely told Glasstire: “HAA created a webpage to answer commonly asked questions and clarify misconceptions about the HOT funding process. Additionally, we worked with Houston First to bring a monthly HOT distribution tracker to life on our website, providing the latest, up-to-date information on HAA’s financials, including this year’s grant projections, quarterly grant projections and quarterly grant actuals.”
Glasstire is also awaiting comment from the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, and will update this story with their response.
Update: September 18, 2020. Glasstire received a response from Ada Ortega, Press Secretary to the office of Mayor Turner. The full text appears below:
AAH has not contacted the Mayor or the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs about their concerns.
Throughout his term in office, Mayor Turner has been a champion for local artists and the arts community as a whole. Houston remains one of the few cities in the nation to make individual artists grants available. MOCA’s contract with Houston Arts Alliance ensures that 93 percent of the H.O.T. revenue the City receives quarterly is distributed to HAA within five days. Reductions in revenue due to the pandemic have adversely affected the entire city. MOCA is deeply concerned about the 72 artist grantees, the 133 artist applicants who were unable to receive a 2020 grant award but are hoping to re-apply in 2021, our cultural organizations, and all the other artists and cultural workers in our city. The actions MOCA has taken in response to the pandemic, including advancing $3M of new civic art projects and $2M of CARES relief, have been to help people survive by using every available resource. You can learn more about these resources by [going here and here].
Since the adoption of the Arts and Cultural Plan, MOCA has worked with Houston Arts Alliance to improve programs and services resulting in increased equity. We are not aware of any other city providing relief to such a large number of diverse artist grantees. COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on our economy and has caused a major disruption in every sector, including the arts. While the city focuses on meeting the most basic needs of Houstonians, it also remains committed to supporting art and culture.
Disclosure: Glasstire is a Houston Arts Alliance grantee and is subject to the 2020 grant funding reductions.