Arts Commission Leader Retiring

After serving the agency in various capacities for 30 years, the head of the Texas Commission on the Arts is planning to retire this year. Over three decades, Ricardo Hernandez has played a huge role in keeping the arts alive and thriving in Texas. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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Hernandez came to the Commission on the Arts in 1977 as an Artist in Residence, and joined the TCA's staff in 1980. He worked his way up to Deputy Director in 1988, and became Executive Director in 2002. He says it's a great way to spend 30 years, but it's also been a struggle for respect, because there are those who don't think supporting the arts is something the state should be doing.

"Because I've always believed that one of the problems that TCA has, besides the fact that there are certain people who don't believe in public policy for the arts, or that there should be any, is that, unlike other agencies, our value to the state itself, outside of our constituency is not recognized."

Hernandez is a strong believer in arts education and taking the arts to the public. Among other projects, Hernandez helped create TCA's Arts Education Initiative, an inner city artist residency program, and Project BRIDGE, which held summer reading programs for children in housing projects across the state. Hernandez also has a broad definition of what "art" is. It's more than paintings in museums or music in concert halls and opera houses. Art can be found everywhere.

"Unlike our colleagues, say in the sports world and in other arenas, we've been very reluctant in the arts to recognize the avocational part of the arts. So when you're visiting with someone who perhaps took piano all their life, and still today plays the piano and plays it well, they don't perceive themselves as artists and they don't perceive that activity as being art."

Hernandez has done a lot to modernize the back office at the arts commission. In 1997, he launched TCAnet, a website that's regarded as the most comprehensive system of its kind in the country. Hernandez says they do the best they can with the meager funding they get from the legislature.

"If the Texas Commission on the Arts had a ten million dollar a year budget, it could do the maximum of the work its capable of doing for a very very long time. We have about half of that today. So the challenge is to get people to understand that this small investment in the context of this giant multi-billion dollar budget that the state has is really investing in an asset, not in a cost center."

Ricardo Hernandez -- his friends call him Rick -- will retire August 31st, and he plans to get back to doing what he loves most -- creating visual art. The TCA board will start looking for his replacement sometime in the spring. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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