The City of Houston approved $5 million in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding on Wednesday to help the city's arts community continue a slow recovery. Many arts and cultural organizations have been fighting for more than two years for additional funding after suffering major losses during the pandemic because of restrictions on public gatherings.
The Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) is partnering with the Mid-America Arts Alliance, (M-AAA), an organization that works with six states – including Texas – to strengthen communities through art, will distribute funds through the Houston and Cultural Stabilization Grant with applications opening in June 2023.
"Our deep and diverse cultural communities attract tourism, new residents, and national attention," said Mayor Sylvester Turner in a statement. "The cultural sector is not just one of our defining features and economic drivers, it is the soul of our city."
Many organizations were forced to cancel things like performances and exhibitions. The city said a total of $11,600,000 of investments that would have normally gone into arts and cultural organizations through the city’s hotel occupancy tax was lost in 2020 and 2021. According to the Texas Comptroller, the arts and entertainment industries in Texas lost $1.6 billion and 42,000 creative jobs during the pandemic.
The importance of the $5 million in funding brought out arts advocates during the city's public session on Tuesday. Cynthia Alvarado is the Director of Operations and Strategic Planning and manages the culture arts and entertainment district at the Midtown Management District.
"The infusion of $5 million is crucial to our economy and is critical to making our Houston arts economy stronger," she said.
Harrison Guy is the Arts and Cultural Director of the Fifth Ward Cultural Arts District. He said funding is what keeps the arts culture vibrant in Houston.
"I think this would be awesome to support and just wanted to reassure you that you will be helping a lot of Houstonians to get back and helping our art sector to survive."
The majority of the council members agreed the arts community does need funding, but District G Council Member Mary Nan Huffman was the only no vote.
"This $5 million roughly amounts to 25% of the police overtime that was authorized in the One Safe Houston plan, which is funded by these exact same federal funds," she said. "Although I do support the arts, this is a lot of money and I think we should continue to look at and discuss the best use for these COVID dollars."
At-Large Council Member Sallie Alcorn said no other industry is more deserving of the funds.
"If anything needed rescuing during this time, during two years plus of pretty much ended programming, it's the art industry, and arts institutions that are so important to our city."
M-AAA's President and CEO Todd Stein said in a statement: "Supporting our arts and cultural organizations and helping them recover from the strain of the pandemic not only strengthens our economy, it strengthens our sense of community," he said. "We are honored to partner with the Mayor's office on this grant opportunity to help arts organizations preserve our collective history and amplify artistic voices that deserve to be heard."