Houston Is Only Texas City To Receive Two National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town Grants since Inception of National Initiative

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 9/18/2013, 4:32 p.m.
The National Endowment for the Arts recently announced that Houston Arts Alliance received one of 59 Our Town 2013 grant ...

The National Endowment for the Arts recently announced that Houston Arts Alliance received one of 59 Our Town 2013 grant awards, making Houston the only city in Texas to have received the prestigious grant this year, as well as the only Texas city to have received two in the three years of the national, creative placemaking initiative. The University of Houston (UH) was the first Houston organization to receive an Our Town grant and the first institution of higher education in Texas to receive this grant.

Through Our Town, the NEA supports creative placemaking projects that help transform communities into lively, beautiful and sustainable places with the arts at their core. The grantee projects encourage creative activity, create community identity and a sense of place, and help revitalize local economies. All Our Town grant awards were made to partnerships that consisted of at least one nonprofit organization and a local government entity. This year’s Our Town grant awards totaled $4.725 million, reaching 34 states in the Our Town program’s third year of funding.

As Houston embraces its urban core, the city is particularly ripe for funding aimed at placemaking within its older, richly complex and enduring neighborhoods, especially since the arts are central to the traditions and history of the global cultures rooted in those neighborhoods. As Houston’s population continues to grow at a tremendously rapid rate (an additional two million people over next 30 years in Harris County alone) as one of the fastest growing U.S. city, our inner-city neighborhoods will once again evolve into denser urban environments. The arts and culture at the heart of these neighborhoods will aid in transcending development, and creative placemaking is essential in carrying our history forward during such rapid change.

To that end, Houston’s great urban university, University of Houston was awarded an Our Town grant of $100,000 in 2011 for its Third Ward Arts Initiative to pair visual, performing and new media artists with local art partners, architects, engineers, urban planners, developers and community residents for creative placemaking in one of Houston’s most historic traditionally African-American neighborhoods. UH sought to create new media, technology and arts projects for community inspiration, education, tourism and other economic opportunities that serve as integral elements of Houston's larger civic revitalization effort.

Looking to the East side, Houston Arts Alliance will receive $200,000 for its major 2014 Transported & Renewed project—one of two grants awarded nationally at the highest level of funding possible. Transported & Renewed will be a three-month cultural celebration in Houston's East End in conjunction with the centennial of the Port of Houston and the inauguration of the Houston METRO East End Light Rail Line.

Transported & Renewed will celebrate Houstonians fascination with all forms of transport—from tugs, ships, railroads, bicycles, art cars, trail rides and lower riders to dragon boats, SLABS, food trucks and more. As the city’s transport hub, the historic East End will serve as the epicenter for this major three-month celebration to include a bold mix of site-specific, community-based arts performances, installations and participatory events.