Art in Houston: Chron offers "guidance about what is good for the people of Houston"

Remember when Chron editor Jeff Cohen said the editorial board's purpose was to "offer guidance about what is good for the people of Houston"?

Well, the Chron's Christmas day editorial was a doozy, opining that "Houstonians can thank the publicly/privately funded Houston Art Alliance for the coming artistic bounty."

That's just hilarious, considering Wayne Dolcefino's recent look at the taxpayer-funded Houston Art Alliance. So, just for fun, here's a little compare/contrast:


By the end of the coming 12 months, Houstonians will be able to cast their gaze (and highly critical eyes, we have no doubt) on eight new public works of art. That is something to bring civic cheer, particularly in these gloomy economic days.


For two and a half years, the Houston Arts Alliance has been in charge of spending your art money.

"I was shocked at how little art has been done," said Houston Controller Annise Parker.

You know the old commercial, 'Where's the beef'? Where's the art?

"In two and a half years, how many pieces of civic art have been completed?" we asked Glus.

"Completed as in installed?" he asked back.

"Completed as in completed," we said.

"Just one," said Glus. "'Synchronicity.'"

"It's an absolute perversion of what we intended to do," said Parker.


If history is any guide, these new oeuvres d'art in the local public square will also be something for Houstonians to cuss and discuss in public and private, as each comes into view.


The tower of the new downtown fire station was supposed to be a beacon for city art.

"It's going to be our showpiece for the Houston Fire Department probably for the next thirty, forty years," said HFD Chief Phil Boriske.

The Art Alliance chose a design to be etched into stained glass windows to be lit at night -- $175,000 of your money. Wanna be an art critic? Take a good look at the design. What do you think it looks like?

"You and I both agree, I'm probably not an art evaluator or critic," said Boriske.

Some firefighters at Station 8 sure had an opinion when they saw the design.

"I think a lot of people at first termed it a flaming chicken," said Chief Boriske.


Public art just seems to bring the opinion out in people and not just in Houston. When it was constructed in Paris in the 1880s, the Eiffel Tower was described by the city's cultural elite as a "black blot" casting an "odious shadow."

The new pieces appearing across our local landscape will range from a "bouquet" of seven overflowing bathtubs that will be located outside the Houston Water Museum and Education Center scheduled to open in northeast Houston, to an interactive sculpture titled "Open Channel Flow" at the Sa-bine Street Pump Station, and commissions destined for the city's two major airports.


This is not smell-ivision, but trust me, you won't have to fight throngs of tourists at the city's wastewater laboratory on Bellaire. Yes, your tourism tax money was used on art here. That's why we are exploring the color of money. But the doors to the building are always locked.

But the art exhibit is only feet away -- "aqua profunda est quieta," which means "still waters run deep." Get it? It's a wastewater plant. And the art here cost you $69,000. We asked worker if he could feel the art.


Houstonians can thank the publicly/privately funded Houston Art Alliance for the coming artistic bounty. Established in the late 1970s, the group, which spends funds set aside in the city's capital-improvements budget, "manages, grows and maintains the City of Houston's Art Collection." It is admirably ambitious in this task, seeking to make this city the home of "the country's next great civic art program," according to Jonathan Glus, the alliance's CEO.


On her website, Houston playwright Crystal Jackson wants to fight stupidization. She got a Houston arts grant for writing plays with your tax money. And I want you to listen carefully to her opening line.

"I'm not a queer, but I want someone to (expletive) me in the (expletive) pretty much as soon as possible," read Jonathan Glus with the Houston Arts Alliance.

I want someone to what me in the what as soon as possible? Wow. Is that art? You paid for it.

"For the city to have a robust arts sector, there's all art forms that are going to go on," said Glus.


"It seems as if we've created a piggy bank that other people wanted to get their fingers in," said Houston Controller Annise Parker.

The Houston Art Alliance gets more than a million dollars in tax money just to make sure the artists who get grants spend the money properly and that we get art that brings in tourists.

"They do not get final payment until they have completed the work," Glus told us.

One guy did. Seventy-five-hundred bucks for a series of poems on how four city art pieces look during different times of the day. He got the grant in April 2007, got four checks, the last check in June of this year. But a year and a half later after getting the first money, not a single poem has been made public, even though the artist bills include $1,000 for printing.

"I haven't seen this and I want to look into this and I'll get back to you on it," said Glus.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 12/28/08 09:10 AM | Print |

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