Volunteers are always welcome at Bayou City Arts Festival and many other events around Houston.
Volunteers are always welcome at Bayou City Arts Festival and many other events around Houston.
Photo courtesy of Bayou City Arts Festival

Easy Ways to Support the Arts in Houston on a Budget

When your wallet seems filled with a few flecks of lint and a desperately gasping moth, it's discouraging to be an arts fan. There are so many prints to buy, shows to attend, movies to watch, Kickstarter campaigns and Patreons to back…You want to show your support to every organization and individual whose efforts bring you pleasure, but you need to be realistic.

Of course, your favorites can’t pay their landlords and gas bills with exposure; asking them to work for free not only denigrates the value of their labor, but sets a precedent granting others permission to denigrate the value of yours.

In general, artists and arts organizations understand that their fans hail from different financial circumstances, and accept more than just money as a sign of appreciation for their buttbusting. And with many individual artists and arts organizations suffering major losses following Hurricane Harvey, patronage of any kind is welcome. Fortunately, there are many ways Houstonians can Catherine de' Medici on the cheap.

Attend Free or Pay-What-You-Can Events
Simply showing up resonates more than you might realize, even if your cultural diet means you exclusively take advantage of free or pay-what-you-can arts.

For Mai Ha, social-media manager and floor manager at the variety television show Space City Chronicles on the Houston MediaSource Network, a bigger audience tuning in to the program creates more opportunities for donations and professional growth.

“Participation and donations are what we look for in our supporters. We can only achieve these goals with someone who at least watched the show once, and those who care about the creative content we try to put out,” they say, while noting that “past and previous members” of the cast and crew have moved on to work with other TV shows because of their ability to draw in viewers.

As a butt in a seat or a pair of ears and optic nerves behind a screen, you can be one more number for a favorite program, creator, event or organization to tick on their CVs, résumés and grant applications. When it comes to making the arts accessible to the widest possible range of socioeconomic brackets, adopting a pay-what-you-can model acknowledges income inequality while still bringing in the money needed to keep operations moving.

A scene from Catastrophic's Tamarie's Merry Evening of Mistakes & Regrets
A scene from Catastrophic's Tamarie's Merry Evening of Mistakes & Regrets
Photo courtesy of Catastrophic Theater

Artistic Director Jason Nodler of Catastrophic Theater says, “In just around five years as a theater that offers Pay-What-You-Can tickets to all performances other than fundraisers, our audience has more than doubled since instituting this ticketing program.”

He points out that they “saw the effects…immediately” upon implementation of this approach. Attendees gave anything from a few pennies to a hundred dollars or more, and Catastrophic Theater continues to receive messages from grateful fans excited to see some of the city’s best plays without fretting over finances.

Once again, the ability to fill venues leads directly to the ability to fill coffers.

“Almost all individual donors come from our audience, as do our board members and other important stakeholders," says Nodler. "Our Pay-What-You-Can program was the proverbial locksmith that opened the door to wildly diverse, new audiences. Foundations which provide a goodly portion of our budget each year have taken notice and are extremely supportive of the program.”

You can find free, low-cost and pay-what-you-want events at VisitHouston and, of course, here at the Houston Press.

Go to the Library
The Houston Public Library manages more than 3.6 million books, periodicals, movies, albums and other media, and it welcomed more than 7.2 million patrons (online included) in 2016. Take advantage of the library's astounding stacks. When you need to save money, don’t rush out to buy the latest and greatest projects snagging your interest; chances are, the library already has it available.

If you’re a fan of a particular author, filmmaker, illustrator or musician, suggest his or her work as a possible purchase for the collection. Create a demand for that person in the community.

Spread the Word on Social
Social-media users, especially those active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, enjoy the easiest way to rally behind the artists they love. Even if your days creak and crumble beneath too many responsibilities, follows, likes, shares and newsletter signups (some of which may contain special offers!) encourage conversation around the creatives you think deserve attention – not to mention build up increasingly impressive numbers.

“With the way Houston Media Source works, social media and word of mouth is solely what we as a team [at Space City Chronicles] depend on,” Ha recommends.

Illustrator Taryn M. Gray (Peanutbutter and Jam) agrees. Cultivating an online portfolio to show curators and potential clients and customers makes it possible for her to establish the career she wants.

“We are in the age of information, the rise of technology — we are in an age of connection, where social media brings us closer than we have ever been before. Social media is not only integral, it is vital to not only building your online presence but strengthening your bond between yourself and your consumers, clientele and community,” she says.

“Social media has made it easier to connect with others in such a way that allows us to build a business from literally nothing to booming with just a click.”

If you have the time to invest in writing on a regular basis, you might want to consider launching an arts blog or post series on a free platform like WordPress or open forum like Medium. Write about the works you love and why you believe others need to take notice. Or ask your favorites for an interview. You may rev up the cycle generating game-changing word of mouth.
If plugging yourself in or putting yourself out there holds no appeal, personal conversations still hold value.

“Even without Facebook or the hundreds of other social media outlets, someone could recommend my services to someone else they know who is looking for those services,” says Gray.

Volunteer
You may not be able to donate money, but time is just as crucial a resource when it comes to promoting and uplifting the arts. Bridget Anderson, executive director of Art Colony Association, credits much of Bayou City Arts Festival’s successes to its robust volunteer base. Last year, BCAF Downtown — which returns October 14-15 — brought in more than 800 volunteers for two days, a full 100 heads higher than the annual average.

“We have people that have been volunteering for years and have made great friendships with the artists and each other, so there's definitely a sense of community that comes with being a Bayou City Art Festival volunteer,” she says.

“We count on our volunteers not only to keep all the parts moving during the festival, but to also interact with the patrons as they come to the event," she adds. "Volunteers are the face of the festival, as well as the heart.”

Donating your time and experience allows organizations to spread their funding further and impress the individuals and organizations who make money happen.

“Art Colony Association is a nonprofit organization and it produces Bayou City Art Festival Memorial Park in the spring and Bayou City Art Festival Downtown in the fall,” says Anderson.

“Proceeds from each festival benefit Houston local charities and our volunteers help us give back to the community. With a full-time staff of three and a handful of seasonal contract workers, putting on a festival of this size wouldn’t be possible without the support from our volunteers.”

Volunteering isn’t relegated to events and organizations, either. If you have friends who make a little extra money — if not a living — pursuing their own creative goals, ask them where they might need your help. Maybe they could use someone to watch over their tables at trade shows and galleries. Maybe they need a babysitter the night of an important networking event. Maybe they could use a thermos of your extra coffee. Maybe they know you’re the best at hiding the bodies. Offering a boost with the resources you possess lets the creators you enjoy preserve some all-important time and money.

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