HGO Got $4 Million, What Would You Do With the Money?

This past weekend, The Houston Grand Opera received some amazing news to the tune of a $4 million dollar donation. Major philanthropic figure and good friend to the HGO Margaret Alkek Williams has pledged to support all the arias a person could possibly want. The Allek and Williams Foundation have generously promised to give the Opera an annual gift of $800,000 over the next five years. That's a good friend if you ask us!

Don't get us wrong, we love the HGO and they certainly deserve the support, but with all the talk of cuts in state funding for the arts, we got wondering; how else could that money be spent on Houston's multitude of starving art(ist)s? Art Attack took to the streets (or the internet) and asked four random Houston based artists - "So, what would you do with a million bucks?"

Since it's a cool million, the sky was the limit for these artists, the only stipulation being it had to be specifically for their art (no paying for your out-of-control texting overages with it).

1 Million: Jennifer Decker is the Artistic Director for Mildred's Umbrella a local theater company that has produced a number of productions in Houston over the past 10 years. They have collaborated with various local artists and theater groups throughout this time and have been noted for their boundary-breaking "bold spirit."

Jennifer Decker: The first thing I would do is buy Mildred's Umbrella a performance space. We do not have our own, and for our current production, 'Under the Big, Dark Sky', we rehearsed in 8 different places within the 4 weeks before load in that were either cheap or free. Just a small black box theatre inside the loop converted from whatever. The second thing I would do is hire a managing director so that I would only be doing one job (Artistic Director) for free instead of two. Then I could use other revenue to make sure that every artist working with us is compensated decently for the amazing work they are doing.

2 Million: Boston Bostian, Mel Reiff Hill, Jay Mays, Robin Mack, & Darren Arquero are co-creators of The GENDER Book. The GENDER Book is a fun and colorful resource, similar to educational children's books, which illustrates the diversity of gender. The GENDER Book hopes to change the face of gender education in a way that is "approachable, easy to understand, and even beautiful."

The GENDER Book: Part of our strategic plan would include a broadening of our online reach to include multiple interactive web components. Kids could learn about gender roles, identities and performance of various cultures via a "virtual tour." We would also create "GenderTube," allowing people to upload 1- to 2-minute videos of their personal understanding of gender, creating a multitude of experiences for anyone to browse. We'd love the materials to make a documentary.

Then we could support the national gender conferences and empower them with resources. As the third largest city, Houston could host a gender conference of its own that would bring together the major players in the artistic, academic and political realms to create space for ideas for gender equality either on a regional, national or international level.

3 Million: Bill Davenport is proprietor of Bill's Junk, 1125 E 11th St. in Houston, a store that reconciles high art, low craft, nature, and salvage under the umbrella of commerce.  He's bent on filling Houston with big, goofy concrete objects like the popular Giant Mushroom Forest or the Mini Ace Hardware store on Main St.

Bill Devenport: Truthfully, I don't know what I'd use a million dollars for. Sure, I could use a $45,000 or so to quit my day job, but what then? I've built my whole artistic practice on cheap: junk ideas, junk objects, and junk materials.  I'd have to start thinking up artistic ways to spend money. I'd start handing out whopping big awards to artists for great shows and projects in Houston. I'd buy local art. I'd give great local artists free apartments and studios.

I'd start a PR campaign, a parade, and a magazine.  I'd hire real artists to teach in every elementary school in Houston.  I'd produce a grotesque local Next Great Artist TV program, and a radio show! I'd dig a huge hole near the banks of the Buffalo Bayou into which every facile, third-rate piece of decor calling itself art could be buried (burned first, of course). I'd make street art legal, and give street vendors selling books and artworks immunity from tax and licensing rules (no, wait! That's if I was "King For A Day"). Anyway, why can't I have four million, like the opera? I could do so much more!

4 Million: Sehba Sarwar is the Artistic/Founding Director of Voices Breaking Boundaries (VBB), which is a multidisciplinary arts organization whose mission is to cross borders, sustain dialogue and incite social justice through art. Through their artistic productions, radio shows and workshops, they give voice to marginalized communities and challenge existing ideas. Their most popular productions are the living room art shows through which they convert homes into art galleries and open the space to all members of the community.

Sehba Sarwar/VBB: If someone were to offer VBB $1million we would continue to do much of what we already do: create multidisciplinary productions that bring communities together, and I would continue my artistic work. The funds would be applied toward supporting all the organizations and individuals that have donated artistic talent, exhibition, office and performance space, tech support, design, and labor to VBB.

Time is a resource and if I and the rest of the VBB team were not dispensing our energy raising funds, we could actually realize many of our goals: to strengthen our living room art productions and expand the shows to cities around the globe including Mexico DF, Cairo, Karachi, Delhi, Salvador (Brazil) and also continue our community work in Houston. More than anything, though, I would love for VBB to create a retreat center on a beach in Thailand and/or in the Chiapas mountains for the local and global artistic/activist community with which we work, where there would be time and space for each of us to create artistic work, separately and collaboratively.

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Abby Koenig
Contact: Abby Koenig