The Inaugural Houston Arts Resource Fair: Excellent Conversations, Very Few Hiccups

This past Saturday marked the inaugural Houston Arts Resource Fair. The Arts Resource Fair came together due to a consortium of Houston-based arts organizations including Dance Source Houston, DiverseWorks, Houston Arts Alliance, Houston Theatre Alliance, Spacetaker/Fresh Arts, Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP) and Texas Accountants & Lawyers for the Arts (TALA). As this was the fair's first year, anticipation was high, as was the community's response -- the fair reached its registration capacity over two weeks ago.

The fair, which took place on the University of St. Thomas campus, opened at 8:30 a.m., with a kickoff shortly thereafter. The opening keynote session featured distinguished Houston lecturer and Co-Director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University Dr. Stephen Klineberg. Klineberg addressed the crowd about the evolving face of Houston and how this alteration is affecting the arts. Klineberg brought to light the need for diversity in the arts as it is being reflected in Houston's rapidly changing population. Diversity within the arts was a conversation that kept popping up throughout the day.

The day was then broken into plenary and smaller breakout sessions focusing on particular topics as they related to the arts. Insurance was a heavily discussed subject and was included in several breakout sessions. Emily Gray, Program Director of Insurance at New York's Fractured Atlas, was among the speakers discussing the need for artists to understand insurance.

Fractured Atlas is a national organization based in Manhattan that helps small to medium-sized arts organizations better understand the business side of making art. Gray explains that artists are often in need of business basics such as software, business education, risk management and documentation procedures, among other various left-brain types of things that artists do not traditionally think about. "We teach you to fish, basically," says Gray. "It's not about the hand-holding that a local arts support organization may do better." Not only did Gray lead several of the breakout sessions on such topics, but she was also a member of the smART bar.

The smART bar, which had multiple dedicated time slots throughout the day, allowed artists to have one-on-one discussions with experts in different disciplines such as Gray or Kathy Ploch from TALA. Ploch, a CPA, has been volunteering with TALA for more than ten years. She lent her expertise to this year's fair and smART bar as she said that accounting is another area in which artists can use assistance. She had several artists sign up with her throughout the day to discuss the ins and outs of finance. Ploch was quite pleased with how the day had gone and noted the "fabulous job" she thought the consortium had done in organizing such a large event.

Naturally, as this was the premiere of this type of arts event in Houston, lessons will be learned and applied to the next go-round. If there was one major comment by several members of the consortium, it was that they should have accepted more registrations. What they were finding was that the number of people that registered for the event didn't exactly show up. This is the peril of offering a free event.

Fair attendee Karen Stokes, Creative Director of Karen Stokes Dance, was happy with the event and glad that a much-needed resource fair pertaining to the arts was being offered in Houston. While she found the sessions educational, she wished that they were split into "levels." "Maybe some sessions broken out for organizations that have been around for a while versus the newbies," she suggests.

As a whole, however, the event appeared to go off without a hitch. Candace Kizer, Program Coordinator for Fresh Arts, a member of the consortium, echoed the overall positive execution of the day. "No one's complaining," she laughed, which is always a good sign. Additionally, Kizer mentions that due to this initial success, they will be having one next year, but she hopes it will be "bigger and better."

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