SPA Launches Commissioning Project for Houston Artists

SPA will provide funding to local artists as part of its recent commissioning project.
SPA will provide funding to local artists as part of its recent commissioning project. Graphic by Society for the Performing Arts
There's no getting around it – 2020 has been rough on everyone, especially the arts. News of furloughs, cancellations, and the absolute shellacking of arts groups has sadly become weekly news. The phrase "starving artist" has never been more literal. However, hope springs eternal, as the saying goes, and the arts are the best place to find it. Amid the destruction, we've seen a rejuvenation in creative ways arts groups engage with their audiences and the community. With its most recent announcement, Society for the Performing Arts is hoping to provide some much needed support for the arts during these rocky times.

The organization recently announced the launch of its SPA Houston Artist Commissioning Project. SPA's goal is to promote and sustain Houston’s working artists and artist communities by supporting the creation of new works across all performing arts disciplines. By supporting local artists directly by awarding financial resources for newly created works, SPA HACP will give the city's performing artists an opportunity, and funding, to move their creativity forward.

"SPA HACP, in one form or another, has been percolating in our organizational conversations for a while. We have been planning for a project like this since pre-COVID-19, but after the coronavirus hit, we started witnessing the decimation of the arts economy, especially for live performances. [SPA CEO] Meg Booth and I decided we needed to engage local artists to figure out how we could support them right now," said Claire Williamson, SPA's director of education.

In this pilot year, the project will progress through two phases: an initial period of virtual commissions followed by larger-scale live performance commissions presented in Jones Hall for the Performing Arts.

"Our mission is to bring live performances from around the world to Houston and to enrich the lives of Houstonians through performing arts. Even though we can’t engage with our audiences through the live setting right now, we can provide exciting, original content that supports the local artistic community and provides unique programming for our audience," she said. "The hope is that by next summer, we’ll absolutely feel comfortable rolling out a festival format and live performance for the awardees."

Six awards will be given to working performing artists or groups within the Greater Houston Metro Area to create a new three to five minute virtual work. These new works will premiere on SPA’s social and digital platforms in fall 2020.

Virtual Commissions will include the following:
  • $800 Artist Award
  • One virtual SPA Creative Chat about their project, moderated by SPA's Director of Education, to be shared on SPA social media channels prior to premiere of the new work
Applications for virtual awards are due August 21, with winners announced September 14.

Three awards will be given to working performing artists or groups within the Greater Houston Metro Area, to create a new 15-25 minute work to premiere in festival format on the Jones Hall stage in summer 2021. Additionally, participants in virtual commissions will not be excluded from consideration for live performance awards.

Live Commissions will include the following:
  • $5,000 Artist Award
  • Technical support prior to the performance to assist in development of lighting, sound, and/or set concepts for the new work
  • On-stage performance presentation at Jones Hall for the Performing Arts with other live performance awardees
  • On-stage rehearsal time prior to the performance
Additionally, live performance commissions will include SPA-hosted opportunities to engage with the public:
  • One virtual SPA Creative Chat moderated by SPA's Director of Education about the artists involved in the project and the concept of the work to be created, to be shared on SPA social media channels during spring 2021
  • One SPA Behind the Curtain conversation moderated by SPA's CEO about the creation process, in-person and/or shared on SPA social media channels during spring 2021
  • One preview/talk-back with students from a Houston-area school, in-person or online, during spring 2021
Applications for the Live Performance awards due December 18, with winners announced January 29, 2021. Awardees will have through Summer 2021 for creative development. Live performance dates are to be announced.

In celebrating artists’ voices here in Houston, the most culturally diverse city in the nation, SPA is hopeful minority groups will heed the call. SPA believes black artists, Indigenous artists, artists of color, artists in the LGBTQ+ community, artists with disabilities, and woman artists must be centered through this project. To that end, SPA strongly encourages applications from artists with these identities or members of other marginalized communities.

"This is an opportunity for all artists, but we know not everyone has the same opportunities for access to funding or to promote their work. We want all artists to know they have a place at SPA. We want to make a point to welcome artists of all backgrounds," Williamson added.

Through it all, Williamson sees programs like SPA HCAP as a seedling of hope in these dystopian times.

"I’ve been impressed with the resilience and creativity in these organizations. Everyone is doing their best to connect with their audience and advance their mission. It shows how creativity and the arts will thrive. We need support, but there is remarkable work that is going on. I think the innovation that has come out of a lot of organizations and will continue to come out shows that we have art to share, and SPA will do its best to put it out there," she said.

Applications are available at or by contacting [email protected] For more information about Society for the Performing Arts, visit
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd