Houston Not a City For Young Creatives, Says New List

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Photo by Margaret Downing
All things considered, the horse manure problem hasn't been as bad as initially anticipated
Now back to this list. To be sure, this list is a personal opinion. It is not based in statistical facts or socioeconomic data; at least there is no mention of this. The cities listed are those that are well known to be havens of creativity, inexpensive to live in, having spawned hipster bands, famous art-centric events, foodie culture and/or city-wide support for the arts. With the exception of Miami, which is very expensive to live in, none of the cities are that surprising.

Given these unspoken check points, why not Houston? Houston is still relatively cheap to live (Austin's median home cost is $239,000, while Houston's is currently $195,000), we may be lacking in the hipster band category, but we've got a few names on the national circuit and our hip hop kills. Food culture? Hello, the New York Times can't stop writing about our chefs, and our mayor has put the city's money where its arts' mouth is with various city initiatives including the "Houston Is Inspired" campaign. So, what the F? Why don't young creatives follow Houston's yellow brick road? And, furthermore, what can we do about it?

From an insiders perspective it feels like we are doing a lot to attract young artists, but perhaps from an outsiders perspective we are not.

"Houston is a fantastic city for an artist who is a self starter," says Jenni Rebecca Stephenson, executive director of Fresh Arts. "But if you are not interested in forging those roads yourself, it's difficult."

Stephenson's organization is dedicated to educating artists to help themselves in terms of legalities, marketing and fundraising. Additionally, Fresh Arts sponsors various exhibitions, runs a gallery and puts together one of the city's biggest craft/art sale, WHAM. But even with the support that Fresh Arts does, Stephenson says there needs to be more.

"Houston has to get serious if we want to foster the more emerging artists," she says. "Some of the larger institutions need to change their focus by paying individual artists more, being more mindful of bringing emerging artists up the ranks. Giving them more opportunities."

While there are some opportunities from the larger organizations in town to support fledgling and mid-level arts organizations, Stephenson wonders where they go after they get out of these programs? What opportunities are there after you hit a certain threshold?

The answer seems to be that you leave Houston.

Or maybe you don't. Emily Hynds is the co-creative director of BooTown. BooTown is one of those arts organizations you read about in cities that you deem to be cooler than your own. They run the increasingly popular Grown-Up Storytime. Additionally, BooTown hosts a series of Benshi shows, where they re-cut popular movies and dub them over live, as well as creating puppet shows such as their upcoming Platahontas. Hynds is a born and raised Texan; she got her degree in theater from the University of Houston. But unlike many of her 20-something artist friends, when it came time to go be creative, Hynds thought that Houston was the best place to do that.

"Once BooTown got going," says Hynds, "it became clear that we couldn't do what we were doing in a city like New York or LA and I have never been happier that I stayed here." Hynds echoed my sentiments that Houston is a big, little city or a little big city, perhaps. "There is such a good, home grown and down to earth theater community here," she continues, "and if you can come to terms with the fact that you won't get 'discovered,' there is some really good art to be made and the opportunity to make it yourself."

But are people getting discovered in Portland, OR or Austin, TX? Sure. And maybe that's why Houston can't seem to find its way into the cool kids' club? We have Beyonce, they have The Decemberists. Some may argue that this alone should make Houston a bigger draw, but then, Beyonce up and moved to New York and The Decemberists still eat regularly at Voodoo Doughnuts.

Hynds' love of Houston may have to do with her familiarity with they type of city it is and how it supports the type of work she wants to do, but is Houston doing a good job of getting its awesomeness out there? The city's massive advertising campaign "Houston Is..." features Houston artists from classical music to theater to puppetry to fine arts to graffiti. It's a gorgeous campaign with some of the city's finest, but, and forgive me if I'm wrong, none of these artists are in their 20s. This makes me wonder: Is Houston even looking to attract young creative types?

There are various other logistical factors that make a city more welcoming to a younger cohort that Houston doesn't have, and the PolicyMic list touches on many of them. Several of the cities mentioned are/were in recent economic downturns. While it may be odd to think that cities with high unemployment rates would be a draw, these tend to be destinations that younger people can build communities out of; rent is cheap, empty spaces are plentiful. So maybe Houston's positive economy is a drawback to young artists. I know, it sounds counterintuitive.

And then of course there is transportation. "Public transportation is a real issue here," says Stephenson.

A city that has the infrastructure to get artists from point A to B cheaply and effectively is certainly a plus. Not everyone can afford a car.

But at the end of the day, Hynds thinks that maybe the reason Houston isn't attracting creative types is because of the fact that its money is dripping in oil.

"I think Houston has a bad rep for being an oil and gas town," Hynds says, "but big industries like that and the medical and shipping industries are part of what makes Houston a metropolis that has tons of jobs to offer."

Bad rep yes, but overcoming that is an issue of branding, which I think is at the heart of it all. For a city whose best known attribute is "having a problem," if we who live here and love it so much want it to flourish artistically on a national scale, maybe that's the problem that needs fixing. That being said, I see Houston blowing up artistically in five to ten years, but then that will cause a whole new set of problems.

Abby Koenig's new play "Spaghetti Code" opens July 12 at PJ's Bar.


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12 comments
exhausted
exhausted

So one person who could not cut it in NYC gets mad about some silly article and because Houston has a fit every time it is criticized this nonsense gets published? For crying out loud this insecurity that Houston has is soooo tiring. 

Anse
Anse

It's hard to understand why the oil and gas industry would be a negative for those young creatives, but Wall Street isn't for New York. 


Austin is the state capitol and it has the U. of Texas, as well as several other universities nearby. They seem to have an easier time hosting large-scale festivals (our Summer Fest is a notable and hopeful exception for Houston), probably because they don't seem to care about the impact on traffic, while our city council can't decide anything without figuring out where the cars are gonna go first. Austin has worked very hard to emphasize development in the central area, so there is an intensity to the life of that town, while our own downtown can be utterly dead on even a weekend evening. I'm not bashing Houston, it's my home and I actually like that we don't get all the press-gushing that Austin gets; we're actually a lot more laid-back than Austin is in that regard, and I like that. 

Candyman Vending Service
Candyman Vending Service

well everyone in Houston rejected my ideas including the Texans so I took my creative ideas to to Cali and pitched it to artists over there. Took me 3 months and my design hit TMZ and the press across the world as well as a huge support from everywhere but Houston. Now I have a list of celebs waiting as clientele. So that's my input lol

Jesse Santillano
Jesse Santillano

H-Town is not majority white. Do some fact checking before you embarrass yourself.The non-Hispanic white proportion in Houston has halved since 1970, when it accounted for 62% of the population, which is down to 30.8% today. It also seems the racial and ethnic diversity increases the further away from the center of the city you move. Houston's Hispanic population is increasing rapidly as more Latin American immigrants move to the area to work. Houston now has the 3rd largest Hispanic population in the United States. There is also a significant African American population in Houston, which has been the case for most of its history. From 1870 to 1890, black people accounted for nearly 40% of the city's population, although this ranged from 21 to 33% from 1910 to 1970.

Rick McDowell
Rick McDowell

Yes, actually. Been here a year from Colorado, and have found the entire atmosphere to be a complete detrement to my creative process.

katsola1
katsola1

Houston is an affordable city for the influx of young professionals in the energy, oil, technology and medical industries which are seeing starting salaries of $75K, who are in a position to take advantage of the lower cost to own a home or who can take their time and live in luxury apartments sprouting up on every scrap of land. If you want attract young creatives and keep the current creative community in tact and moving forward; worry less about branding the city and concentrate on intelligent design and city planning that includes housing for those in a more varied income than the city is currently building. If land cost to developers is at a premium, is there a creative way to generate extra income to compensate for building more basic apartments without depending on grants and subsidies? Would solar panels on the roof generate excess energy that could be resold to the energy industry to compensate for less premium rents? I don't know if that would work, but I do know if the creatives, the energy experts, economists and city planners came together, I bet they could come up with a smart, sustainable solution for this city.

Our success stories in small business, the creative community and the young entrepreneurs lived in a more affordable city ten years ago than they do now; but the ones who survived still made intelligent decisions in growing their business and were thankful for the low cost of living and rent as being a part of their success; never using that fact as a way to sit on the sidelines to take a break.

At the end of the day branding is about fulfilling a promise. If the foundation of the promise is not there to ensure it happens; no branding of this city, no matter how wonderfully thought out, aesthetically beautiful or moving will ever work, if the promise falls short. I love this city, it is where I was born it is where I work and as a designer and a part of the creative community and I like many feel the current frustration with the housing problem. If we are all upset we didn't make the list while our high rent "weird" neighbor did, let's be smart and not fall further behind by making the same mistake.

Anse
Anse

@exhausted I think Houstonians are less uptight about this sort of thing than people in other places. We might get a little defensive about Houston but that's because the rest of the country has such a sour attitude about our city.


I bought a t-shirt from a little shop on Studewood that says "It's Okay to (heart) Houston" and I love wearing it when I'm in Austin, because you would not believe some of the comments I've gotten from the hipsters up there. I have actually been confronted on the street for that t-shirt. The comments are usually some variation of "You can't be serious". These are people who were either not in Austin back in the early 90's, or who have since forgotten how badly that town wanted to be noticed by the rest of the world. They were in Houston's shadow back then, now it's the other way around. But I think most Houstonians are actually pretty nonchalant about it. 

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