Art After Harvey

A photo of Harvey. Notice the giant flood and the tiny “Theatre District: Next Right” sign (to the right).

In between 24 hour news benders, a solid 48 hour panic attack, back and forths between my mom’s and my house to assess water damage, entertaining a stir-crazy, cooped-up three year old, eating ALL OF THE SNACKS, and donating items to recent Harvey evacuees, I’ve been thinking a lot this week about art in a time of crisis. When people have literally lost their homes, their cars, and all of their belongings, will they have the mental, emotional or financial bandwidth to “take in a show?” When people are forced to rebuild from the ground up, will the arts fall anywhere on their list of priorities?

Times have changed, guys. Once the grocery stores finally opened today after four long, rainy days, they were all out of milk, eggs, and bread. When a person literally can’t buy a loaf of bread, is there any room left to care about anything else?

I keep thinking, it’s really not a great time to be a small non-profit arts organization in Houston. 30,000 people are expected to need shelter after being displaced, rescued by boats, and pulled from drowning cars. That’s a staggering number and a lot of devastating blows. It’s going to take a long, long time for our community to recover from all of this damage.

So what do we do now that our community is suffering? What is our role? The arts are a vital part of the community, and the community is a vital part of the the arts. We feed off of each other. So we have to figure out how we, as artists and arts organizations, can come together now to support a thriving community that usually supports us. It’s also important to ask how we, as artists and arts organizations, can ensure our survival during a period when the community is less able to give the support we so desperately need — and have always needed — to exist. Now, more than ever, our hustle must be collective. All for one, and one for all.

It’s no secret that financial support by way of grants, donations, and sponsorships determines our ability to operate and have jobs. And this demands that we constantly (and uncomfortably, for many of us) ask people for money. But how can we possibly do something like that at a time like this?! Now is not the time for that. Now is the time when people should be (and ARE because Houston is truly the most awesome) donating time, money and resources to food and diaper banks, evacuee shelters and children’s hospitals, churches and charities. Even as the Executive Director of a small non-profit arts organization, I can say, it feels like there’s waaay bigger fish to fry.

Also: I’m far from answers — just asking questions — because I really am at a loss. In the aftermath of the storm, most theaters in town are now forced to cancel shows, push back runs, and shut doors temporarily, for who knows how long. And lost revenue is a huge blow to organizations whose very identity is innately tied to struggle. Each day that passes without butts in seats, as we say, more worry sets in that our days are numbered.

Rec Room Arts is the scrappy, new non-profit that I love, desperately trying like all scrappy, new non-profits to carve out a permanent identity in Houston’s great big cultural landscape. I’m glad to report that our little space at 100 Jackson fared pretty well through the storm. We have a few minor leaks and some water damage underneath the seating bank, but once the roof is patched and the floors are mopped, I imagine the impact of the storm will be felt in much larger, less visible ways.

I hope we can survive them. I hope we can all survive them.