BWW Interviews: Houston Arts Partners Co-Chairs Talk ARTS WORK Conference

A fascinating organization, Houston Arts Partners, is on the rise in Houston. Ready to fling the doors wide open on their third annual conference, the group is going above and beyond to foster long lasting partnerships between the worlds of public education and arts administration. This year's conference, titled Arts Work, is co-chaired by Bob Bryant, Executive Director of Fine Arts for Katy ISD, and Shelly Power, Associate Director for the Houston Ballet. As the conference has grown over the years, each side has embraced its importance. Notably the first conference was held at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. For it's second year at it was held at both the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and at University of Houston. This year, it'll be held at the Houston Ballet Center for Dance. Many important and invaluable sponsors donate time, money, effort, and energy to ensure this event happens. Silver Sponsors for this year's conference are Houston Ballet, Boeing, Bank of America, and Jim Benton of Houston, the conference's caterer. There is a large number of Bronze and Booth sponsors as well. For a full list of sponsors please click here. [!sponsorships/c46c] To get the inside scoop on this years activities, I recently spoke with Troy Scheid, Arts Education Initiative Specialist for Houston Arts Partners, Shelly Power, and Bob Bryant about what attendees can expect from this year's event.

BWW: How did Houston Arts Partners begin?

Troy Scheid: Houston Arts Partners started a few years ago as government school budgets started being tightened. The arts were suffering as a result;they were being cut. At the time, a couple of our arts administrators who now work with Houston Arts Partners through various districts got together with Young Audiences of Houston and said, "Wouldn't it be great if there was a way for us to combine the needs of the various districts with the educational offerings that all of our partner organizations had?" Mary Mettenbrink, who is now the Executive Director of Young Audiences, she was at the time the Education Director, and those arts administrators approached 20 arts organizations from all of the disciplines in the Houston area and founded Houston Arts Partners. It initially started as a yearly conference to provide arts integration tools for teachers who wanted to bring the arts into their classrooms. Then, there is, which is kind of a big box website, where teachers can go in the middle of the night if they have to and say, "I really want to get well-rounded arts experiences for my students. On this website I can book a museum fieldtrip, I can book a symphony artist coming to my school, and I can book a fieldtrip to the students to a go to a theater and see a performance." Since then, the conference has really gained a lot of momentum. One thing we are looking at now is creating in-depth partnerships by district to help answer their needs through the arts offerings that the arts organizations have.

Shelly Power: I would just add in to that that prior to three years ago when this conference really started up, we were having a one day kind of show and tell type performance down in the Theatre District, inviting all of the school partners to come in. The difficulty with that was that we didn't really have an avenue to stay in touch, keep that momentum going, and feeling like we were educating both sides - the arts as well as the schools - in what we were able to offer. So, this really filled a void for us, just kind of formalized what we were doing, put it into an educational experience, if you will, and also even gave a deeper level that is more based on application and really giving them more of a classroom type experience.

Troy Scheid: It also helps each side understands each other's needs better. When we started getting more requests for curriculum integration, our work on matching an art form with that objective become a lot clearer.

Shelly Power: Right.

Bob Bryant: Of course, Houston has always had a phenomenal professional arts district, and we love that. It was one of those times where we're all sitting there and asking, "How can we get the most out of what's being offered?" Every professional arts group had an educational outreach program. As an administrator, we were all going to a regional educational service center for only about a half-day and all the various professional arts groups were coming in, each one had a limited amount of time in which they would present some of their educational outreach programs, and then they'd give handouts. We were leaving this meeting with a whole bunch of literature about great stuff, but we never could figure out how we could make it more accessible to our schools and our teachers. So, we were sitting there and saying "Wouldn't it be great if we could kind of centralize all of this into one area in which we can take advantage of these fabulous educational programs that the professional partners have? But, where we can also prove to our principals and our district decision makers the validity of the arts?" This is where we saw the merger of a great partnership coming in, hence the website coming on and things like that.

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