Tag Archives: Houston Matters

Encore!! Houston Classical Music Gains Dedicated Radio Coverage

Recent years have proven challenging for Houston’s incredible Arts Scene.  After KUHF’s Award-Winning program The Front Row closed its doors in 2013, the city’s diverse collection of artists and musicians lost one of their greatest champions.  In the years since, Houstonians have been wondering what will become of the once robust local music and arts coverage that was offered on public radio.

Past live performance from KUHF’s The Front Row featuring members of the Houston Ebony Music Society, 2012.  Performers are DuWayne Davis, Adavion Wayne, Wayne Ashley and Leon Turner with Dr. John Cornelius at the piano.  

Even with excellent intermittent feature stories from the great folks at Houston Public Media’s Houston Matters and the dedicated work of Arts and Culture reporter Amy Bishop and TV8 program Arts InSight, Houston Arts have dearly missed the programming options and connectivity that our former program schedule provided, and have been left wondering if there will ever be additional options.

Luckily with 2017, part of that open question is getting answered, as Houston Public Media premieres a new program dedicated to classical music in the area.  Here’s more from Clifford Pugh of CultureMap

Fans of Houston’s classical music scene will have a new outlet as Houston Public Media debuts a new weekly radio show and podcast that highlights performances of local concert organizations. Encore Houston premieres Saturday at 10 pm, with an encore performance Sunday at 4 pm on Classical 88.7 HD-2 and online at houstonpublicmedia.org/listen-live.

The first episode features Mercury‘s performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, also known as the “Choral” Symphony, from May 2016, along with commentary and details about the chamber orchestra’s upcoming performance from Houston Public Media classical host and producer Joshua Zinn.

[…]

Other classical groups that will be featured during the first season are KINETIC, Chamber Music Houston, DaCamera, Ars Lyrica, Houston Early Music, Context, Musiqa, Bach Society, Houston Chamber Choir, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, and St. Cecilia Chamber Music Society. The length of each show varies according to the concert performance; most shows will run between one and two hours.

Like other HPM program offerings, each episode of Encore Houston is also available via podcast, so if you’ve missed the debut, you can always go back and check out the previous shows.  Beyond listening, you can also show your support for Encore Houston (and any possibilities of future arts coverage) by posting about the program on social media.  Host and producer Joshua Zinn is on Twitter as @HPMZinn, and though there’s no Facebook page for the specific show yet, you can always like the Houston Public Media page and like/comment on posts about the new show.

After a noticeable drought of music and arts coverage, it’s great to see those resources slowly reforming in the community.  Encore, indeed!

Houston Mayoral Candidates Discuss The Arts

The first major forum in Houston’s 2015 campaign season may have been all about the Arts, but it was lacking in drama.

Candidates hoping to replace Houston Mayor Annise Parker tested the waters of election season on some previously untested issues for local politics.  Rebecca Elliott of the Houston Chronicle has the story…

Houston’s mayoral candidates were full of praise for the city’s arts scene Wednesday, when they appeared at a forum together for the first time, though most said they would not support raising taxes or allocating new city funds to support arts and culture.

The forum hosted by four city arts groups – Houston Arts Alliance, Houston Museum District, Theater District Houston and Miller Outdoor Theatre – featured seven of the candidates vying to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker and kicks off a series of similar interest-specific events leading up to November’s election.

The relatively conflict free event at the Asia Society Texas Center drew a standing room only crowd. It opened with statements from each of the candidates, who then went on to answer three arts and culture-related questions.

The first addressed the city’s recently implemented cap on arts funding from hotel occupancy tax revenues, about 19 percent of which are set aside to fund city arts organizations. Two years ago, City Council passed an ordinance capping the city’s arts and culture spending through this revenue stream, prompting criticism from some of the grantees.

Four of the seven candidates – former congressman and City Council member Chris Bell, former mayor of Kemah Bill King, businessman Marty McVey and state Rep. Sylvester Turner – said they do not support the cap. The other three – City Council member Stephen Costello, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and 2013 mayoral runner-up Ben Hall – did not come out directly in favor of the limit but said they would want to further review it once in office.

The H.O.T. tax was a big topic of debate, though none of the candidates went into much detail about what it actually is.  For every hotel room night rented within the city of Houston, a percentage of taxes paid for the room go to support state and local arts, culture and tourism efforts.  Many in the arts community (especially those that rely on funds from the tax mechanism) feel that the maximum 19% of the tax revenue spent on Arts and Culture should be adjusted to a higher level.

Here’s a percentage breakdown of Houston’s Hotel Occupancy Tax (H.O.T.)

Another chief point of debate concerned current Mayor Annise Parker’s Arts and Culture Plan… an as yet undefined set of directives for how to foster growth of the city’s Arts community.  Given that the physical plan doesn’t exist yet, it’s no surprise that candidates couldn’t commit one way or the other.

But once an actual plan is put forth to Council, this is a question well worth revisiting with the Mayoral candidates, and those running for City Council.

All in all, there wasn’t much firm commitment in this first forum for the candidates.  They discussed how much the like art, and want to support it if elected.  But very few stark differences were realized on Wednesday night.  The only clear winner from Houston’s first ever Arts Forum was the Arts community itself.  Even if concrete solutions aren’t on the table just yet, at least the community knows that it has a voice in local government.   We know that if enough of us care about the future of the Arts in Houston, area politicians will have to pay attention.

The ‘runner-up’ for who won tonight’s forum?  All of the candidates.  They had a chance to test out their speaking skills in front of an attentive audience, while not having to approach more divisive campaign issues that surely lie ahead.

It will be nice to see how the discussion continues, and what ideas are realized from the coming Cultural Plan.

Oh and 1 added bonus… we even got to discuss the forum (and other fun topics) on today’s Houston Matters show.  So be sure to check that out as well.

‘Wings’ In Houston Sparks Interesting Arts Debate

Few places in the city of Houston are more public, or more treasured than Discovery Green Park.  Though it’s one of the most recent public spaces created in Downtown, the park has quickly become a destination for residents, convention visitors and tourists.

But this month, Discovery Green  has also become the sight a brewing controversy over public art appropriateness.  Now through February 2015, the park is hosting the work of acclaimed Mexican artist Jorge Marín.  The exhibit, entitled Wings of the City, is a collection of nine sculptures which depict various aspects of the human body, including nudity.  Here’s more on that from Discovery Green’s website

For over 25 years, Marín has presented his winged sculptures in more than 200 exhibits worldwide. Wings of the City had been viewed by more than one million people on Mexico’s Paseo de la Reforma before appearing at the Brownsville Museum of Fine Arts, and now at Discovery Green! The allegorical and fantastic creatures portray perfection of the human body, and spark dialogue around themes of desire, will and determination with the body and mind.

The images have left many Houstonians to wonder if such a public display of this work is appropriate.  The Houston Matters panel, consisting of myself, Charles Kuffner of Off the Kuff, local illustrator Maria Heg, and Houston Public Media’s Edel Howlin serving as moderator.   Like many across the city we had a lively discussion about the appropriateness of the artwork, and whether it should be displayed in forum such as Discovery Green.  Check out the segment below…

Since the segment, I have had a chance to view Wings of the City, and must say that it is an excellent collection of works, made even more effective by strategic placements around the park.  Venue makes a difference in this context, and the art simply wouldn’t be the same if it were confined within a museum.  After viewing the work, you can count me in the group that has no problem with it.  But as KPRC Local 2 reports, there are still plenty of people, even after viewing, that do take issue.

What is your view about Wings of the City?  Should it be allowed at Discovery Green?  Let me know your opinion in the comments.

 

 

 

 

Texas Doesn’t Want Everyone To Vote

With the approaching apex of election season, debates over voting rights and procedures are certain to become vigorous.  Last week on Houston Matters with Craig Cohen, I even managed to enter the fray with fellow panelists Russ Capper and Lisa Falkenberg over the issue.  Russ stated that he is clearly in favor of Voter ID, while Lisa questioned the necessity of such laws when in person voter fraud doesn’t seem to be a problem.  You can listen to the segment here if you’d like.

The main point that I attempted on the show was this… If Texas really cared about implementing an effective Voter Law, then they would help people to vote instead of hindering them.

On the issue, I agree more with Lisa’s position.  There simply has not been sufficient evidence to prove that Voter impersonation is a problem. The cases of actual in person voter fraud are so miniscule that we’d have better proof to institute a ‘don’t climb on top of a lightning rod during a thunderstorm’ law to prevent people from getting struck by lightning.  This is a problem that simply doesn’t exist.

Be that as it may, I’m not in total opposition to Voter ID laws in concept.  But Texas’ law is specifically designed to disenfranchise certain groups of voters, while not providing sufficient resources to help them vote or obtain the proper ID.  Alice Speri of Vice News has more on what makes Texas law so restrictive…

The voter ID law is not just discriminatory, Martinez Fischer said — it’s also very short-sighted.

[…]

He called Texas’ voter law the “most stringent, harshest voter identification legislation in the country.”

To put that in perspective, Texas’s voter ID law is seen as being more strict than Alabama’s — the state that successfully challenged part of the Voting Rights Act before the Supreme Court.

“Alabama is not exactly a hotbed of liberalism, but even their voter ID law is much, much more lenient and permissive than Texas,” Singh said. “In Alabama, you can use a student ID card, or a government card. In Texas, you can’t use a University of Texas ID. A state employee in Texas is not able to use his state government ID card.”

So a student photo ID, or government employee ID cannot be used to vote, but a concealed carry permit can?  That’s nothing more than a veiled attempt to go after what the Republican Party assumes to be their “base voters” while making sure as many non-Republicans as possible get turned away, or are forced to cast a Provisional Ballot.

The only solution that Texas’ stringent law does provide is a new form of ID that can only be used for voting… the Election Identification Certificate, or EIC.  These special IDs are “free” to those that qualify for them, but the birth certificate that you have to purchase before obtaining the EIC is at a cost.  Another problem with the EIC system?  Most people don’t know where to obtain them, and the Secretary of State isn’t helping to change that.  But at least Democrats have noticed and are trying to broach the issue before election day.  Here’s more from the Texas Tribune

More than a week ago, Texas Senate Democrats put Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry on notice: They wanted her office to get more mobile units on Texas streets to give voters without an acceptable photo ID a chance to get one before November’s election.

One week later, there’s been no movement to do so, says state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

The problem, he says, is that there are not one but two state agencies in charge of putting more mobile units out in the community. The Secretary of State’s office (SOS), which includes voter registration, has to coordinate where the mobile units will go. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) actually owns the mobile units which can issue the new Texas election identification certificates, or EICs.

After trying to get the two entitites to agree on how to do it — and to do it quickly — Watson said late Tuesday that it “appears to me it is a breakdown on both ends.”

Under the state’s voter ID law, residents must present an acceptable form of photo identification for their vote to be counted. Acceptable photo IDs include Texas driver’s licenses or Texas ID cards that have not been expired for more than 60 days at the time of voting, U.S. passports, or military or U.S. citizenship certificates with photos.

Texas Republicans (more like TEApublicans… many don’t deserve to carry the label “Republican” anymore) have led the charge to adopt the nation’s most restrictive Voter ID law.  They do this because they know that having fewer people vote gives them a better chance at maintaining power and codifying their fringe-Right ideology. For those out there that truly consider themselves to be proud ‘Texas Republicans’, the the Voter ID law should give them pause over what their party stands for.

For Texas Democrats, this is all the more reason to prove them wrong in 2014.  If you haven’t volunteered to help get the word out about the changes to voting, please do so.  Try as they may, the Texas GOP cannot hold the state back forever. In 2014, let’s make sure that the TEApublicans get to see what Texas really looks like.

 

 

 

Houston Matters

Last week, I was honored to re-join the folks over at Houston Matters for a particularly deep discussion. We delved into the current developments over Houston’s Non-Discrimination ordinance, the pressures of high-stakes testing for Texas teachers, and transparency accolades for the Texas Comptroller’s office. The segment was hosted by Craig Cohen, and featured myself along with Lisa Falkenberg of the Houston Chronicle and Russ Capper of the Business Makers radio show.

The show, which is celebrating its 1st anniversary this month, has quickly become a valued news resource for the Bayou City, Greater Houston region, and indeed the state. The young show has made its fair share of news as well, having conducted critical interviews with Houston Mayor Annise Parker, and other influential Texans. I highly encourage you to check it out, and add this program to your daily news fix. Houston Public Media just concluded it’s Spring fundraising campaign last week as well, but it’s certainly not too late to join the cause and support great shows like Houston Matters.

Houston Non-Discrimination Ordiance: Updates

Perhaps better than any of her predecessors, Houston Mayor Annise Parker knows that discrimination is a real issue for the LGBT community. She was a Past President of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, and her activism is remembered from civic protests to consultation in the landmark Lawrence V. Texas case. And of course, the mayor’s recent wedding to her long-time partner is still illegal in her home state, pending further court decisions.

Given this history, it was especially heartening to hear Parker, in her 3rd and final inaugural address as Mayor, pledge that the time has come to pass a comprehensive, LGBT inclusive Non-Discrimination ordinance (AKA Human Rights Ordinance) in Houston.

Other Houstonians say that it’s time as well. Texans Together Education Fund, an organization founded to increase civic engagement in underserved communities, has started a petition to get the ordinance passed, and whose members are actively lobbying to bring it forth to City Council. Unlike years past, Non-Discrimination has now mobilized Houston’s progressive community to the point where it will impossible for municipal government to ignore. And of course, Houston has a nearby example with San Antonio’s recent NDO, led by Mayor Julian Castro.

But it appears that even the planned ordinance for Houston will not include *direct* discrimination protections for those working in the private sector (which of course is the majority of the workforce). Here’s what Parker had to say on Houston Matters earlier this week…

Craig Cohen: When can we expect a comprehensive Non-Discrimination Ordinance that protects all Houstonians regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, and will such an ordinance protect those employed in the Private Sector?

Mayor Parker: I hope to have it passed by the end of May. It will affect the Private Sector in as much as if they do business with the City of Houston. It will affect the Private Sector if they operate public accommodations or multi-family housing. But the first draft I’m working on does not apply to the Private Sector otherwise.

Why can’t this first version of the ordinance include private employment? In short, the answer is simple politics. Sources say the Houston ordinance will lose votes on Council if it affects private employers. It’s true that any step is a step forward, especially in these times of heightened contention in politics. But if a Council Member wants to allow discrimination to continue, they deserve to be put on record with a vote. Instead of protecting them, Parker and her administration should let them deal with the Progressive community’s ire. Texas Leftist cannot confirm at this time which persons are against equal protection, but if that information is ever revealed, it will surely be passed along via this blog. As for now, we’ll wait to see what develops this May.

Transit Ridership: Is Houston Discovering the Bus?

When most Houstonians leave the house to traverse the city, the overwhelming mode of transportation is by car. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that most people in the Houston metropolitan area have never even taken public transit. If they have, it was probably in a limited capacity. Houston is the definition of a “car city”.

But even if progress is slow, it’s still happening just the same. The latest report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) reveals that some Houstonians are at least beginning to discover that our public transit system is usable for more than the rodeo. From 2012 to 2013, Houston’s overall public transit ridership increased by 2.76%. Though not a huge number, it is the largest transit ridership growth of any major city in Texas. Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso and even ultra progressive Austin all saw declines in transit ridership.

The numbers are even more surprising when examined by mode of transit. It’s clear that Houston’s bus system is leading the way in this growth. Bus ridership alone grew by a healthy 3.44% between 2012 and 2013, putting Houston 2nd in the nation for highest increase in bus system usage. Only Washington DC’s bus ridership increased faster than the Bayou City at 3.45%.

Many bus riders are starting to see a change in Houston METRO services, including more new busses on the road, more predictable travel planning thanks to new innovations like METRO’s T.R.I.P. app, and increased numbers in the seats. As was discussed recently on Houston Matters, there are some surprising intrinsic benefits to public transit use.

For all of the focus that Houston has put on rail transit, including the recent opening of the North Line, ridership on Metro Rail was actually down by 0.72%. Granted, the North Line occurred only 10 days before the close of 2013, so we’ll have to wait for next year’s report to see any true effect on those numbers. But the heart and soul of Houston mass transit system is certainly busses, and it’s good to see growth in that area.

Off the Kuff has a broader take on this interesting report.