ESSAY: A Houston native on why she loves the city’s art scene and just how it’s adapting amid these unprecedented times

Moody Center for the Arts Director of Marketing and Communications Lisa Sursavage
Moody Center for the Arts Director of Marketing and Communications Lisa Sursavage (Lisa Sursavage)

Why I Love Here is a weekly feature where Texans share why they love living in Houston. If you want to submit your story, send a column to click2houston@kprc.com.

Houston’s art scene, like so many of its other “scenes,” can be described as eclectic. Sixty art galleries and museums of varying sizes and mission, and an array of performing arts venues provide residents and visitors with no shortage of opportunities to interact with the arts. Underrated, perhaps, in a city best known for its energy corridor, space exploration, or cutting-edge medical center, the arts community thrives and is among the many reasons I love living in Houston.

As Director of Marketing and Communication at Rice University’s Moody Center for the Arts – still a relative new kid on the block, having opened in 2017 – I spend a great deal of my time considering my institution’s role in this bustling city. So much of my professional satisfaction derives from driving public interaction with the Moody’s interdisciplinary programming, most obviously in the form of visitors to our exhibitions and events. Against the backdrop of a pandemic, however, that mission has shifted. Rice University responsibly limited public access to campus buildings this summer, so a planned multi-gallery, indoor Summer 2020 exhibition season pivoted to an outdoor window series with an emphasis on a mix of virtual programming and live social media events — all in an effort to support local artists.

A transformation of this magnitude was not without its uncomfortable moments for a marketing professional — would there be an appetite for such artistic programming in the midst of all else gripping our city? And, what would the transition look like? For the window series, the Moody commissioned Houston-based artist Ganzeer, who responded with his stunning It Takes a Village; Austin-based Erin Curtis will follow with an installation in August. Local artists The Outspoken Bean and Open Dance Project were invited to respond to the window series installations. Students from Rice University’s renowned Shepherd School of Music were commissioned by the Moody to react to pieces in the Rice Public Art collection (a must-see tour for those who have not), and the result was a breathtaking video series that highlights the talent in that school and the beauty of the artworks on Rice’s campus.

The response from the public illustrates this city’s enthusiasm for the arts, even in these uncertain times. Despite our grueling summer temperatures, individuals and families are consistently seen passing by the Moody on foot, by bike or in their cars, and stopping to observe the summer window series. Music and art lovers are tuning in for mid-day escapes from working from home to hear new musical scores. Meanwhile, though the Moody may not reopen until September when we launch our fall exhibition States of Mind, patrons are returning to art institutions. Houston museum and gallery professionals are diligently working to create safe environments so that patrons can once again comfortably enjoy encounters with the arts. Local artists are responding to social injustices with new murals throughout the city. Performing artists are sharing their work virtually. And, the museum district is coming back to life.

As a native Houstonian, my city’s resilience is not lost on me. Despite our numerous challenges – from floods and hurricanes to a global pandemic – this city pushes forward. In times of crisis, the arts play an integral role in providing outlets for creative expression and an opportunity for individuals to engage with their current circumstances in an intellectual, empathetic or experiential way. A city so diverse, whose residents choose to embrace that expression in the face of adversity deserves praise. I’m fortunate, in my profession, to have witnessed this first hand, and it has spurred yet another reason to love my city.