As patrons and sponsors, major corporations play a major role in the cultural and arts organizations in every major city. Yet, arts organizations are big business – and major employers in a region in their own right. Very often the assumption is that arts organizations are havens for LGBT people to work and play – yet are they? Out & Equal Houston brought corporate leaders and arts leaders together to discuss what it is like to be “out” as an LGBT person or ally in the expansive Houston arts community.
Called, “Out with the Arts,” the event allowed for some cross-sector networking and a lively panel of leaders of arts organizations to discuss the culture of LGBT inclusion in the region. The evening’s program began with remarks by Niloufar Molavi, Chief Diversity Officer for PricewaterhouseCoopers. Molavi spoke about the importance of having an inclusive workplace where everyone has opportunities to not only contribute but to thrive – something that all businesses need to be successful.
The panel conversation was stimulating and engaging, with many audience members surprised at times. Attendees walked away with an understanding that arts organizations are not much different from other workplaces – they fill a spectrum on the level of LGBT-inclusion as much as any other sector.
Panelist Sandra Bernhard, Director of HGOco for the Houston Grand Opera, noted that from a business perspective, the economic impact of the arts in Houston is enormous – accounting for more than $650 million annually (as of 2009 which includes the effects of the recession).
Panelists spoke of how the arts can be used to spark conversations that might not normally occur and how that can lead to opening people’s minds to new experiences and perspectives. Making connections was also a central theme as the audience engaged with the panel to discuss how individuals and organizations could get more involved.
Bill Arning commented that when it comes to the arts, there is virtually no production, installation or gallery that doesn’t have some connection the LGBT community – whether through the artist, performer, patron or front office.
Each panelist noted that while the arts community and its patrons are generally more accepting of LGBT people than other segments, there’s always the impulse to “self edit” on being “out” – but that is changing as society attitudes have changed
Rounding out the panel was Bill Arning, Director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Sandra Bernhard, Director of HGOco for the Houston Grand Opera, Stephen Hill, board member of DiverseWorks art space, and Robert Ross, Audience Development/Public Relations Manager of the Ensemble Theatre. The event was hosted by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Out & Equal Houston and the 16 other Out & Equal regional affiliates produce programs and offer peer-to-peer resources around the country and throughout the year. They create LGBT networking, educational and fundraising opportunities with a focus on our mission of achieving LGBT workplace equality. To find more events in your area go to our online calendar or find a regional affiliate in your area.
Also, check out the slide show from the June 6 “Out with the Arts” event.