HOUSTONIANS WHO MATTER JONATHON GLUS As President and CEO of the Houston Arts Alliance, Jonathon Glus has had a significant hand in the amazing increase in Houston’s public art. In an interview with John A. Daugherty, Jr., Glus explains public art in Houston and the role of the HAA. JD: What is Houston Arts Alliance’s role in public art in Houston? JG: HAA is responsible for acquisition of all new artworks, review of all donations of artworks and collection management, which means cataloging, education and conservation. JD: How are artworks commissioned? JG: Funds that are generated by a particular city department tend to have to remain in that department. HAA staff work closely with leadership in each department to determine the best use of the funds, usually based on the most visible and accessible facility. After a site is determined, it is usually a two-step process. We invite appropriate artists to submit credentials or a simple concept, and a short list of those artists are invited to create a full proposal, from which a winning proposal is selected through a rigorous panel and committee review process. We invite a panel of respected arts professionals, who in turn make preliminary recommendations based on artist quality. HAA’s civic art committee reviews the panel recommendation for ability to deliver the project as promised, and the HAA board approves based on a draft contract. Finally, the city department accepts the recommendations of HAA, and after installation of the artwork, City Council accepts the artwork into the city collection. It may sound like a complex process, and it is. However, this allows for the very best quality artwork to be identified by arts professionals, while the remaining steps ensure that the use of public funds are appropriate, transparent, and the project is deliverable.
Jonathon Glus visits Jaume Plensa’s Tolerance at Harmony Walk in Buffalo Bayou Park at Allen Parkway and Studemont. (Tolerance, 2011, stainless steel and stone. Funding source: Private donors)
JD: What is the process of installation of new works? JG: This varies tremendously, based on the artwork. Installation may be as simple as hanging a painting on a wall, and as complex as beginning at the construction of the facility, where ceiling joists, flooring or power may have to be strengthened or enhanced for eventual installation. A large piece, such as a large flooring design or wall mosaic, may take weeks to install.
JD: What is your personal role in public art in Houston? JG: I really take a backseat role. Our program is very much driven by our civic art director, Sara Kellner, whose role is very much a combination of senior curator and director of project management, and her team. Together, we work closely with our civic art committee, comprised of leading art patrons, and successful artists, and of course, our many partners at City Hall. JD: Do you have any personal favorites in terms of public art? JG: So many wonderful works. Perhaps most recently are the immensely engaging art wraps we are installing on recycling trucks. The colorful and educational trucks roll throughout our entire city, surprising citizens with contemporary designs, of all types. It is a great way to push public art throughout all areas of our far-flung, sprawling city. And, delightfully, they have been so well received, we will be rolling out even more over the coming months.