13 Undercover

See the art you paid for

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It's a piggy bank full of your money being spent on art. But is the bureaucracy of art in Houston now costing more than a Picasso?

First a warning. Some of this story may be inappropriate for children. You might think it's art. You might be screaming at the TV, they used my money for that?

Do you see a bunch of folks acting like fools on the beach in their underwear or do you see art? [SEE IMAGE 1 ABOVE]

Hope you like it, because your tax money helped pay for it.

On her website, Houston playwright Crystal Jackson wants to fight stupidization. She got a Houston arts grant for writing plays with your tax money. And I want you to listen carefully to her opening line.

"I'm not a queer, but I want someone to (expletive) me in the (expletive) pretty much as soon as possible," read Jonathan Glus with the Houston Arts Alliance.

I want someone to what me in the what as soon as possible? Wow. Is that art? You paid for it.

"For the city to have a robust arts sector, there's all art forms that are going to go on," said Glus.

Art does come in many colors.

"We disseminate over nine million dollars a year, more than 250 grants," said Glus.

But we all know the color of money is green.

"It seems as if we've created a piggy bank that other people wanted to get their fingers in," said Houston Controller Annise Parker.

The Houston Art Alliance gets more than a million dollars in tax money just to make sure the artists who get grants spend the money properly and that we get art that brings in tourists.

"They do not get final payment until they have completed the work," Glus told us.

One guy did. Seventy-five-hundred bucks for a series of poems on how four city art pieces look during different times of the day. He got the grant in April 2007, got four checks, the last check in June of this year. But a year and a half later after getting the first money, not a single poem has been made public, even though the artist bills include $1,000 for printing.

"I haven't seen this and I want to look into this and I'll get back to you on it," said Glus.

It's hard to argue that theatres and museums and tax-supported festivals don't bring tourists to town. They do.

But a grant to boost lesbian puppet tourism?

"I can honestly say, Wayne, I've never heard of lesbian puppet tourism," Glus said.

We hadn't either, but it was Jonathan Glus who authorized the final payment for the puppet shows.

"My guess is that it's puppetry based on the lesbian experience," he said.

The alliance claimed the competitive taxpayer grants last year brought in attendance of six and a half million people.

"Do you believe these numbers?" we asked Glus.

"If they're within the realm of reasonableness, we just have to rely on them," he answered.

One theatre group claimed they had 9,500 people at two performances at the Third Ward Multiservice Center. Just one problem. The place only holds 400 people.

"They actually might have done a survey," said Glus.

Maybe that's how they knew there were 750 multi-racial people in the audience. Yes they claimed that, too.

"This is a lot of money," said Parker. "It has to be spent appropriately."

The Buffalo Bayou Partnership got money for a bayou art project, projecting a potential audience of 25,000.

"You cannot apply for grant money specifically to leave the city for travel," said Glus.

But no one hid a $1,000 hotel bill for a trip to New York. Hey, Buffalo Bayou is in Houston.

"Someone has to be accountable for every dollar spent," said Parker.

Remember the poet? His final report includes a breakdown of the audience at his poetry reading event. One problem -- it hadn't even happened.

Yes, art comes in many colors.

The Arts Alliance wanted you to pay nearly $200,000 to put a colorful image on stained glass windows in the tower of the new downtown fire station. You be the art critic. What do you think it looks like? [SEE IMAGE 2 ABOVE]

"A lot of people at first termed it a flaming chicken," said Houston Fire Department Chief Phil Boriske.

You know the old commercial that asks where's the beef? Well, Monday we ask where's the art for all the millions we've put aside for it. The color of money, Monday night at 10pm.

- Headlines at a glance

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