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Jonathon Glus works to make Houston a respected player in the international arts community.
By Marene Gustin. Photo by Mark Hiebert
Jonathon Glus is fashionably dressed. His sandy hair and huge grin make him look younger than his 45 years, and his sweet—there is no other word for it—personality hardly projects an image of power.
But make no mistake, Glus may be the single most important person in Houston’s arts community—the man who finally puts Houston on the map as an international arts destination.
“This is the year things are going to happen,” Glus, the chief executive officer of Houston Arts Alliance, says. And he means it.
In early 2006, HAA was created when leaders merged the Cultural Arts Council Houston/Harris County, the Municipal Art Commission, and the Civic Art Committee. Last year, after an international search, HAA named Glus to the new position of CEO to oversee a combined $16-plus million annual budget and 18 staff members.
“The three groups had been brought together but hadn’t yet gelled,” he remembers. “The past 14 months have been all about organization and creating a new direction, bringing in key staff.”
One of the things Glus did was get his ducks in a row. He commissioned two white papers on the impact of arts in Houston, a blueprint for increasing cultural tourism. Then he spearheaded a five-year strategic plan for the organization. Now, armed with a game plan and the facts to back it up, he’s ready to change the arts community as we know it.
Not familiar with HAA yet? You
“Houston hasn’t had a really strong municipal arts group,” Glus says. “The community doesn’t know what to expect. They’ve been sort of watching and waiting. Now you’re going to start seeing new initiatives every few months.”
It’s all starting with the citywide arts database that launched earlier this summer. HAA members and grantees can now access a combined database of donors and ticket buyers to target marketing. A boon to smaller and mid-size groups, as well as individual artists, the information is scrubbed four times a year, and it’s deep. “You want to target a family of a particular size that lives in a certain area of town that likes a particular type of music?” Glus asks. “It will be there.”
Part of the organization’s mission is to support the arts industry, as with the database, but it also grants funding—$2,731,600 to 218 applicants last year—and works to raise the city’s profile as an arts center. Thus, the cultural tourism initiative, something Houston’s never done.
An important part of that is getting government, civic, and business leaders on the same page. “One thing we want to do is revive the Business Volunteers for the Arts,” Glus says. “There was one here in the ’80s, before the economy went bust. We need to bring it back. We need to build close relationships with business and tourism.”
While making Houston into a world-class arts center, HAA also has the responsibility for the more than 400 pieces of civic art. Add to that, generating more pieces to ensure that when people do come, they’ll be impressed.
Glus has been a very busy boy, but luckily his job has a social component to it. It was at a working social event where he met his partner, Alton LaDay. Turned out they were neighbors at The Parklane high-rise by Hermann Park, where they now enjoy Sunday strolls. The two are co-chairing next January’s Art for Life fundraiser for AIDS Foundation Houston. Glus, who hails from Illinois and more recently Pasadena, California, has been active in the Human Rights Campaign, Day Without Art, and DIFFA, and wants to continue his activism here.
A self-described foodie, Glus also hopes to explore the restaurant scene (beyond his almost daily takeout from La Fendee Mediterranean Grill) and go sailing in Galveston. In the meantime, he indulges his water passion with boat tours of the Port of Houston.
“The port is great. It shows the might of this city,” Glus says.
With Glus’ passion and professionalism, the arts in Houston just might become as famous as around the world as our port.
Marene Gustin also profiled Matthew Dirst for this issue of OutSmart.