Chicago is known as the "second city" because it's always played second fiddle to The Big Apple. And the same can be said for other cities in terms of philanthropy. After all, can any American city truly compete with New York in terms of charitable giving and arts funding?
The answer to that question is actually is "yes," and that city would be Houston. Houston is seeing an explosion of charitable giving to support historical preservation, culture, education, and the arts. Thanks in no small part to oil revenue, corporations, and private philanthropists, Houston is being transformed into an arts destination that rivals the "city that never sleeps." (We'll delicately sidestep any Freudian theories linking guilt-induced contributions to overflowing oil revenues.)
The statistics are impressive. In 2012, Houstonians' giving to non-profits totaled $11.23 billion, up from $10.1 billion in 2011. Houstonians John and Laura Arnold recently made national headlines by helping to bolster Head Start during the government shut down. And Houston is better than New York in what is perhaps the most important metric for artists. In August 2012 news came in that Houston artists earn more money than their counterparts in other cities (we're also looking at you Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago.) Perhaps it's no coincidence that Forbes magazine recently ranked Houston as the coolest place to live in the United States.
And now comes news that the Kinder Foundation is making a generous gift to the Houston-based Nau Center for Texas Cultural Heritage. One would think the state has a single, quintessential place to explore Texas history. Strangely, it doesn't. The funding will help the Center realize its goal of being the ultimate destination for tourists, students, and citizens interested in Texas heritage and culture. And if it sounds like your typical case of a foundation funding a museum, hold your horses (indeed, that's a Texas term), because two other interesting things jump out here.
First, the Nau Center will provide visitors will a with a multi-sensory experience documenting the state's storied history by adhering to a unique curatorial approach. Rather than organize its galleries in a chronological fashion, it will do so according to what it calls three "pivotal themes." No doubt other museums are taking notes.
Second, by serving as the preeminent location for Texas cultural and heritage study, the center will have the dual effect of attracting visitors to Houston and the state's southeast region. In other words, no gift exists in a vacuum. The Kinder Foundation, who is dedicated to transforming Houston into "a model city that promotes preservation, accessibility to green space, and community, arts, and medical science organizations," has a vested interest in encouraging further economic development in the city. And we applaud that.
The bottom line is that, soon enough, Texans and tourists will have a place in the heart of Houston to learn about the Alamo, Sam Houston, and Davy Crockett. Now if only Houstons could get a decent slice of pizza.