The University of Houston Magazine

Blaffer Gallery Exhibitionby Kelli Ferrell

For more than 100 children from Houston’s Fifth Ward this summer, the University of Houston provided an opportunity to engage their creativity in new ways. With the launch of the Deluxe Entertainment Camp for Kids, or D.E.C.K., third- through fifth-graders were introduced to acting, puppetry, storytelling and dance under the guidance of UH teaching artists, including some faculty and graduate students (see related story).

“Our student camp instructors said the kids were so excited to be there,” says Brandy Robichau (’95), associate director for theatre and dance community relations. “One little girl asked if their recorders were made of gold. They treasured their instruments! And when one boy was asked about his favorite part of camp, he responded, ‘I didn’t know you could dance to poetry. It’s fun!’”

The new program is just one example of the vibrant arts programs at the University of Houston and its continued evolution into a force on campus and in the Houston community.

When UH President Renu Khator arrived in January 2008, she identified the arts as an area of excellence and one of the strategic initiatives for the attainment of top-tier status.

In 2003, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts was founded, creating a formal collaborative alliance among schools of Art, Music, Theatre & Dance, the Creative Writing Program and Blaffer Gallery, the Arts Museum of the University of Houston.

“President Khator’s declaration of the arts as one of the university’s key strengths has inspired the arts units on campus and brought us closer together,” says Karen Farber, director of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, special assistant to the provost and community liaison for UH Arts.

The units that comprise UH Arts are a portal to the cultural and intellectual life of the campus community and the Greater Houston area, and their mission is to provide students and audiences with dynamic environments that illuminate the human condition and define contemporary culture.


UH Arts collaborates with organizations across Houston, making an imprint in the local community. “Each of our arts units has solid partnerships with organizations outside of the university. I would bet that nearly every arts organization in Houston has worked with the University of Houston in some way,” says Farber.

For example, Project Row Houses, a nonprofit arts organization and UH neighbor, has been enlisted in many arts-related projects with UH. It was established by African-American artists and community activists to create a positive presence in Houston’s Third Ward.

Similarly, the School of Theatre & Dance actively seeks opportunities for community engagement. Recently, the Shakespeare projects, directed by master’s students, went on the road to Discovery Green Park. The “Tales from the Bard” was so successful that the school has been asked to return annually. It is the same recognition of leadership that has led to other collaborations, such as working with local theater companies and choreographers annually on a student dance concert.

And this year, UH Arts went global as the Moores School of Music’s Concert Chorale made its debut at Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in Wales, one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious choral festivals. “Our very presence there demonstrated that we are a member of a very select club,” says Betsy Cook Weber (D.M.A. ’95), Moores Chorale director (see Concert Chorale story).

Off campus, President Khator has fostered a strong relationship with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, actively participating in museum programs and serving on the leadership committee for the recent reinstallation of the Nidhika and Pershant Mehta Arts of India Gallery.

“Houston is a major arts city, and we continue to take advantage of that and contribute to it.”

But the museum’s relationship with UH doesn’t end there. Houston Public Radio, KUHF 88.7 FM, has partnered with the museum for more than 12 years to create Artful Thursdays, a monthly series that looks at the museum’s collection and exhibitions through music, dance, literature and film to build sustainable, crossover audiences between the arts. The museum also has many other longtime partnerships with the university, including the College of Education, The Honors College and the Visual Studies Program.


UH students are members of a community of working professional artists in a major arts city. The School of Art is a collection of impressive resources, focused on creating and sustaining the environments necessary to support young artists. It maintains relationships with major museums, art centers and arts organizations, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; DiverseWorks; and the Lawndale Art Center, which was founded by UH.

“For the past three decades, UH School of Art students, alumni and faculty have provided Houston with a bedrock community of creative thinkers, makers and supporters,” says Rachel Hecker, associate director of the School of Art and associate professor of painting.

The school’s undergraduate students have been accepted into some of the most prestigious MFA programs, and the works of recent graduates have been exhibited nationally and internationally in venues from the Whitney Museum of American Art to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.

UH Celloist“I think having very knowledgeable professors who are prominent in the art world and are willing to help is one of the primary resources here at the University of Houston. They really try to incorporate the Houston art community into the program. This access to the outside art world has helped all of our careers,” says Debra Barrera, graduate painting student.

Blaffer Gallery brings in nearly 15,000 visitors to campus each year. Its exhibitions are repeatedly featured in major national and international art magazines, such as Artforum, Art in America and Sculpture. Because of its various constituent audiences, Blaffer exhibitions and programs effectively serve as a gateway between the university community and the city while also engaging arts audiences globally through the circulation of exhibitions and distribution of the museum’s publications.

Blaffer Gallery’s exhibitions and programs effectively serve as a gateway between the univesity community and the city of Houston while also engaging arts audiences globally.

The School of Theatre & Dance is continually training people for the entertainment industry. Fourteen members of the MFA Acting Ensemble traveled to Memphis, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala., to audition for theater companies from across the country. The group received 30 offers of employment, an average of two per actor. “Getting hired by these companies is a real-world recognition of the skills and discipline these students are gaining,” says Jack Young, head of graduate acting and directing.

As the University of Houston works toward achieving Tier-One status, some areas are at the top of their game. “The graduate Creative Writing Program is already a Tier-One program. The challenge is to maintain the quality of the program, and that means ensuring that we can compete for the best students in the country,” says director James Kastely. The program plays a central role in promoting the literary life in Houston, sponsoring readings and bringing talented writers to the city. It has been responsible in helping establish Houston as an international destination for major writers. Partnering with Inprint, a nonprofit literary arts organization, has made Houston’s rich literary culture the envy of many cities.


UH Arts has come a long way. The future looks even brighter. “We know UH has top-level arts programs. Now we will join forces to communicate about our strengths and successes,” says Farber. “Houston is a major arts city, and we continue to take advantage of that and contribute to it.

“This will enable us to build a future that is aligned with the larger future of UH — benefiting all UH students, whether they are interested in viewing art or making it!”