Are these Web videos art?

November 25, 2008 11:03:47 AM PST
There is growing evidence that your money is being mishandled by the Houston Arts Alliance; exaggerated audiences, and art paid for, but never seen by a single tourist. The Houston Arts Alliance is supposed to pour millions in grants to bring in tourists.

This has never been an investigation into whether tourism tax money should be spent on art, but are we paying for a portrait of mismanagement?

In video we showed on Eyewitness News, you saw a girl make nice with a Dr. Pepper bottle. We couldn't show all the video to you.

But you get the point.

Is this art?

When's the last time you got to hear some good old fashioned pre-historic grunting? In another video, wannabe caveman try to frighten cars on Allen Parkway. No, this is not a GEICO commercial. This is Houston art.

You can find a link to the soft drink specialist and the Allen Parkway cavemen on the website Glasstire.com.

You know who helps pay for hosting blogs on Glasstire.com?

You do.

It was $14,200 in your hotel tax money.

But hey, it's money to attract tourists and look at how many tourists Glasstire says it reached in its official report to the Houston Arts Alliance - 356,000. We're not sure how they know 178,008 of them are Hispanic. Or that 14,240 are disabled. But aren't you glad to know they have an audience of 71,203 under the age of 18, so they can watch these videos we've described to you?

Jonathan Glus makes $145,000 a year to run the city's art efforts, but don't expect his opinion on what's art and what's not.

"We are not sitting in any kind of judgment about the content of the art," said Glus.

We asked Glus last week to read you the opening line of a play about a conflicted guy. It's a play written with city grant money.

"I'm not a queer, but I want someone to (expletive) me in the (expletive) as soon as possible," Glus read.

The mayor watched our investigation unfold, too.

"It seemed in poor taste to me, but I don't want to be the police for reviewing the propriety of every grant," Houston Mayor Bill White told us.

Last week our Color of Money investigation exposed the apparent exaggerations on some city art grants.

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

That's how the Houston Arts Alliance claimed 6.5 million art visitors to town in 2007.

We've already questioned how the Community Music Center could claim an audience of 9,500 for just two shows when the venue only held 400 a show. Okay, let's look at this year's report. Another two shows, same place, with claims of 6,500 guests this time.

Even the Houston Arts Alliance notes "they need a better method to track tourists" but approved the numbers anyway.

One theatre company claimed 60,000 in their audience. The Houston Arts Alliance had to remind them how to define a tourist, but they accepted the numbers.

"They're astounding and indefensible," said Hunter Todd of the Houston International Film Festival concerning the numbers.

Forty-one years of history line the walls of the Houston International Film Festival Office.

"We literally gave Spielberg and George Lucas, Ang Lee, Ridley Scott and the Cohen brothers their first prizes," Todd said.

The film festival can document its attendance.

"I would suggest the city demand better validation, prove it," Todd advised.

"I think administration needs to step in and get a better handle on how money is being spent," City of Houston Controller Annise Parker said.

In the latest edition of the Houston Press, the paper's art critic called our investigation "sensationalist, inaccurate." Her name is Kelly Klassmeyer. She didn't mention she's the articles editor for Glasstire.com. That's where you can see the caveman and the link to the Dr. Pepper lady.

Klassmeyer says she didn't know Glasstire got money from the Houston Arts Alliance.

Tuesday night, we talk with Mayor White. He created the Houston Arts Alliance. Is he going to fix what's broken?

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