Access to the Arts in Houston 

Spending on arts and culture is increasing in our region, but not at a pace consistent with our growing population

While access to and interest in art and cultural organizations is generally increasing, the three-county area still lags behind the nation in overall support. 

Why access to arts matters to Houston

A strong artistic community is vital to the ongoing success of our region, and its importance goes far beyond entertainment. Access to the arts promotes inclusion, community improvements, academic achievement and even improved mental health for residents.2,3 And in order for creativity to work positively in Houston, artistic professionals must be able to access the organizations that enable their work.

By exploring the data and staying informed on art accessibility, Houstonians can do more to keep these valuable resources available where they’re needed most.

The data

Measuring arts and cultural organizations in Houston

More arts and cultural organizations mean more art in our communities and more opportunities for artists with different skill sets and backgrounds to contribute to our cultural landscape. And over the past 25 years, these nonprofit organizations have enjoyed consistent growth throughout the three-county area. 

As of 2015, there were 602 arts and cultural nonprofit organizations across Fort Bend, Harris and Montgomery counties, up from just 181 in 1990. In Fort Bend County, arts and cultural nonprofits have grown sevenfold from six in 1990 to 49 in 2015. Both Harris and Montgomery counties also saw significant growth in their arts and culture sectors. Harris County gained 358 organizations, and the number of arts and cultural institutions in Montgomery County more than tripled. 

Arts and cultural organizations per 100,000 residents

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Harris County is home to the vast majority of our region’s artistic and cultural resources. However, Fort Bend and Montgomery County are also experiencing some growth relative to the size of their populations. 

When compared to similarly-sized communities throughout the country, all three counties fall near the middle of the pack or lag behind. While Harris County experienced the largest total growth in arts and cultural organizations per 100,000 residents between 1990 and 2015, all counties have seen growth during the time period.

“When compared to the overall rate of population growth in Fort Bend and Montgomery counties, the growth of artistic organizations is still relatively small.”

Art providers in the Houston area

The Arts Vibrancy Index, created by our partners at SMU DataArts, measures key indicators of artistic health in a region on a scale from 0 to 100. The Arts Vibrancy Index scores are akin to percentiles, meaning that if an area shows a score of 52, it outperforms 52% of other similar areas (in this case, counties) on that measure.*  

The art providers score is part of the Arts Vibrancy Index and evaluates the overall presence of art in a given area as indicated by the number of artistic organizations and practitioners per capita. These components are combined in an overall score ranging from 0 to 100. 

Although arts, culture and entertainment firms are well represented across the three-county area, our overall arts providers scores place us near the middle or the bottom of the pack. Notably, Montgomery County has both the highest score for independent artists (36) and the lowest score for arts and culture organizations (24) in the area. 

Cultural and ethnic awareness organizations in the Houston area

Houston is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the country. And as our diversity continues to increase, cultural organizations that reflect the contributions and traditions of our multi-ethnic population are becoming increasingly important. 

Consistent with our growing diversity, the numbers of cultural and ethnic organizations have skyrocketed in the three-county area, with Harris County contributing the lion’s share of growth. In 1990, only six cultural and ethnic organizations existed and all of them were in Harris County. As of 2015, Fort Bend, Harris and Montgomery County have all seen growth in this vital category, with Harris County jumping from six to 87, and Fort Bend County jumping from zero to eight. Although these numbers may seem low, growth in this area suggests that the nonprofit arts sector is aware of the cultural needs of our region’s diverse populations and is taking meaningful steps toward serving and engaging them. 

Sixteen-fold increase in cultural and ethnic awareness organizations

Consistent with our region’s growing diversity, the number of artistic organizations dedicated to cultural and ethnic awareness skyrocketed between 1990 and 2015.

Measuring spending by arts and cultural organizations

Houston’s art and cultural sector plays a crucial role in our overall economic prosperity, and examining how creative organizations use their resources in our communities helps us understand their larger role in our economy. Per the Arts Vibrancy Index, this spending indicates how much money the region uses on arts and cultural programming, helping to gauge the overall demand for arts and culture offerings in Houston. 

Between 2000 and 2015, total spending by arts and cultural organizations in the three-county area more than doubled, jumping from $267 million to $563 million. The vast majority ($514.4 million) of the spending in 2015 occurred in Harris County. Fort Bend County’s spending increased by 32% over the 15-year period, moving from $4.8 million to $6.4 million; and Montgomery County’s arts and cultural spending also saw a twofold increase, rising from about $21 million to nearly $42 million. 

However, these increases are much more modest when weighed against overall population growth. Between 2000 and 2015, Fort Bend County’s per capita arts and cultural spending actually decreased by 35%, suggesting that Fort Bend’s population growth over that time outpaced the growth of arts spending in the region. 

What we spend on art and culture

The Arts Vibrancy Index also tells us how much money is spent on the arts. Scores range from 0 to 100 and are comparative based on other areas of similar size and population.

Across the three-county area, total expenses scores range from 84–92%, indicating greater levels of spending by nonprofit arts and cultural organizations than in the majority communities across the country. And while government support is largely consistent with the total expenses in each county, Montgomery County shows a striking disparity with a Government Support Score of 20 compared to a score of 86 in total expenses. 

Data Note: 

* The Arts Vibrancy Index includes 12 measures that fall under three main rubrics: total arts providers, considering the number of independent artists, arts and culture employees, nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and arts, culture and entertainment firms in the community; total arts dollars in the community, including earned revenue from program activities, contributed revenue supporting the arts, total compensation to artists and staff and total expenses; and public support using state and federal arts funding.



  1. Jackson, M.-R., Kabwasa-Green, F., & Herranz, Jr., J. (2006).Cultural Vitality in Communities: Interpretation and Indicators. Retrieved from Urban Institute website.
  2. Patterson, G., & Binkovitz, L. (2019). Artist-Planner Collaborations: Lessons Learned from the Arts and Culture Ecosystems of Three Sun Belt Cities for a New Model of Inclusive Planning. Retrieved from The Kinder Institute for Urban Research website.
  3. Arts, Culture, and Community Mental Health. (2019, April 19). Retrieved June 28, 2019.