Houston is a sprawling city of the arts.
There are more than 540 cultural arts organizations in the city of Houston and the city’s so-called creative economy – people employed in creative businesses (arts organizations, media and film, architecture, and more) plus creative people employed in other businesses (for example, graphic artists employed in energy companies) totals nearly 147,000 – more than the number of people employed in the Texas Medical Center.
And Houston generously supports the arts. Cited as the 2nd most philanthropic city for the arts in the United States, Houston annually gives some $600 million to cultural institutions, and it’s a city where a $70 million and a $450 million capital campaigns can take place at the same time.
Ninety percent of that philanthropy goes to only 5% of those 540 institutions, primarily to the 8 large and well-known entities in the Theater District and the 18 members of the Museum District. Further complicating matters is the fact that Houston covers 655 square miles – so vast that the cities of New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Miami could fit inside Houston’s boundaries and have room to spare. This means that even the most devoted arts fans must be willing to drive far and wide to investigate new offerings. It also means that visitors to Houston rarely travel beyond the Museum District or Theater District to experience the tremendous array of creative offerings that can be found in one of the fourth-largest city in America.
A new solution
The arts organizations that met above Treebeard’s in Market Square back in 2003 to talk about the need for a place where they could work together already knew these things. They lived these things.
The informal group formed a nonprofit organization and spent several years looking for an appropriate location where they could renovate an existing facility or build a new one. Since all were so busy managing their own organizations, they realized that a professional leader with business experience and time was needed to move the project past the idea stage, and that a board of directors with deep community connections and commitment was needed to guide the project and raise funds.
With these decisions made, a clear project and path forward began to form. Jewett Consulting was retained for the management leadership, and Emily Todd stepped forward to build the board, which soon grew to include 18 members. The team identified an ideal location at 3400 Main Street in Midtown, a neighborhood situated between downtown and the Museum District/Texas Medical Center.
With support from its neighbors and 52 donors, the nonprofit team purchased the land, located at the HCC/Ensemble MetroRail stop with bus access on Holman Avenue – and as a nod to its new neighborhood, named itself the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston, to be forever known as the MATCH. Philanthropist Michael Zilkha pledged $1 million to help launch the project, requiring strategic accomplishments that helped to ensure good decisions and providing approval that was encouraging to other funders.
After an extensive review process, the MATCH’s Board of Directors selected the team of Lake/Flato and Studio Red to design a new building to suit the many and varied needs of an array of performing and visual arts organizations. More than 40 groups participated in this process, as well as in the business plan developed by a national expert to ensure that the facility would be affordable and its annual budget would be sustainable. Wanting to learn from the experience of others around the U.S., the team researched other multi-tenant venues – but found none that had been custom-designed to meet the needs of such a wide number of diverse organizations.
Thanks to the good work of Lake/Flato and Studio Red, the MATCH might just be a new way forward for arts groups around the country. Set on the site of an old parking lot between Main Street and Travis in Midtown Houston, MATCH consists of two buildings, North and South, and an expansive breezeway that flows between them from a plaza on Main to a bus drop-off on Travis. In the North Building are 4 performance spaces, MATCH Boxes 1 through 4, with dressing rooms and wardrobe to support all four in operation at once. Boxes 1 and 3 are both “black box” spaces with seating risers that can be arranged in a variety of ways. Box 1 is smaller, seating only 100 in the round while Box 3 seats 140, but Box 1, unlike a traditional black box, has smooth white walls that allow it to double as a gallery. The black box in Box 1’s case is accomplished with black stage curtains.
Box 2 is larger than either of these with fixed seating risers for 159 and a wide stage. This stage is sprung with a permanent dance floor and is intended primarily for the plethora of small dance companies that call Houston home.
MATCH Box 4 is the most traditional of the four with a proscenium arch, wide stage, and permanent seating for 329. Box 4 is also the most acoustically adaptable of the spaces with acoustic curtains that not only decorate, but also can be arranged to liven or deaden the room as needed.
The Box Office for these spaces also resides in the North Building as does a small café space, set aside to provide snacks and beverages for patrons who attend performances.
The South Building is smaller but just as vital. On the east end of the first level are three rehearsal studios, each of which is also equipped with a sprung dance floor. On the west end of the first floor is 3000 feet of gallery space. Above them both on the second floor of the South Building is 5000 square feet of office space and room for some 60 people to have their own desks.
And it is an elegant solution, not in the plaster and gold leaf way, but, as you can see from the pictures, more in the Twenty-First Century stylized warehouse manner. MATCH on the exterior is glass and metal with exposed beams and conduit painstakingly laid out by new millennium craftsmen. Inside, each space is equipped with all the equipment and support that the artists involved could envision, but the finishes remain utilitarian and sleek. Polished concrete floors and block walls are the theme and flexibility is the mantra.