Opening April 9, 2011, Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance will create both a new gateway to downtown Houston and a visual reminder of the city’s commitment to the performing arts. Jim Furr, who hosted Houston Ballet’s Annual Gala with his wife Jo, recently sat down with me to discuss Houston’s vibrant arts scene and why ballet is so important in his hometown.
What role do the arts play in Houston’s culture?
My wife and I moved to Houston over 40 years ago and truly love this city. The diversity, the energy, and the can-do spirit are integral to its growth and culture. All of this generates a sense of pride in Houston that is evidenced in many ways. One example of this is the arts. Houston’s visual and performance arts scene is enormous. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Contemporary Arts Museum, the Houston Grand Opera, the Houston Symphony, and Houston Ballet are cornerstones of the art scene.
Do you think people from other cities would be surprised by Houston’s arts scene?
People from other cities are astounded when they see the quality of the visual and performing arts in Houston. As a somewhat younger city, we are often associated with the industries that made us initially famous. Oil, cattle, and the Wild West typified outsiders’ view of Houston for many years, and to some degree, they still tend to do so. But that’s changing. As the fourth largest city in the United States, we have begun to make our own mark on the national and international arts scene through the quality and global reach of our arts organizations.
How will the new Center for Dance impact the fabric of downtown Houston?
The central business district of Houston is a well laid out grid defined by natural and manmade features. Through the years, various districts have developed quite naturally. In each of these districts, one or more key structures have tended to be the magnet around which other related functions have developed. In the arts district, the performance halls—the Hobby Center, Jones Hall, the Alley Theatre, Wortham Center, and Houston Ballet—are the key structures. It was a brilliant move on the part of Cecil C. Conner, Jr., managing director of Houston Ballet, to seek out and find a location for the headquarters of Houston Ballet that could connect to The Wortham. The emotional impact of locating Houston Ballet at the northern gateway to the central business district and the arts district in particular is a home run. The fabric of any downtown is defined by its edges. An impressive, sophisticated building of this nature is both functional and definitive for downtown Houston.
You’ve been involved with Houston Ballet for quite some time. Can you describe how your partnership began?
My wife Jo and I have long had a fondness for Houston Ballet that probably dates back to the mid-seventies when my daughter was a student at Houston Ballet Academy. Shortly after I joined Gensler in 1994, Richard Maxwell and his wife, Beverli Lee, reintroduced us to Houston Ballet. Beverli was on the Advisory Board and suggested we join the President’s Circle. A few years later Jo was nominated and elected Trustee. At that point we really became involved. We love the Ballet, the people, and the culture, and it has become an integral part of our lives.
Why is Houston Ballet important to you personally?
I enjoy the performances and the art of ballet. It’s very engaging. As an architect I can appreciate the innovation of dance, which is founded on classic principles. In particular, the people involved with the management and the artistic direction of Houston Ballet are some of the best with whom I’ve had the pleasure of being involved.
Jim Furr is a Houstonian who loves his city, its culture—and particularly its arts. A longtime-supporter of Houston Ballet, he’s honored to lead our team in designing the Center for Dance, Houston’s newest arts facility. Jim is Managing Principal of our South Central Region as well as a Fellow of the AIA, and you can contact him at email@example.com.