By: Meghan Hendley
We like to shout about it and other cities around the nation are starting to take notice: Houston is a playground for the talented and Culture Pilot is sponsoring a month-long celebration highlighting our innovative city. The month-long celebration, entitled COHouston, focuses on a different theme each week including: maker/craft, film & multimedia, design & innovation, food & well-being, and, last but not least, arts & music. Intellectual wonderment and creativity are encouraged through various events held in tandem throughout the city. This month’s focus isn’t just about celebration but it also aims to raise questions about local and regional challenges and foster sustainable relationships within the community. Grace Rodriguez and Tim DeSilva from the CoHouston team took some time out to answer questions about their latest initiative.
More information can be found at www.cohouston.com
What was the light bulb (or should I say light installation) that went off when you all decided to create the CoHouston Initiative?
Over the years, Culture Pilot and I have served on the boards for, volunteered for, or sponsored a number of creative groups and non-profit organizations across Houston; and the recurring complaint we hear from ALL of them is that Houston gets a bad rap. Whether it’s from Houstonians who claim “there’s nothing to do in Houston,” or from people outside of Houston who think our city offers nothing outside of Big Oil & Energy, the Medical Center, the rodeo and NASA, the average person’s perception of Houston is far from its reality. We are one of the most diverse cities in the country, if not the world. We have a vibrant creative culture and community that keeps our city at the cutting edge of innovation, in all aspects. We are sophisticated, yet funky; metropolitan, yet grassroots; big, yet small; high-minded, yet lowbrow…and everything in between. After talking to a number of leaders from diverse aspects of Houston’s creative community who expressed a shared belief that we should all work together on promoting Houston, we decided to make the leap from discussing to doing and made the effort to get all of those people and their respective organizations on the same page, moving in the same direction, and working towards a common goal: Expand perceptions of Houston by shining the spotlight on our tremendous culture of creativity and innovation. Our mantra has always been about Community, Collaboration, and Connecting individuals within Houston and beyond, so the “CO” was soon born in an effort to wrap that under the COHouston/Covember brand. We work on so many Houston spotlight initiatives like TEDxHouston, and support so many artists, creatives, and startups in Houston that frequently (and unfortunately) fly under the radar at the national level, that we thought, “Enough is enough. Let’s just do this.”
How does the art of cross collaboration in various fields play a factor in CoHouston and beyond in your opinion? Where is there room for growth?
We’re lucky to be in a generation, at least within our creative industry, that realizes the importance of collaboration more so than competition and I think we’re already helping shine a light on other more competitive industries. The realization is that no single invention or innovation was ever created by a single individual and that combined efforts truly make for a better end product. It’s a system that supports autonomy, personal passion, and general human connection and most importantly, for business, it keeps a fair market value for goods and services. In our industry specifically, the term “coopetition” is used to define this open, sharing, and collaborative model with what most would consider competition.
I remember being involved in a meeting with city officials a few years back and it served as a focus group as to how Houston was perceived nationally and internationally. Although many still think we wield guns, have oil wells, and are crazy about football there are so many ideas and melding of cultures that happen throughout the city (recently Forbes taking notice for such things). How will CoHouston help us resonate the voices of our smart and savvy people?
We’re fortunate to be in a generation that realizes the importance of collaboration over competition, especially among creative professionals, who are willing to work together and get behind a great idea, regardless of direct personal gain or benefit. The realization that no single invention or innovation with great impact was ever developed by a sole individual working in isolation, and that a strong team and combined efforts truly make for a better end product, has helped usher in this new era of the Sharing Economy. If we share burdens, we also share the benefits. It’s a system that supports autonomy, personal passion, and general human connection; and, most importantly for our businesses, it helps ensure a fair market value for goods and services. We understand that in the long-view, undercutting ourselves will simply perpetuate a vicious cycle of undercutting ourselves, until, in the end, no one truly benefits. We use the term “coopetition” to define this open, collaborative model for organizational relationships; and we believe that by leading by example, we can get more organizations (and their leadership) to see, understand, and then embrace the same practices.
(Grace:) Additionally, I’ve worked for elected officials at City Hall and on the campaign trail. I’ve worked for businesses big and small, and I’ve worked for non-profit organizations; and while so many people over the years have attempted to address similar issues of promoting Houston in its full richness and diversity, the difference now is: COHouston is not limited by any one group’s purview. COHouston is owned by no one. We (Culture Pilot) may be spearheading it, but because we are strong believers in community, integrity, and social responsibility, we aim to ensure an open and fair playing field for all people and organizations that consider themselves “creative and innovative” and want to participate in COHouston. There is no cost for local businesses, organizations or creative professionals to fly the COHouston flag — in fact, we’ve provided pro bono design services to create materials that people can print out and post themselves to show they’re part of this unified, community-led effort. If they’d like to be included in the COHouston directory, all they have to do is take a snapshot of the flag in their window and send us the information to add to the website. Of course, we’d LOVE to print stickers, flyers, banners, bunting, buttons, etc., that we could freely distribute to people across Houston, but there’s a hard cost to that. In the spirit of transparency, for those hard costs we *are* seeking sponsors to help with underwriting. (They can contact me at email@example.com!)
TEDxHouston helps kick off the month by hosting a great dialogue of leaders in the community. How does this format of talks correlate with the ideas of CoHouston?
TEDxHouston ties in very well with COHouston, especially as it shines the spotlight (literally) on diverse creative and innovative people who are the thinkers, makers, doers, and leaders of Houston. From musical performers to medical professionals to scientists to business leaders to dancers, each TEDxHouston presenter will bring their unique personal perspective on novel ideas and universal concepts, with an emphasis on how Houston’s local community plays a role on the global stage.
The idea of the creative sector as a major force in modern society and the economy is something that is taking center stage in many conferences and studies. How do you see this initiative contributing to the awareness and hopefully entice others to contribute to this growing field?
One of COHouston’s core tenets is that “creative” is subjective: It is up to the individual to define “creativity,” to determine whether they are practicing it to their standards, and to challenge themselves to think, create, and innovate beyond norms and cliches. With that in mind, the COHouston “creative sector” covers a broad spectrum of bright minds, from crafters to filmmakers to technologists to designers to anyone and everyone who is working on breaking molds and shifting paradigms. We believe these are the people who can push past preconceived notions and drive innovation, whether for social good or for commercial benefit…and we hope COHouston will raise visibility, recognition, appreciation, and support for them by introducing and connecting them with a wider audience throughout this (planned) annual month-long celebration and targeted promotional initiative. The long-term mission of COHouston is that, by seeing how many people are truly part of the “creative sector,” people will start thinking differently about what it means to be creative, will understand and appreciate how much the creative community truly contributes to our overall community and economy, and will start becoming more innovative — and potentially entrepreneurial — in their daily pursuits. When we see something every day, we start to accept it as just a normal part of life, like the air we breathe or water we drink. Someday, I hope we’ll see creativity accepted in the same way: We are working towards the day when creative pursuits are so ubiquitous and so integrated into our daily lives, that there is no more need to spotlight and point them out. (Then we can retire!)
There are multiple arts organizations that promote local creativity and talent along with highlighting the importance of creativity’s contribution to our local culture. How did you go about approaching these organization and who are some of the groups who are embracing CoHouston?
Part of Culture Pilot’s ethos is treating everyone we meet as a new friend and potential collaborator. As a result, since we’ve worked with such a wide array of businesses, organizations, and creative talent, we’ve developed great relationships with many people along the way who strongly believe in what we do and why we do it. This has enabled us to successfully reach out to and engage a number of like-minded professionals to support COHouston from a variety of disciplines, from the arts, music, film, government, business, technology, design, hacker, and craft communities. Many of these professionals also happen to be well-respected in their fields and leaders in their industries, and they were able to exponentially expand our reach by spreading the COHouston mission and concept throughout their networks.
You’ve gotten some key players in the political arena to support this new initiative as well. Tell me about how CoHouston leads the way as a flagship initiative with the Mayor’s Office along with working in union with other city groups.
We’re honored to be Founding Members of the Mayor’s Innovation and Technology Advisory Board (ITAB). Sponsored and spearheaded by Mayor Pro Tem/Houston City Council Member Ed Gonzalez, ITAB was created to position Houston as an international destination, hub and source for innovation by creating a comprehensive strategy to coordinate resources, engage and empower talent, and catalyze solutions that foster innovation and technology in Houston. When we brought up the COHouston concept at our first meeting at City Hall, the Board enthusiastically voiced support for it. From there, we discussed COHouston in more detail with CM Gonzalez, who has consistently been a champion of leveraging innovation and technology for social good at local and community-driven events like NetSquared, coworking roundtables, SURGE Day, and even delivered last year’s Proclamation from the Mayor for TEDxHouston Day. We plan to grow COHouston into a city-wide open house, with creative events, conferences, festivals, and celebrations hosted by local groups and communities throughout the vast Greater Houston area, that welcomes people to explore Houston to expand their horizons, get out of their comfort zones, and enjoy all of the aforementioned “everything in between” that Houston has to offer. And because there IS so much, it will take an entire month just to scratch the surface which presents the opportunity for more visitors and longer hotel stays, which potentially means increased local economic impact and Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue, which would then translate to increase funding for the arts and all things creative. Our only stipulation as COHouston grows is that it remains a collaborative, community-driven celebration: The City won’t own it — the citizens will.