Southeast Texas Arts Council
"When the storm was over, 80- to 100-foot oak, pine, and other trees were down everywhere . . . on what had been our utility lines, on houses, businesses, and blocking nearly every road in the entire area." That's how Kim Moncla, Executive Director of the Southeast Texas Arts Council (SETAC), describes the damage left behind by Hurricane Rita, which caused more than $10 billion in damage in Texas's Jefferson, Hardin, and Orange counties.
Despite the devastation, Moncla made it a priority to get the area's arts organizations on the way to recovery. "I began only two days after the storm to try and contact the leaders of our arts organizations to talk to them about their facilities, personnel, and what they would need to get back in business," she recalls. Her outreach included inquiries to the Texas Commission on the Arts and the NEA on the availability of emergency funding.
SETAC received an NEA grant of $10,000 to provide alternative venues for artists during recovery efforts.Moncla was especially determined to provide arts experiences for the region's children. "They had been through enough, many losing their homes and possessions," she explains. "We were going to make sure they were able to experience the arts before the end of the year."
Specific projects funded with the NEA grant included special performances and tours for students by the Symphony of South Texas, the Beaumont Ballet Theater, the Beaumont Civic Ballet, and the Art Museum of South Texas.
SETAC also sponsored several music festivals -- in Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange -- giving employment to local musicians and bolstering the region's tourism efforts. "The impact on the economy is so much greater than anyone expected because our arts programming greatly adds to the quality of life in southeast Texas," says Moncla. "This is illustrated by several industrial concerns in Orange, Texas, who have started taking prospective employees to the Lutcher Theater to persuade them to move to our area. Even with cities in recovery, the arts give us hope for the future."
She adds that the NEA's emergency grant assistance was crucial to this programming. "Each organization that we helped expressed how important it was for them not to lose momentum because of the storm. If they had stopped performing, they could have folded. NEA funds were the catalysts that kept us all going."
Moncla says that she would advise arts organizations facing similar circumstances to start working as soon as possible to restore the arts community. "Support for the arts before a disaster can train us to be creative in problem solving. Support after a disaster is essential in restoring the quality of life to build our future. The NEA didn't forget us, and for that we are grateful."