Growing up in Jacinto City, Texas, I was well within the urban lasso of Houston, yet I was insulated from its cultural amenities by barriers of transportation and income. Downtown Houston was a 30 to 45 minute bus ride from Jacinto City with lots of stops along the way for pickup and dropoff. We could do a few of the things that were free such as the zoo, the public parks, the art museum, and the free concerts at the Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park. But those were rare occasions and I grew up without an ear for good music, with the barest exposure to the visual arts, and no experience with drama beyond the plays I saw on our high school stage.
My participation in the arts did not improve much as an adult after moving into the city proper and having a better income of my own. This reduced the impact of the barriers of distance and income but did not eliminate them completely.
Then, in 1982, we moved to an exurban area of Brazoria County – south of town, Lake Jackson. We were far enough removed from Houston that its urban amenities were virtually out of reach. For the kids in the poorer homes in our area, they were distant dreams if they were dreams at all.
But not long after arriving here, we learned that the performing and visual arts were available, affordable and a quick three mile drive down Oyster Creek Drive to the Brazosport Center for the Arts and Sciences.
My posts have tended to dwell on the things we have done wrong politically, socially and economically and continue doing wrong. Those things form the basis of the pieces carrying the title Our Bitter Legacy. But, of course, there are some things we are doing right. The Brazosport Center for Arts and Sciences is one of them. It argues for recognition that we are also at work on our legacy of hope.
The Center was built in 1976 by donations from citizens and the corporate community. At that time the area was pretty well dominated by Dow Chemical, BASF, some industrial construction contractors and a few others. The building is located on the campus of my former employer, Brazosport College, and is often thought to be a part of the college. It is not.
The Center is operated by the Brazosport Fine Arts Council (BFAC) providing programming from a base of private giving, ticket revenue, hotel occupancy tax grants from two municipalities, and fundraisers. BFAC, through partnering nonprofits, has operated two theater venues, an art studio and gallery, a museum of natural science, a symphony orchestra, and a planetarium for the local community.
Listing the programs sounds a little dry, but consider the way The Center has woven its way into the fabric of our community. We commonly refer to the people we know through Center activities as family. However, it goes deeper than that for many of us who participate. I have heard the relationship described as “like a secular congregation”. I buy that description if we take secular to mean that space where the best of each faith (including that of non-believers) rises to the top into the a set of practices and attitudes that makes us all more decent, civilized, and more compassionate.
Over the years we have been involved with The Center, I have seen it grow from a local asset to one that is more regional in its impact. The quality of theater production has improved to the point that it isn’t uncommon to hear people ask how we can afford that type of production. Easy. No one gets paid.
NASA regularly brings astronauts to the BASF Planetarium to train in stellar navigation. An art studio is constantly busy with painters and scuptors. The gallery hangs their art and the art of others throughout the year. One partner group, the Brazosport Symphony Orchestra, plays in the Clarion venue across the college campus. The museum of science and natural history boasts one of the Gulf Coast’s most complete malacology collections. And all of the partner groups offer summer educational programs for school age kids.
We used to treasure this place as a little jewel of our own. But I think we are learning to share it. More and more of our visitors are finding their way down from Houston and other areas because of the great variety of programming we offer in a single venue and for very low admission prices or, in some cases, none at all. We welcome our guests and hope you will enjoy your visits and go home and tell others about what we offer here.
When I get down about politics or religion, I take strength from the my association with the Brazosport Center for the Arts and Sciences, from my many friends there and from the way the Great Secular Spirit – I am almost certain of it – runs through on a daily basis urging us all to “Get busy. Paint. Do a play. Make music. Teach and learn. Collaborate. Empathize. Create.”
Actually, when I think about it, those commands are pretty holy.