Mayor Sylvester Turner Honored with 2022 National Award for Local Arts Leadership

Mayor Sylvester Turner Honored with 2022 National Award for Local Arts Leadership

(pictured from left: Tom Cochran, USCM CEO and Executive Director, Mayor Sylvester Turner and Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, Burnsville, MN.) 

HOUSTON –  In partnership with The United States Conference of Mayors, Americans for the Arts presented the Local Arts Leadership Award to Mayor Sylvester Turner during a ceremony at the USCM 90th Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C. For over 20 years, Americans for the Arts has recognized elected officials at various levels of government with their Public Leadership in the Arts Awards.

The prestigious award celebrates Mayor Turner’s advocation for the city’s rich and diverse cultural character, and his outstanding and consistent support for the arts in Houston, with particular emphasis during Hurricane Harvey and the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the help of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA), and Houston Arts Alliance (HAA), the mayor engages Houston’s thriving creative community based on leadership that values art and artmaking as foundational to the wellbeing of individuals and neighborhoods.

«My heart is full of gratitude for this incredible award,» said Mayor Turner. «I am honored and humbled to be recognized for my tireless support of the arts in Houston. Art helps define a city and we are working to keep Houston a global creative city.»

Mayor Turner’s leadership approach of working collaboratively has been a hallmark of his time in office. His vision has resulted in the development and improvement of programs like Artist INC in Houston with Fresh Arts, the Poet Laureate Program for the City, and the addition of two Cultural Districts totaling to seven in the City recognized by the State of Texas.

Mayor Turner, who in his second four-year term in office, made a commitment early on to the advancements outlined in Houston’s Arts and Cultural Plan, and increased engagement and collaborative work between MOCA and local arts agency Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) that resulted in the redesign of the City’s grants system to ensure a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels.

The new grants programs have resulted in panelists whose experiences and work are reflective of the sector and outreach that has significantly expanded who receives city funding, especially to underrepresented artists and arts organizations serving underrepresented communities. In 2019 alone, the city-funded activities in each of the 11 council districts, 26 percent of grantees which were new grantees who had never before benefitted from the City’s grants program.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the mayor’s leadership, in rapid response, coordinated with local and national arts organizations to create the Harvey Arts Recovery Fund to assist affected artists and organizations with emergency response, recovery resources, and rebuilding efforts. This effort helped to develop systems for disaster response that have become standard practice: dedicated roles for disaster relief have been created at HAA, the local arts agency, and prevention efforts have been developed which allow for swift response and adaptation in the face of disaster, all of which have been implemented and employed given the increasing number of weather-related disasters impacting the fourth largest municipality in the country and now the pandemic.

In response to the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 on arts businesses, and creative professionals Mayor Turner led with authorizing investments of $5 million of the City’s CARES funding to arts relief programs; advancing more than $4 million in civic art opportunities, including the city’s largest single acquisition of 74 works by local artists for the airport system, and developing a responsive digital/virtual grants program to support art activations and the promotion of Houston across the globe.

With the support of Mayor, MOCA initiated a comprehensive Equity Review of the City’s Civic Art Collection. The data presented in the report shows overwhelming bias in the City’s past collecting habits which overwhelmingly under-represent BIPOC female artists especially, as well as the Latino population in Houston. As a measure of his commitment to the arts and in expected fashion, Houston’s Mayor responded with support for immediate action to not only identify barriers in the commissioning process but implementing changes that are already showing signs of progress.

«Mayor Turner is not a ‘business as usual’ leader. Throughout his terms, he has been focused on promoting the arts and ensuring diversity and equity,» said , MOCA Director Necole Irvin. «Mayor Turner is a strong leader who continues to show his dedication to the expansive arts and cultural landscape of Houston, his value of the centrality of the arts, and his genuine love of the arts. The MOCA team congratulates you on this well-deserved recognition.»

About the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs
The City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs guides the City’s cultural investments with policies and initiatives that expand access to arts and cultural programs in the community, attract visitors and leverage private investment. Learn more at and follow on Facebook & Instagram @HoustonMOCA.