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Engage Houston: Celebrating Ten Years

A group of people pose in front of a projector

Houston Engage looks back on a decade of programming.

Engage Houston was a professional development program for small to midsize organizations in the Texas counties of Harris, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller. Launched in 2011, Engage provided focused professional and organizational development training using a combination of peer learning, coach consultations, and workshops. The program was designed to strengthen participants’ organizational effectiveness and sustainability, amplifying an arts ecosystem to support the broader Houston community.

In celebration of ten years, Engage sat down with leaders from DiverseWorks, a participant from the first iteration of the program and onward. DiverseWorks commissions, produces, and presents new and daring contemporary art in all its forms through innovative collaborations that honor each artist’s vision without constraint. Jennifer Gardner, DiverseWorks’ Deputy Director, discussed the Engage program’s benefits for her both individually and for her organization. “I decided to join the Peer Leadership program as I was excited about developing individual leadership skills that were not necessarily directly tied to the organization, but would positively impact my work life. Honestly—the most valuable aspect for me personally was the ability to share experiences openly and honestly with Houston colleagues. Many of the individuals in my cohort were from organizations that are very different than DiverseWorks (by discipline, size, mission, etc.) so Engage was really the only opportunity I had to interact with them. Relationships were built!” The collaborative nature of DiverseWorks made them a vital participant in creating a strong Engage cohort.

Gardner and Executive Director Xandra Eden also felt Engage’s impact as they underwent a strategic planning process. With the help of coach Brian Crockett, they navigated the process to find that, for DiverseWorks, the best fit was a strategic framework, one that clearly articulates DiverseWorks’ mission, vision, and values, as well as the organization’s place in the Houston cultural community. Coaching allowed the organization to experiment and check in with a veteran of the planning process, and use its own inherent creativity as an arts organization to find alternative structures that worked best for its modes of operating. That strategic framework is in effect today.

Through 10 years of Engage, the statistics are impressive:

  • 70 unique organizations enrolled
  • 95 total enrollments (92 with organizational representation)
  • 19 organizational leaders from previously enrolled organizations served as part of the Engage III alumni Peer Leadership program, representing 14 organizations
  • 91% program completion rate across all three iterations (2011–20)
  • 843 total coach consultations
  • 92 total financial consultations
  • 48 total cohort sessions (peer learning)
  • 24 total workshops (for both cohort and/or nonparticipating organizations)
  • 8,950 total contact hours for coach consultations, cohort sessions, and workshops

Pictured: Staff and Board from Project Row Houses pose with Engage administrators at a celebration for the closing of Engage II, 2018