My Montrose: Bill Arning, Director of the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston
Bill Arning is the director of the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston and a Montrose resident.
Why did you decide to live in Montrose when you were appointed director of the CAMH in 2009?
I knew it was where I wanted to be. I liked the fact that there were sidewalks that people used. I liked the fact that there were restaurants you could walk to. I live in Audubon Court, and I have two big dogs, and I walk around all the time. It’s such a neighborhood: Everyone says hi, everyone uses their front porches. It feels very humanely scaled. I bought a 1912 house, which was in this classic block where most of the houses have survived. When I tell people I have a 1912 house, it’s like it might as well be from the Renaissance, because there are so few things in Houston that are that old. And it’s in a historic district, which is great.
Of course, the Contemporary Arts Museum is also in Montrose—what does that mean for the museum?
It’s a very intellectually sophisticated area. And I like the fact that our first audience, the audience that can walk to the museum, is also likely reading interesting books, and seeing good films at the MFAH, and taking advantage of all the stuff Montrose has to offer.
What is the CAMH’s future? What will it look like in 10 or 20 years?
One of the big trends in museums is that young people see going to a museum as a group activity, because they’re leaving their computers. They’re already getting a ton of cultural information about art, politics, and contemporary thought from the internet, and what they want to do when they go to a museum is have time with friends. One of our great virtues is that we’ve always been a free admission museum. If you’re 25 years old and you want to come here with six friends, well, six times free is still free. One of the things we have been discussing is what hours we should be keeping to attract that audience.
How does CAMH contribute to the Houston economy?
This is a city people come to to make money. It’s a business city. And one of the things you need here is an active contemporary arts scene, because when companies try to recruit people, they say, ‘Look, we have all these things going on at the museums—you can take advantage of any kind of art you like, from the Asia Society to DiverseWorks, to the CAMH. I talk a lot about the “Frankfurt Miracle.” Frankfurt used to be considered the most boring city in Europe, but it was a banking center, so people had to move there. So the city devoted a tremendous amount of resources to parks and museums, and they made it into one of the most livable cities in Europe. That’s the model for Houston, I think.
Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, camh.org