HCP's mission is to increase society's understanding and appreciation of photography and its evolving role in contemporary culture. HCP strives to encourage artists, build audiences, stimulate dialogue, and promote inquiry about photography and related media through education, exhibitions, publications, fellowship programs, and community collaboration.
Founded in 1981 as a visual artists’ organization, Houston Center for Photography is a model nonprofit organization with a budget of approximately $500,000. It is the only visual artists’ organization in the South and Southwest with a paid professional staff, offering year-round programs and services devoted exclusively to photography and related media. HCP also conforms to the kunsthalle tradition of a professionally managed, permanent institution that exhibits but does not collect works of art.
HCP began as a member-run cooperative and was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1982. The organization is membership-based, with constituents residing all over the world. Government and foundation grants, membership fees, workshop tuition, and sales from its award-winning critical journal, SPOT, and various exhibition publications help to support programming. HCP continues to increase its earned income capacity through annual auctions, anniversary celebrations and summer print sales.
In the 32 years since its establishment, HCP has come to be seen as a model for small nonprofit arts organizations, receiving support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Houston Arts Alliance (formerly Cultural Arts Council of Houston and Harris County), Houston Endowment, the Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, United Way Kids’ Way, and the Wortham Foundation, among others.
HCP is governed by an ethnically diverse 24-member board which includes business professionals, physicians, lawyers, educators, photographers and gallery owners. Additional guidance is provided by a 30-member advisory council comprised of collectors, curators, educators, and photographic artists. The organization has grown to include a staff of seven, which is assisted by several interns each semester and hundreds of volunteers.
Located in Houston’s museum district, HCP opened a new 1500 sq. ft. Learning Center in 2006 and expanded its educational programming by 400% annually. HCP now conducts over 275 classes each year. A full-time Education Coordinator was hired to manage the Learning Center and develop additional opportunities for lifelong learning. The renovation and expansion project also included enhancement of HCP’s three galleries, improvements to the newly named John Cleary Library (housing over 3,000 volumes of photography-related books and journals) and development of photo critique, and film/video screening area. The Learning Center features nine digital workstations and peripherals for digital imaging, scanning and printing.
HCP has sought to broaden its outreach among Houston’s diverse communities through exhibitions and programming through the vehicle of community collaboration with institutions such as University of Houston’s Visual Studies Program, The World Affairs Council, Aurora Picture Show, FotoFest, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Project Row Houses, and Houston. It’s Worth It. HCP strives to inspire new generations of photographers through its Collaborations outreach program, which since 2002 has brought together high school students from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds to create work in collaboration and curate an exhibition. PictureThis is an additional educational outreach program run by HCP, helping pediatric patients from the Children’s Hospital at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Texas Children's Hospital to create work about living with cancer and present it to the community.
Photographer Peter Brown, a founding member and current HCP advisory council member said, “We have shown work from some of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, and we have shown the work of many emerging photographers who have gone on to great artistic success. And we have had show after show of cutting edge work that has helped to define the state of photography, both regionally and nationally. We teach, we put out a great magazine called SPOT, we show work at HCP and elsewhere, and we are still a center for the photographic life in Houston.”