We had the good fortune of connecting with Susanne Theis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Susanne, is your business focused on helping the community? If so, how?
My business is community. As Programming Director of Discovery Green Conservancy, which is the 501c3 non-profit organization that manages the downtown park, my focus is presenting events and activities that create shared experiences, moments of magic, opportunities for health and recreation and lasting memories. Among the lessons learned in 2020, we have seen how important public space is to our mental and physical space. People need to connect with nature, and with each other.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m so very lucky to have worked my entire career for organizations that I’m passionate about. When I was in school at the University of Houston, my friend Martin Cominsky told me about a new organization looking for a director. The Orange Show Foundation had just opened after completing the restoration of this folk art site. It was the dream job – to work with the visionary Marilyn Oshman and the gifted artist Sharon Kopriva on making this eccentric work of art an iconic part of Houston’s cultural landscape. We built a team of volunteers and staff, and developed programs that involved thousands in the drive to create, including the Art Car Parade. Along the way, I became convinced that the Houston I knew and loved was misunderstood by the rest of the world. Outsiders didn’t know about the rich culture made possible by our diversity, our generosity, and enthusiasm for innovation. When I heard about plans for a park on the east side of downtown, right in front of the convention center, that put public programming in the mission, I thought that this could be a game-changer for Houston. Putting our culture on display right where visitor to the city could experience the vibrance and vitality of Houston. So after nearly 25 years at the Orange Show, I became Programming Director for Discovery Green. The impact that the park has had exceeded all my dreams. It became a place for Houstonians to connect, a stage for the arts and traditions that enrich life in our city, a catalyst for a green revolution in Houston, a transformative development for downtown Houston.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
That’s easy! I would start at the Orange Show and Smither Park for a glimpse of Houston creativity in action. We’d take in a performance at Discovery Green and people watch from the Grove’s deck overlooking the live oak alle that is the heart of the park. We’d make time for Houston’s great art institutions – Menil Collection and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Dinner might be at one of Chris Shepherd’s restaurants or at Hugo Ortega’s — both James Beard finalists. We would not miss the Beer Can House and might end up with a walk along Buffalo Bayou overlooking our incredible skyline.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I am so grateful that my first job out of college (Go, Coogs!) was at The Orange Show, where I learned so much from artists, volunteers, board members, fellow staff, and members of the broad visionary art community, most especially Marilyn Oshman, Sharon Kopriva, Barbara Hinton, and Stephanie and John Smither. Harrod Blank, Larry Harris, Rebecca Bass, Mark Bradford, and the Flower Man are among the artists that influenced me. My Discovery Green family: Barry Mandel, Guy Hagstette, Jackie Martin, Susan Elmore, Clark Curry, Melinda Parmer, Stephanie Carroll, Lori San Miguel, Candy Sigust, Floyd Willis, Frankie Ortega, Ellen Johnson, Sheilla Wright, Brian Wilmer, William Flowers, Jenni Bowman and many others. My outdoor arts presenter colleagues. My ALF class XXXII. Most of all my family, David Theis, Joseph and Christine Theis, Rosie Theis-Turner, Teresa Demchak.