Posted inArts & Culture

Reflecting on a decade of service, notable arts advocate will retire in October

Ann S. Graham is a familiar face around the state.

As the executive director of Texans for the Arts, she impacted many arts nonprofits in the Lone Star State — either directly or indirectly — over the past 10 years.  

Graham doesn’t try to take full credit for the recent boost in public funding for the arts, but those who know her don’t doubt that her advocacy played a major role.

The Texas Commission on the Arts, or TCA, distributes money to arts nonprofits throughout the state. Back in 2013, the state’s arts agency had $3.1 million to fund its grant program. Following the most recent legislative session, the agency will have $14.4 million for that effort in the 2024 fiscal year.

Last year, arts nonprofits in Fort Worth received about $1 million in funding from TCA’s grant program.

Another success from the 88th Legislative Session was that each of the additional budget requests TCA asked for, referred to as “exceptional items,” was approved — a first for the agency. The extra funds will allow the agency to dole out more grants, provide additional support to cultural districts and invest in employee retention.

The way Graham carries herself is part of what makes her advocacy so effective, Wesley Gentle, the executive director and president of Arts Fort Worth and a member of the Texas Cultural Trust’s board, said.

“The way that she gives such respect and care to everyone that she was collaborating with really helped a lot of people who might be skeptical (see) the value of the arts,” he said. “She’s really leaving a legacy not just of accomplishments, but a shift in the culture of how we do creativity in Texas.” 

Cookie Ruiz, the immediate past president of Texans for the Arts’ board and executive director of Ballet Austin, also noted Graham’s gift for building relationships.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on the road,” she said. “She never went into a community where we left and she had not made deep, deep friendships and partnerships because she’s an extraordinary listener and she’s extraordinarily empathetic.”

Graham worked with individual creators and leaders at the municipal, state and federal level. It didn’t matter who she was speaking with, Ruiz said, she toggled through each situation with ease. 

“(She did the) difficult work of negotiating, showing up, making points and remaking those points, giving support and pulling voices in,” she said. “She (has) a very high functioning brain, and then just an enormously kind heart on top of it. She’s a really extraordinary person.

Throughout her career, the question of what makes a healthy community has motivated Graham.

“It’s not a red or blue issue. We’re nonpartisan in our work,” she said. “To me, the arts are really sort of the core of who we are as humanity and our capacity to express ourselves through music, movement, the written word, film, whatever the medium is.” 

To get that message across, Graham and her team do their best to marry data with storytelling. They frequently cite research from the Texas Cultural Trust’s “State of the Arts” report that shows: students enrolled in art courses beyond the minimum requirements have higher attendance rates than their peers, music therapy can reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder by about 30% and roughly 845,000 Texans are employed in the creative field. 

Graham will leave her post on Oct. 31, but she has spent countless time training the next generation of advocates — including several Fort Worthians who have shared their passion with state legislators in Austin. 

“Never underestimate what one person’s voice can do … Some people (think) it takes too much time or they don’t know how to do it. It has to be somebody else,” Graham said. “It is (important) for each one of us to speak up … It just makes our communities richer, safer, more vibrant, more dynamic places to live.”

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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