Barry Caldwell has served on the Discovery Green Conservancy board for 7 years. In July 2020 he assumed the role of board chair. Previously a Senior Vice President with Waste Management, Barry Caldwell now splits his time between Houston and the Washington D.C area.
Why does Discovery Green matter to you?
Discovery Green has been integral to creating and sustaining a “living downtown” Houston. With rich programming and activities for Houstonians of all ages and visitors, it’s a veritable heartbeat of and destination spot for downtown Houston. What’s more, it’s a testament to the ingenuity and determination of community leaders and the city, and blends so many wonderful aspects of the city’s diversity, spirit, and its welcoming attitude. I am proud to be part of it.
What are your goals as the new Chair of the Board?
First and foremost, it is to ensure Discovery Green remains a safe and welcoming place for all its visitors, especially during these difficult times. Barry Mandel and his team continue to do an exceptional job of making DG a safe place to be, and we appreciate the cooperation of the park’s visitors in that effort. The park is an important part of Houston’s cultural identity. It is an iconic destination promoting health and happiness. The Board of Directors see these roles interconnected, a healthy natural environment fostering discovery of art, wellbeing, and community. We will continue to work to ensure the park and the Conservancy have the resources to weather the current COVID-19 challenges and thoughtfully chart our path beyond the crisis. Beyond that we want to make sure the park is well positioned to continue its mission in the face of the continued growth and evolution of downtown Houston.
During this pandemic, do you see the role of the park, in the community, to be different from the pre-pandemic?
Prior to the pandemic, the park would be teaming with crowds enjoying a host of activities on any given weekend and many weekdays. COVID-19 has caused us all, as individuals, to reflect on what is truly important in our lives. I think the same is true for the park. In fact, I think the importance of an urban green space has become more central for many people. With fewer opportunities for family entertainment, the park is a safe and healthy alternative. I’ve seen social media posts from park visitors happy to simply enjoy the natural setting or take-in the art. Fun events and cultural festivals will slowly return to Discovery Green when it is appropriate. But for now, its an opportunity to reemphasize the park’s mission: to provide an uncommonly beautiful, urban green space in the heart of Houston that serves as a village green for our city, a source of health and happiness for our citizens.
What challenges and opportunities do you foresee for Discovery Green in the next 12 months?
Discovery Green is a nonprofit. It’s funded through donations to the Conservancy, event sponsorships, sales from the restaurants and rental fees. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on for profit businesses and nonprofit organizations alike. In the case of DG, three out of the park’s revenue streams have been cut or severely reduced because of the necessary restrictions to combat COVID-19. We have redirected funds to exceed the required sanitization measures and the programming team has found creative new ways to share our free programming online. In short, however, donations are critical. Now more than ever, gifts from individuals have an even greater impact on the vitality of the park we all lovingly refer to as the city’s backyard. The opportunity, of course, is discovering new ways to deliver engaging – while socially distanced – programming for Discovery Green visitors like socially distanced yoga on the lawn and the new Fusion Belly Dancing class.
How did you become involved with Discovery Green?
That’s an easy one. Nancy Kinder visited me in my office at Waste Management, a couple times, and made the case for why WM should support the launch of the park, which was just a stone’s throw from the company’s offices. Nancy’s a hard one to say ‘no’ to – especially when you know and appreciate how much she and her husband Rich have done to “green” Houston. I’m proud of the company’s investment in the park and my subsequent and continued involvement with it.
What’s one of your favorite memory from Discovery Green?
This would have to be the 2012 concert with Robert Glasper and HSPVA. Because of unexpected high winds, the concert had to be quickly moved from the stage over to the top floor at The Grove. The staff was making changes on the fly. They decided to have him do back-to-back sets because so many people came out to see the concert. I loved it! I’m a jazz fan. I’m a Robert Glasper fan! He was excellent and seeing the very talented young musicians from HSPVA perform with him was really special.