Jennifer Davenport says that football fans and opera fans have something in common – they’re both among the most passionate audiences she’s met.
Davenport is now Houston Grand Opera’s first Chief Marketing and Experience Officer, a newly created leadership role that “will head initiatives to grow and engage the organization’s audiences,” according to HGO.
Prior to her decade-plus career with the Texans – which included leadership on the Houston Super Bowl LI Committee and activating the organization’s community response to Hurricane Harvey – Davenport also served as Marketing, Promotions, and Events Manager for the Houston Rockets.
With HGO set to open a 2022 – 2023 season of “powerhouse women,” as described by Arts and Culture Texas, Houston Arts Journal reached out to Jennifer Davenport for the following interview about her goals, the connection between sports and arts, and more:
First of all, congratulations, Jennifer Davenport, on your new position at HGO!
Thanks! I am thrilled to join HGO and have the incredible opportunity to lead initiatives to share great art with this city. I was born and raised in the Houston area. I know how important it is for us to offer top-in-class art and culture. It’s so meaningful for me to be a part of that.
You’ve had an impressive career in the sports industry, from leadership roles with the Houston Texans to the Houston Rockets. Now that you’re joining an opera company, I’d love to hear a little bit about your relationship to the arts. What is your experience or personal connection to the arts – and perhaps to opera specifically?
My love for music and art goes back to my childhood. I grew up in Crosby, Texas and participated in church and school choirs and played the flute in middle and high school band. I’ve always loved attending art and music events—and how amazing is it to now have that be part of my professional life? I am fascinated by the way opera combines all the art forms together into something else in a league of its own. I look forward to fully immersing myself in the art form and everything it has to offer.
What do you see as the connection between your love of sports and your love of the arts? What might you see as the relationship between football and opera, for example, and is it useful to think about it that way as you step into your role?
The fan bases for football and opera are two of the most passionate audiences you will find. And as Houstonians we love to cheer on the exceptional, whether on the field or the stage. The anticipation and energy around both show night and gameday create an opportunity for us to bring our community together through unforgettable, shared experiences. Also, football and opera are powered by talented people who are living out their dreams. It is my joy to help showcase their brilliance to opera lovers, while introducing new people to their talents.
Your position of Chief Marketing and Experience Officer is a newly created role at Houston Grand Opera. What can you tell us so far about your vision and goals?
Two of my priorities for year one will be reaching new audiences and improving the guest experience at the theater. I think Houstonians know their city is home to a world-renowned opera company, but they might not realize it is here for them. We want to be sure this art form is accessible to all, and for the stories we share to resonate with the people we serve on a personal level. When you join us for a night out, we want every aspect of your experience to be seamless—and for the memory to be something you share with everyone you encounter for days to come.
You were quoted in the press release as saying, “Under the company’s forward-thinking new leadership, we have a wonderful opportunity to reimagine how we engage Houstonians through opera.” My emphasis there. What are some of your ideas about how to do that? And what do you think is missing in the way we currently engage people with opera?
The outstanding grand opera produced by HGO at the Wortham each season will always be at the center of what we provide to Houston. But we don’t stop there! As a company we perform in schools, libraries, and community spaces throughout our city. And as we move forward, we plan to double down on that, making art that has deep roots in this place and the people who live here. For example, next spring, we will be presenting the original operatic work Another City, based on deep collaboration with unhoused Houstonians, in a series of performances at Ecclesia downtown. This is the transformative power of opera: stories shared through words and music open our worlds to each other, helping us to see each other more clearly.
The sports industry has had its share of challenges when it comes to pay equity, diversity and inclusion, gender rights, and racial bias. How does your experience in that industry prepare you for addressing overlapping challenges in the opera world – which, as a whole, still struggles with equity and inclusion whether on stage or on the podium, as well as racism?
I’ve always believed a marketing and guest experience team should reflect and understand the community we are welcoming and the new audiences we want to engage. I am excited to work alongside the talented team at HGO, because it’s important to them, too. In fact, it is right there in the company’s strategic focus, which I’ve heard my peers going back to again and again: to create profoundly enriching experiences for our diverse audiences. One of the HGO offerings I’m most excited for this season is February’s Giving Voice concert, a celebration of Black opera stars that will take place at Wheeler Baptist Church’s new building, in collaboration with Texas Southern University, Prairie View A&M University, the Houston Ebony Opera Guild, and the HGO Chorus. It’s going to be a truly joyful evening.
Do you think your experience as a woman in sports – where women leaders, managers have also been underrepresented – will shape how you approach such issues in the opera world?
I became a first-time mother just before accepting this role with Houston Grand Opera. This life change has made me even more aware of the challenges women face balancing personal and professional lives. I am curious and excited to take on this challenge alongside our General Director and CEO, Khori Dastoor, who is a fantastic leader, role model, and mother herself. She has recruited a number of dynamic, inspiring women to lead this organization into the future, and I’m proud to be a part of that.