Giving Back Is More Important Than Ever

Franci Neely
3 min readOct 18, 2023

As 2023 winds toward an end, I always like to look back over the past months and review the many meaningful charitable events and causes I was fortunate enough to support. The arts have long been a favored cause of mine because they’re often overlooked and underappreciated. I have always been a fan of the dramatic and literary arts, and in my 30s, I became infatuated with opera. However, it was during the pandemic — when we were not able to access it like we always had in the past — that I really learned the true value of art. Galleries shut their doors, and performances ended completely or moved to Zoom. I think it was a period of reflection where we all felt the gaping void of a world without art. It’s not a place where anyone would thrive.

Now, we are so fortunate to have a plethora of programming back in theaters, galleries, and opera houses worldwide. In Houston, we have many magnificent artistic events to look forward to. One I’m looking forward to is the Houston Cinema Arts Festival. This annual celebration puts Houston in the spotlight for its cinematic achievements. It will take place Nov. 9 through 19, and this year’s theme is “Bring It on Home.” Sharing the stories of fellow Houstonians on the big screen goes a long way to making this city a more cohesive community. The film festival is such an enriching experience. That’s why, 15 years ago, I put together a team to launch it. I believed in the vision of what this could become. I always recognized the value of what this festival was aiming to accomplish: uniting filmmakers with local citizens. We have so much undiscovered talent in Texas. There are filmmakers here from all ages and backgrounds.

For the ninth year, the festival will feature CineSpace, a short film competition in collaboration with NASA that receives hundreds of submissions, including spectacular footage from space. This is also the fourth year of Borders | No Borders, a competition for short narrative and documentary films by emerging regional filmmakers from Texas, its surrounding states, and Mexico. It will be the first year for the Next Gen short film competition, which affords local high school students an opportunity to get in on the cinematic action. The festival has attracted some famous faces over the years, including legends such as Shirley MacLaine and Robert Redford. I would love for more people to view Houston as a film hub and take notice of all that Texas filmmakers have to offer. This is such a unique city with so much to offer. This festival also incorporates much more than film into its marrow. Musicians, dancers, visual artists, and writers have joined in the fun.

In addition to the Houston Cinema Arts Festival, I have been actively involved in several other philanthropic institutions such as Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, the Moody Center For The Arts, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Houston Grand Opera to name a few. Opera is an art form I have been encouraging others to check out lately, especially since my friend Jake Heggie debuted his powerful show Dead Man Walking at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City last month. It’s been a banner year for Jake. He also debuted his original work Intelligence at Houston Grand Opera on Oct. 20.

With Thanksgiving approaching, I think it’s essential to focus on all the blessings that have entered our lives over the past year. From artistic performances to the friendships we cherish, our lives are much more meaningful when we’re sharing these special moments with others. If you haven’t gotten involved in any charitable activities this year, there is still time to do so. If volunteering isn’t possible with your schedule, support a local gallery opening or buy a ticket to a community performance. There are so many ways we can give back. It starts by simply acknowledging each of us has the potential to change someone else’s life. I am happiest when I’m giving back to causes that are important to me. All of my life, I have wanted to make every day better for someone other than myself. Maya Angelou wrote, “I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”