With the early closure and subsequent cancellation of the 2020 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization seeks more than ever to continue to maintain its core mission and goals.
It’s just over a month since Chris Boleman was announced as the new CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, taking over from the long-serving Joel Cowley. In the midst of the pandemic, the Rodeo continues to work tirelessly to foster the growth and promote its mission. As he took up his new role, we spoke with Dr. Boleman about current challenges and what lies ahead.
What led you to take on the role of CEO?
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is an organization that is aligned with my personal passions and makes an impact in the community. Serving as the Rodeo’s executive director of the Agricultural Competitions and Exhibits Division, then as the chief mission officer, allowed me to work closely with others who share my love of promoting agricultural and educating the public on its importance. It has been incredible working with my predecessor, Joel Cowley, who is not only a tremendous leader, but a trusted friend and mentor. I look forward to the challenge of following his legacy and I am grateful that the Rodeo’s Executive Committee has given me the opportunity to lead this incredible group of volunteers and staff.
What was the most difficult decision to take in canceling this year’s Rodeo, and how did you meet that challenge?
Closing early was extremely difficult. Our guests, volunteers, exhibitors, rodeo athletes and entertainers look forward to the 20 days of Rodeo each year. While we were saddened by the early closure, the safety and well-being of our guests and our community is our top priority. When the City of Houston and Houston Health Department ordered the Rodeo to close, we respectfully complied with the order. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has been a fabric of the Houston community since 1932, and we look forward to planning a tremendous 2021 event.
What have been the major impacts of the early closure?
The impact has been felt across the board for everybody associated with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Everyone involved was looking forward to it. While it has been a challenging time for everyone involved, I am incredibly proud of how our organization has responded to this unprecedented event.
Has it been possible to maintain the mission of the Rodeo in the midst of the pandemic?
The Rodeo’s mission is to promote agriculture while supporting Texas youth and education. We hosted online auctions to support of our junior exhibitors and offered refunds or premiums for many of our competitions. Our social media team has also been hard at work developing our weekly “AgChat,” where Rodeo team members discuss the importance of agriculture with different guests every Wednesday.
We will also be distributing our 2020 educational commitment with more than $14.2 million in scholarships, more than $3.7 million in educational grants and more than $660,000 in graduate assistantships.
Are any new activities planned for 2021, given what happened this year?
Right now, it is too early to say as we learn new things every day about what our next event could look like. The health and safety of our guests is our top priority and fortunately, we have time on our side. As we continue to learn, we will continue to plan a great 2021 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
What closing message do you have for Rodeo patrons?
I would just like to say thank you to everyone who supports the Rodeo. We have 35,000 dedicated volunteers, 130 staff members, incredible sponsors, generous donors, a great partnership with the City of Houston, and of course the guests who visit our event every year. While we all were deeply saddened by the early closure, I know that everyone is excited about putting on a great 2021 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Cover photo courtesy Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
Abimbola Farinde is a healthcare professional and educator. She serves as a freelance writer and enjoys writing on a variety of topics that include health care, mental health, Houston lifestyle and much more.