Ucross Gala Unites Houston Arts, Energy Leaders in Support of Artists


HOUSTON, TEXAS — Ucross celebrated its 40th anniversary as an artist residency program at The Revaire in Houston, Texas, on November 2 with a gala and benefit that brought together the city’s arts and energy leaders. The evening, which included a performance by the Alley Theatre’s Susan Koozin and an awards ceremony honoring Pioneer Natural Resources CEO Scott D. Sheffield, raised more than $800,000 for the nonprofit organization.

The link between arts and energy stemmed from Raymond Plank, the co-founder and longtime CEO of Apache Corporation, one of the nation’s largest independent oil and gas companies. A prominent business leader, Plank was also a philanthropist and an appreciator of the arts. He founded Ucross on a historic 20,000-acre ranch in northern Wyoming in 1981 and welcomed the first artists-in-residence in 1983.

Over the next four decades, Ucross developed into one of the most respected artist communities in the nation and has supported more than 2,600 artists, including Pulitzer Prize winners, Tony Award winners, National Book Award winners and Academy Award winners, among many others.

“Ucross is dedicated to fostering the creative spirit and honoring the creative process, without limits, expectations or obligations,” said Ucross President William Belcher during the gala, inviting the 215-plus guests to imagine each fellow’s experience. “As an artist, your time is your own, to dedicate to the creative process, for the next two, four, or six weeks: uninterrupted time in the most beautiful land, with a chef who delivers lunch to your studio’s doorstep so you don’t have to stop working, and a staff dedicated to supporting your artistic vision.

“This is why we’re here, and this is what we must sustain for future generations of artists and those who believe in the power of art and the creative spirit.”

A celebration of the creative spirit, the Houston Gala & Benefit featured Ucross alumni spanning disciplines. Koozin and a band from the Alley Theatre performed “Lightning Strikes” from the musical “Cowboy Bob,” co-written by award-winning playwright and Ucross alumna Molly Beach Murphy. The evening also featured performances by acclaimed singer-songwriters and Ucross alumnae Kate Schutt of New York, New York, and Sarah Sample of Sheridan, Wyoming. Ucross alumnus Seth Tummins of Waverly, Tennessee, created an oil painting live throughout the evening, which was purchased by a guest at the live auction.

In addition, Ucross’s Houston partners, including the Alley Theatre, Houston Ballet, University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program and The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, were represented at the event, along with energy leaders from Pioneer Natural Resources, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Apache, among others.

After Plank passed away on November 8, 2018, Ucross created the Raymond Plank Award for Visionary Leadership to honor and celebrate business leaders, philanthropists and innovators who have forged their own path and had an enduring impact on business, the arts or land stewardship. The first recipient was Rex Tillerson, the former US Secretary of State and Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, at a Houston benefit in 2019. Longtime Ucross Chairman Jim Nelson received the 2021 award, and Scott D. Sheffield was the 2023 honoree.

“We are thrilled to honor Scott Sheffield with the Raymond Plank Award for Visionary Leadership,” said Ucross Trustee Steve Farris of Boerne, Texas, former Chairman and CEO of Apache. “He serves as CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources, the company he helped found in 1997 and grew into the second-largest crude producer in Texas. With his foresight and perseverance, Scott exhibits the same visionary leadership that Raymond Plank demonstrated when he founded the impactful organizations of Apache and Ucross.”

More information about Ucross is available at ucross.org.

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