Scheduled for spring 2022, the festival is planned as a two-day event centered on writers of color and literary works that feature Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and members of other marginalized communities, according to its website.
Organizers will collaborate with writers and readers to curate artist talks, readings, vendors, and literary memorabilia, inspired by the spirit of book fairs.
“Houston is my hometown. It’s a city full of rich culture and diverse backgrounds that I love deeply,” said Brooke Lewis in a tweet. “Houston also represents the America of today. That’s why we know Houston is the perfect spot to host a festival that celebrates diversity in literature.”
While the BIPOC Book Fest will be the first of its kind in the city, Houston has seen notable efforts to support writers of color, locally and nationally – a testament to its diverse literary scene.
The University of Houston is home to Arte Público Press, the oldest and largest Hispanic publisher in the U.S., and the recently-established Puerto Rican Literature Project, which aims to be the most comprehensive digital archive of its kind when fully launched.
“I know how important it is to see books with characters that look like me in them,” Lewis said in a tweet. “Representation matters, and we hope all who come to this festival can leave seeing a piece of themselves, but also walk away with knowledge of other cultures and backgrounds.”
BIPOC Book Fest organizers see a link between representation in literature and literacy rates, citing studies that indicate that Black and Hispanic adults are more likely to have lower literacy skills and reading habits, along with an analysis of children’s books in 2020 that showed that only 8% were written by Black authors and 12% centered Black characters, while 7% were by Latinx authors and 6% were about Latinx characters.
With literacy a key motivator behind the festival, organizers say they hope to make reading more inclusive, in an effort to impact local academic success, political engagement, and the economy.
In a ceremony on November 17 at Writers in the Schools, Avalon Hogans officially took the helm as Houston’s 2021-2022 Youth Poet Laureate.
Through a citywide application and interview process, the teen writer was selected for the position, which is a joint initiative of Writers in the Schools, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, and Houston Public Library.
A senior at Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Hogans is a storyteller, artist, and civil rights activist. She also volunteers as a creative writing teacher for local elementary school students. Her poetry stems from a passion for social justice, and she is “determined to change the world through her talents,” as described in a press release.
At a time when poetry has been on the rise nationally – with visits to Poets.org up by 30% during the pandemic, a spike in online poetry events, and the popularity of Gorman’s Presidential Inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb” – the art form is also seeing increased interest in Texas. Both Austin and Dallas have launched youth poet laureate programs this year. Dallas has also announced a search for its first adult Dallas Poet Laureate.
During her one-year term, Hogans will work with Houston Poet Laureate, Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean, to develop a civic engagement project to serve the community and address a social issue. Other duties include speaking and performing at city events.
Hogans will have the opportunity to apply to become National Youth Poet Laureate and to act as a youth poetry ambassador for the Southwest region. She receives a $1000 scholarship.
The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art recently announced plans for a major expansion to its campus, which will lead to more exhibition space, additional facilities, and increased programs to serve the public – and to engage community art-making.
What began as a monument in honor of a favorite fruit – from 1956 to 1980 Houston postman Jeff McKissack used common materials and found objects “to transform an East End lot into an architectural maze of walkways, balconies, arenas and exhibits decorated with mosaics and brightly painted iron figures” – became the Orange Show Center in 1982.
The Center restored and preserved the monument, then later acquired the Beer Can House and developed Smither Park, a mosaic art-adorned green space. Since 1988, it has also produced Houston’s annual Art Car Parade.
Earning its reputation over the decades as a hub for folk art activity in Houston, the Orange Show has also been nationally recognized a “temple for outsider art,” most recently by GQ Magazine.
The newly expanded campus – to be completed over the next five years – will aim to bring more attention to its major role in supporting self-taught art, and to widen its reach within the community and beyond.
“We want to encourage visitors not only to see the art, but to participate, make, and engage with it. This experiential environment differentiates the Orange Show from other museums or gallery spaces,” said Tommy Lee Pace, Orange Show executive director, in a statement.
Here’s what to expect from the expansion:
The new campus will use a 5.7 acre property acquired by the Orange Show Center in 2017.
It includes a 31,000-square foot warehouse building, which will be converted into a performance and exhibition space – with potential use for offices, programs, education, events, and an art library.
A new 800-foot ramp will be built throughout the entire campus, serving as an extended display area for art cars and a promenade for visitors.
The newly expanded space will be adjacent to the current Orange Show Monument, which is located at 2401 Munger Street.
Inclusive of the current site, the total expansion will create an 8-acre campus that will seque into the nearby Fonde Park.
Even as the pandemic continues and artists face challenges, the grants reveal that a wide range of art-making persists in the city, including efforts to work toward social justice, mental health, racial equality, and a greater engagement of local communities.
Grant recipients’ projects involve subjects and genres often rooted in Houston – including community storytelling inspired by the life and childhood of George Floyd, meditation through music in Indo-American traditions, performance art in Third Ward, pop-up theater in Acres Homes, and outdoor cinema showcasing works by underrepresented filmmakers, as well as land art and hip hop.
Seven recipients were awarded $2,500 each through Let Creativity Happen! Digital, a grant program that launched in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It supports projects reimagined in a virtual format or that use digital technology to engage audiences.
Four recipients were awarded $10,000 each, and a fifth recipient awarded $5,000, through the City Initiative grant program, which is in its third round of the year. This program seeks to use the arts to strengthen the city, as it reopens from the pandemic. Projects support cultural tourism, sustainability, and community resilience.
“The arts helped the city flourish and enlightened the lives of our citizens during the pandemic,” said Necole S. Irvin, MOCA Director, in a press release.
“As we continue to recover, we know that the city’s continued support of the creative sector and communities’ support of cultural activities is integral to building back our economy,” said Irvin.
Houston Arts Alliance administers the grants, which are funded by a portion of the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax.
The following list with descriptions of grant recipients was provided by the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs.
The seven awardees for the “Let Creativity Happen! Digital” grants are:
George Floyd Childhood in the Cuney Homes By Crystal Toussant District B Mack Performing Arts Collective (MPAC) Children and residents of Cuney Homes will share stories of growing up in a low-income housing development where many deal with hard times and social injustice. They will explore the life and childhood of George Floyd and use him as inspiration. MPAC members along with the participants will be using texts, lighting, costumes, make-up, and scenery to bring their stories to life.
Online Classes Using Art to Support Mental Health By Andria Frankfort District C C G Jung Educational Center of Houston, Texas Unique in the United States, The Jung Center offers year-round, live-streamed and online classes that employ the arts in supporting the mental health of the community. Two-thirds of their programming is open to the public, while the other third is designed specifically to bring healing arts to support the mental health of social service providers, frontline workers, teachers, nonprofit employees, healthcare workers, and others. Their public-facing programming is taught by psychotherapists, book and film group facilitators, improv actors, musicians, a children’s art therapist, and others. The Online Activation Form includes an incomplete list of public arts programming currently scheduled for Fall 2021: times are to be determined. More classes will be scheduled for the fall as well as for Spring and Summer 2022.
Be-Longing By Mariela Dominguez District C Mariela Dominguez will choose an object to be the trigger for a story of a journey that evokes uprooting and regeneration. A set of four videos presents the stories between two speakers, one, the issue of a mother tongue as the other represents the mediator who personifies a new local generation that articulates the dominant English language. This material object evokes cultural ties that are seemingly enigmatic to everyone except those who retain their mother tongue. The development of a set of four videos with English subtitles is projected and additionally, various audiovisual resources will be included.
SUKOON: Tranquility Thru Music By Sheetal Bedi District C Indo-American Association (IAA) Sukoon is an Urdu/Hindi word which translates to calm, peace, relief, serenity, tranquility, and wholeness. Through this project, IAA will endeavor to bring great sukoon and tranquility to digital audiences. Patrons have come to deeply value IAA’s digital concerts at a time of tremendous isolation and loneliness. The Sukoon project will give an opportunity to emerging artists to showcase their ability to connect digital audiences to a meditative space where tranquility can be found at the individual level, even for a few minutes. This will be presented through IAA’s social media platforms.
The Sankofa Project and its Virtual Dialogues By Stephanie Mitchell District C Lawndale Art and Performance Center The Sankofa Project brings light to the events that have been censored or ignored in historical narratives and reinforced the racial oppression of Black Americans. A free Zoom conversation between the artist and collaborating scholar or historian will be held and deepen the conversation on race and inequality and educate the community. These dialogues will be available post-event via Lawndale’s website and social media along with exhibition documentation and materials for public accessibility.
Mindful In This Moment By Nathan Edwards District D On a clear morning in February 2022, Nathan Edwards will film a live installation around the theme of meditation. 50 black men and women dressed in monochromatic pastel colors will meet at a Houston park for a staged, live, one-hour installation/meditation that will be filmed, edited, and shared online.
Orange Show Media Project By Sara Kellner District I Orange Show Center for Visionary Art The Orange Show Media Project is a partnership with SWAMP and its young filmmakers to document five intimate performances by visionary Houston artists in front of live audiences at the Orange Show’s historic properties. These will be live streamed weekly starting July 4, 2022.
The 5 awardees for the “City Initiative” grants are:
Christmas in the 44: An Urban Christmas Tale By Norma Thomas District B Christmas in the 44: An Urban Christmas Tale (UCT) brings theatre to Acres Homes community in more ways than one. UCT is “takin’ it to the streets!” Staged outside local businesses along the 4 major Acres Homes throughfares, festive tableau style scenarios, much like department store holiday window displays and the live nativity scenes of old, will delight passers-by, create community celebration, and foster holiday spirit.
Scott @ X By Andrew Davis District C Scott @ X proposes a new way of engaging communities with performance art. Throughout November 2021, weekly Sunday performances will occur along Metro Rail stops in Third Ward; with the opening performance at the Leeland/Third Ward stop and closing performance at MacGregor Park/Martin Luther King, Jr. stop. The audience will be able to engage with the performance on site as well as virtually through Twitch using QR codes posted at the Metro Rail stops.
2 Post Cinema By Britt Thomas District C 2 Post Cinema is a neighborhood outdoor cinema set to open in November 2021. It will showcase contemporary film and video art created by underrepresented artists and filmmakers. Utilizing the non-obstructed view, they have of T.C. Jester Park’s parking lot from their property, Britt and Prince Thomas will erect a large, retractable rear-projected film screen in their backyard while relaying sound via radio transmission to viewers’ car stereos. 2 Post Cinema is a free, publicly accessible catalyst for bringing together our diverse community via the arts in a safe, socially distanced manner.
Cindee Travis Klement: Symbiosis By Lawndale Art and Performance Center District C Cindee Travis Klement’s Symbiosis is a work of living land art in Mary E. Bawden Sculpture Garden at Lawndale Art and Performance Center, which introduces a variety of native plants to immerse the community in and educate them on the possibility of a more regenerative, sustainable future.
Swisha House: Rollin’ & Burnin’ Since ‘97 By Henry Guidry District D With millions of records sold, several Grammy nominated artists and the first record label/music genre to be archived in Rice University’s Fondren Library, Swishahouse has been a staple in the Houston hip hop scene since the mid-90’s. This event, held in East Downtown Houston at 8th Wonder Brewery, will exhibit items from the Rice archive, CD & mixtape covers and never-seen-before photos. The exhibit will simultaneously highlight the impact Swishahouse has made on the hip hop genre while introducing to many, and reinforcing to others, the significance of Swishahouse on the Southern hip-hop movement.
A new $25 million arts facility, set to become a major addition to Rice University’s campus, has moved past planning stages.
Groundbreaking for Sarofim Hall is expected in early 2022, with an anticipated completion date in 2024.
Named for lead donor Fayez Sarofim, the 50,000-square foot space will be home to the university’s Visual and Dramatic Arts Department and aims to become a hub for art-making and cross-disciplinary collaboration.
The rough timeline for the project comes as an architectural firm and design concept have also been announced.
Following a national competition, the design team of Diller Scofidio + Renfro was selected and will be led by architect and Rice alumnus, Charles Renfro.
The building’s architecture, with its metal structure, pays tribute to the former Rice Media Center and Art Barn, commissioned in 1969 by Houston arts patrons John and Dominique de Menil – and now the sites on which Sarofim Hall will sit.
While its steel frame makes a nod to the campus’ past, the new building’s open, indoor/outdoor design is meant to symbolize – and facilitate – the free-flow of ideas that will lead to artistic collaborations of the future, according to designers.
Sarofim Hall will connect sculptors, printmakers, photographers, filmmakers and other visual artists – currently scattered at facilities all over campus – and allow them to work in close proximity, potentially learning from and engaging with each other.
A glass-lined pedestrian “ArtStreet” will bisect the four-story structure, which will contain exhibition areas, labs, studios, shops, faculty offices, and other working art spaces. It will also feature an outdoor plaza.
“The building shell is thought of as a piece of infrastructure: simple, durable and timeless, while the insides can transform as needs change,” Renfro said in a press release.
Construction on the new building coincides with another change for the Visual and Dramatic Arts Department: newly-appointed department chair, Bruce Hainely, will step into the role in January 2022. Among his plans is a future graduate level program in the fine arts.