First-ever Houston Theater Week could mark the start of a new performing arts season tradition

In place of the once annual Theater District Open House, Houston First Corporation and the Theater District Houston Association have collaborated to launch the first Houston Theater Week, August 22 – 29, 2022.

Modeled after New York’s Broadway Week (a bi-annual event that offers 2-for-1 Broadway tickets), Houston Theater Week features the opportunity to purchase Buy One, Get One Free tickets to more than 100 concerts and shows presented by more than 20 local arts organizations in the 2022 – 2023 season.

“Think of it like the Black Friday of the performing arts season,” said Holly Clapham, Chief Marketing Officer of Houston First.

Houston First also called the new week-long event “the largest consumer promotion celebrating live theater and performing arts in Houston’s history.”

The previous annual tradition of Theater District Open House took place for 26 years until 2019.  While that event was a day-long festival of ticket deals, as well as activities and performances, Houston Theater Week will focus on providing significant discounts to benefit patrons and to drive ticket sales that will help the local performing arts community continue to recover from the pandemic, according to Houston First.

Clapham told Houston Arts Journal that it was “hard to keep the momentum” of the Theater District Open House in the face of modern technologies, such as social media – and that the new concept of Theater Week “marries well with the way people shop … and engage with products.”

However, with the construction of Lynn Wyatt Square – a new plaza framed by downtown’s major performing arts venues – expected to be finished in early 2023, there is still the potential for a reimagined in-person event in the future, Clapham said. She anticipates that the new plaza will allow for “endless possibilities” to engage the public, and that arts leaders will be taking note of how Houstonians use and respond to that space.

In the meantime, Houston Theater Week provides the return of a collective citywide celebration of the performing arts season – and one that aims to include acclaimed local arts groups that perform beyond the downtown Theater District, such as the Ensemble Theatre, which recently won the Theatre Longevity Award at the 2022 National Black Theatre Festival.

“Houston Theater Week was developed to showcase and strengthen Houston’s diverse professional performing arts portfolio,” said Michael Heckman, Houston First President and CEO, in a statement.

“We are proud to partner with resident companies in the heart of downtown, as well as community theater groups located throughout our city, and look forward to this campaign continuing to grow in popularity and success,” he said.

Participating local arts groups include:

  • 4th Wall Theatre Company
  • Alley Theatre
  • Ars Lyrica Houston
  • Chamber Music Houston
  • Da Camera
  • Dirt Dogs Theatre Company
  • The Ensemble Theatre
  • The Hobby Center
  • Houston Ballet
  • Houston Brass Quintet
  • Houston Chamber Choir
  • Houston Grand Opera
  • Houston Symphony
  • Kinetic Ensemble
  • Main Street Theater
  • Mercury Chamber Orchestra
  • Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company
  • Performing Arts Houston
  • ROCO
  • Stages
  • Tee Zee Productions
  • Theatre Under the Stars

Details on Houston Theater Week will be updated and available here.

UPDATE, 8/16/22, 4pm: This article was updated to reflect the increase in the number performances eligible for discounts from 86 to 93, and to include the addition of the Ensemble Theatre’s participation in Theater Week.

UPDATE, 8/22/22, 9:30AM: This article was updated to include the added participation of Chamber Music Houston, Houston Brass Quintet, Houston Chamber Choir, and Stages. The number of performances eligible for discounts was updated to “more than 100,” and the number local arts groups participating updated to “more than 20,” to reflect the changing numbers on Houston Theater Week’s website.

Mildred’s Umbrella Theater joins nationwide reading of #ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence

Actors Juan Sebastian Cruz, Maya Monsavais, Alric Davis, and Chandler Kelly from Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company’s film of the short play “Rehearsal” by Willa Colleary / Photo by Sam Stengler

Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company is one of four Texas theater organizations – and one of more than 50 communities across the country – that will aim to raise awareness about gun violence through a national reading of #ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence on April 20, 2022.

This year’s reading marks the 23rd anniversary of the Columbine High School mass shooting, which was among the first to ignite major discussions about school safety, access to firearms, and youth mental health.

Founded in 2019, #ENOUGH is a national playwrighting competition for teens to “confront gun violence by creating new works of theatre that will spark critical conversations and inspire meaningful action in communities across the country,” according to its website.

“We wanted Houston to be represented in the event, and we think gun violence awareness is really important in Houston, and all over the United States,” said Jennifer Decker, Executive Artistic Director of Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company.

According to data from the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, there were 10 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in Texas in 2021 and 13 in 2020.

This includes the October 2021 shooting at Houston’s YES Prep Southwest Secondary school and the January 2020 shooting at Bellaire High School. More than three years later, painful memories are still fresh from the May 2018 tragedy at Sante Fe High School, which killed 10 people and injured 13.

From nearly 150 national submissions, eight works by high school students – 10-minute plays that address gun violence through a variety of lenses and experiences – were selected by #ENOUGH’s panel of award-winning playwrights to receive a monetary prize, publication, and performance.

Artists from Mildred’s Umbrella produced film versions of the following six winning plays:

  • Rehearsal by Willa Colleary (Los Angeles, CA)
  • It’s Okay by Anya Jiménez (Brooklyn, NY)
  • Salted Lemonade by Taylor Lafayette (Benoit, MS)
  • In My Sights by Tain Leonard-Peck (West Tisbury, MA)
  • Undo, Redo by Cameron Thiesing (Louisville, KY)
  • Write Their Wrongs by Wyn Alyse Thomas (Buffalo Grove, IL)

The company will also present films produced by Pittsburgh’s Alumni Theater Company of the winning plays Southside Summer by MacKenzie Boyd (Chicago, IL) and Allegiance by Arianna Brumfield (Jackson, MS).

The films will be screened virtually on Mildred’s Umbrella’s Facebook and Vimeo pages from April 19 at 7pm through April 21. The online event is free, but donations to the reading are welcome and will go to Texas Gun Sense, an advocacy organization that works to reduce gun injuries and deaths.

This marks the second year for Mildred’s Umbrella to present the Houston reading of #ENOUGH. Decker points out that the winning plays for both years were mostly written by young women – an aspect that fits the company’s mission to support women in theater, which she says has dovetailed thematically with other social issues and concerns, such as sex trafficking and domestic violence.

After its participation in #Enough, the company’s next major production in May is The Mother Project – a World Premiere based on personal interviews with five African American mothers, midwives, and doulas, “illustrating the joy and heartbreak of being a Black mother in an America that still does not treat all people equally.”

“Sometimes our plays are just stories that happen to be about women, but often, the social justice issues come up in the story, and we embrace them and try to make sure we handle them appropriately,” said Decker.

Full disclosure: Houston Arts Journal’s Catherine Lu serves on the Advisory Board of Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company.

No more ‘SPA’ – The organization soon becomes ‘Performing Arts Houston’

Winners and performers of the 2021 Houston Artist Commissioning Project with Mayor Sylvester Turner / Asaeda Badat Photography

After 55 years, Society for the Performing Arts is changing its name to Performing Arts Houston.

The major nonprofit arts presenter publicly announced the new name on April 5 in a newsletter to patrons and on social media.

The new name goes into effect on April 12, along with a new website, new branding, and a new membership program. That same day, Performing Arts Houston will also announce its 2022-2023 season and open applications for its 2nd annual Houston Artist Commissioning Project.

“Dropping the word ‘Society’ from the name helps us welcome everyone to the performing arts. This is an experience for all Houstonians,” said the organization in a statement.

The shorter new name is intended to celebrate the connection to local communities, while capturing the depth of arts presented.

“It also lets us lose the acronym SPA,” stated the organization, adding cheekily: “As therapeutic as the performing arts may be, we are not a spa.”

We’ve presented Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for over 50 years. We’ve brought Marcel Marceaux, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Yo-Yo Ma, Martha Graham Dance Company, Lang Lang, STOMP, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Spalding Gray, American Ballet Theatre, and hundreds more world class artists to our city. Parallel to what you see on stage, our education and community programs create and inspire arts engagement to the wider community. We’re proud to continue that work as Performing Arts Houston.

Society for the Performing Arts, April Newsletter

The new name was first revealed to attendees of its April 2 gala, The Kaleidoscope Ball, which raised nearly $600,000 is support of the organization’s presentations and education and community engagement programs.

Three local film festivals – showcasing Latino, Jewish, and underwater films – take place over the next two weeks

“Fearless” (2021), a documentary by director Wojciech Lorenc & producer Valentina Trevino / Courtesy of the Houston Latino Film Festival

Houston is home to WorldFest, the Houston Cinema Arts Society14 Pews, the Aurora Picture Show, and a newly opened second movie theater at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston – among other film venues and organizations.

And Houstonians managed to save, thanks in part to vocal public support, the recently shuttered River Oaks Theatre, which is expected to reopen under new management in coming months.

This active local film scene also nurtures a myriad of festivals year-round, often inspired by the city’s diversity and artistic energy. Themes range, for example, from the long-running ReelAbilities Film Festival to the newer literary-influenced Reelpoetry Festival.

The next two weeks epitomize Houston’s dynamic, ever-growing film culture, as three local festivals take place back-to-back and concurrently. Let’s take a closer look:

Houston Latino Film Festival, March 23 – 27 at MATCH

Founded in 2016 by three filmmaker-friends – Dave Cebrero (Festival Director), David Cortez (Operations Director), and Pedro Rivas (Program Director) – the Houston Latino Film Festival has grown from a 3-day event to, this year, a 5-day event that encompasses screenings, workshops, Q&As with filmmakers, readings, visual art, and local bands.

“The idea began as a project to share our love of Latino-themed cinema with the City of Houston,” said Rivas.

“We weren’t sure if we would get much of a response at first, but we ended up having a sold-out event our first year, and again in our second year,” he continued. “This told us there was a need for this type of cinema and storytelling in the community, and we wanted to keep it going and adding to the festival.”

The expanded programming attests to the festival’s increasing influence on the local film scene and its international attraction. Its application pool has doubled – from roughly 200 submissions in its first year to more than 400 this year.

Along the way, it has survived the challenges of COVID-19 by overcoming a cancelation in 2020 and a reimagining of itself at a drive-in theater in 2021.

Now back in-person for the first time since the pandemic, the 6th Annual Houston Latino Film Festival features more than 80 films from all over Central and South America, Spain, and Portugal, and by Latino filmmakers in the U.S.  A complete schedule of screenings and events can be found here, including a virtual option.

Though Hollywood and the film industry were hit hard by the pandemic, Latino filmmakers all over the world have remained creative and resourceful, according to Rivas.

“It may have been hard to get a film crew together, but a lot of people took the time to write or flesh out their ideas,” he said. “It was also an opportunity for some to finish editing their unfinished films and submit them to festivals during the last two years.”

The festival also aims to support local filmmakers through screenings of short films by Houstonians; the coming-of-age rebellion story, Acid Test, by Jenny Waldo; and Fearless, a portrait of a boxing gym in Conroe, produced and directed by the Houston-based husband and wife team of Wojciech Lorenc and Valentina Trevino.

“We hope this inspires other local filmmakers to realize that Houston can be a place to make our films,” said Rivas.

Rivas also says that he hopes the festival will inspire both casual film fans and avid film buffs.

“These are films you normally couldn’t see in theaters or on any streaming service yet, and we take pride in our programming selection,” he said. “We hope more Houstonians will come out to support the festival and these great artists, and to have fun!”

Houston Jewish Film Festival, March 26 – April 6 at the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC & other venues

“Houstonians have a strong appetite for international cinema and independent films,” said Marian Luntz, longtime curator of film at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, who gives credit to the city’s diversity.

“At the MFAH we can show a film in any language and know there will be audience members who don’t need the subtitles, especially when they laugh at moments that aren’t well-translated for those of us reading along!” she said.

In addition to serving as a juror at numerous film festivals over the years, including Sundance and South by Southwest, Luntz is on the committee of this year’s Houston Jewish Film Festival.

Now in its 18th year, the festival has maintained a mission of bringing Jewish lives and stories to the big screen.

The Annual Houston Jewish Film Festival is intended to expose the Houston community to current documentary, feature, and short movies with meaningful Jewish or Israeli content, as well as Israeli-made movies with contemporary themes. Films will cover a diverse range of cultural, religious, or historical topics of Jewish relevance and are selected to educate, inform, and entertain a wide general audience.

Mission statement, Houston Jewish Film Festival

Luntz says this year’s committee of movie lovers recruited by the ERJCC has programmed “a great variety of award-winning films that appeal to all interests and tastes. In the 18th edition you can find drama, comedy, romance, documentaries, LGBTQ fare – something for everyone!”

 The 18th annual Houston Jewish Film Festival will feature 17 films and a 6-episode mini-series in a hybrid format – with films screened in-person and/or virtually. A complete schedule of events can be found here.

“Among the highlights, we are most excited about is Space Torah, a documentary featuring native Houstonian and NASA Astronaut Dr. Jeff Hoffman and the Torah he brought with him aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1996,” said Jody Sweed, festival chair, in a statement.

Space Torah’s producer Rachel Raz, director Rob Cooper, and Dr. Hoffman will be in attendance for a post-film panel discussion on March 30 at the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC.

Sweed also calls the romantic comedy Kiss Me Kosher a “must see.”

“It’s a subversive love story between clashing cultures and families: two generations of Israeli women fall for a German woman and a Palestinian man and chaos follows,” Sweed said.

When asked about the significance of this festival – and the purpose of art in times of crisis, particularly following two years of a pandemic and the rising visibility of racist activities – Matt Basen, ERJCC’s Arts and Culture Program Coordinator, said:

The film festival provides us a way to come together, experience what life is like through the lens of someone else, experience Jewish stories, and share that in an accessible format.

A film is also an accessible form of art. It has the power to bring stories, thoughts, and ideas to groups of people in an easy-to-digest structure. We can shed light on these Jewish stories that a general audience may not know of on their own.

Houston Underwater Film Festival, April 2 – 3 at MATCH

Longtime scuba divers, Craig and Betsy Beasley, co-chair the Houston Underwater Film Festival, now in its 2nd year.

“We have a very unusual and high quality show,” said Craig Beasley. “Betsy and I are underwater videographers ourselves but are retired and do this just to spread the word on the beauty and issues with the oceans.”

The Beasleys founded HUFF during the pandemic – inspired by their own love of underwater filmmaking and such festivals in other cities, according to reporting by the Houston Chronicle.

HUFF aims to promote underwater filmmaking and appreciation of the beauty and diversity of all things underwater, as well as to encourage the art of videography, as stated on its website.

Sponsored by the Houston Underwater Photographic Society, this year’s festival will screen 52 films from 24 countries, selected from open and free submissions to Film Freeway. Other events include an awards reception and “Meet the Directors.”

Film categories include Short, Protect and Respect the Oceans, Made in Texas, Art House Flicks, and Feature Length (up 5 minutes for underwater films).

A complete schedule can be found here – with a virtual on-demand option available on April 4, following the in-person festival.

Houston’s new BIPOC Arts Network and Fund awards $2 million to 120 local arts groups serving communities of color

TEATRX, a Latinx theater company and BANF grantee [pictured from left to right: Fabiola Andujar, Michael Sifuentes, Matthew Ruiz and Matthew Martinez] / photo by Melissa Taylor

In its first round of funding, the BIPOC Arts Network and Fund (BANF) has announced that it is awarding a combined $2 million to 120 Houston-area arts groups serving Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian American, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern and other communities of color.

The grants range from $5,000 to $50,000 for 59 artist collectives and 61 arts organizations – with support from the Ford Foundation, Houston Endowment, The Brown Foundation, Inc., The Cullen Foundation, Kinder Foundation, and The Powell Foundation.

“This is a moving moment because there are many grantees who are being funded for the first time, despite having a strong and lengthy track record of work in their communities,” said Marissa Castillo, co-founder of TEATRX, in a press release. The Latinx theater company is the recipient of a $7,500 BANF grant.

“This grant helps TEATRX advance our mission of making Latinx performance arts a vital and prominent part of the artistic identity of Houston by representing and supporting the Latinx community, its artists, and its stories,” Castillo said.

While Houston is the most racially and ethnically diverse city in an increasingly diverse country, 90% of local arts philanthropy goes to 27 mostly white-led organizations, according to a 2017 study by Houston Endowment.

Only about 7% of local public funding goes to Latinx organizations, per a Houston report that was released in 2018 by the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture.

Nationally, the 20 largest mainstream arts organizations have a median budget of $61 million – 16 times the median budget of the 20 largest organizations of color at $3.8 million, according to a 2015 Diversity in the Arts study by the DeVos Institute.

BANF was launched in September 2021 to address these inequities locally. The multi-year initiative aims to support BIPOC-led nonprofits that provide arts and culture programming, as well as fiscally-sponsored artist collectives, across the nine counties of Greater Houston (Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller counties).

The groundwork for the effort was laid by the Ford Foundation’s America’s Cultural Treasures initiative, which in September 2020 committed an unprecedented $156 million to support BIPOC arts communities nationwide in response to the devastating economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of that amount, $5 million was invested in the Greater Houston region and combined with contributions from local foundations to create BANF.

Alief Art House, a BANF grantee, was founded and organized by Houston Filipinx artist Matt Manalo. A shipping container that houses free art exhibits and events, it brings art into the one of the most diverse neighborhoods within Greater Houston and serves as an outlet to showcase Alief artists. The collective is in the process of expanding to two shipping containers to house offices and workshops. / courtesy of Alief Art House

Of the 155 grant applicants in this inaugural round, 77% were funded after going through a review process by a panel of creatives, arts administrators, and arts and community leaders from Houston’s BIPOC communities.

“We took the opportunity to prioritize learning and abundance and to de-emphasize competition in our grantmaking process,” said Sixto Wagan, BANF Project Director, in a statement.

“We saw this as an opportunity to learn from the written and spoken words of applicants what our communities’ strengths and challenges are as they face the current economic, social, and health realities of today,” Wagan said.

Organizers say that this community-learning approach that centers BIPOC voices will continue to guide BANF as it develops ways to assist artists beyond financial investment – such as by “broadening networks or expanding development opportunities.”

In this coming year, the initiative will host a series of information sessions with grantees and the arts community at large to identify how BIPOC arts organizations and artists want to be supported specifically to meet challenges and needs.

A full list of grantees can be found here.

NEA announces over $33 million in project funding nationally, including $1.7 million for Texas arts

Photo credit: Young Audiences of Houston / Facebook

The National Endowment for the Arts is awarding 1,498 grants totaling nearly $33.2 million for its first round of funding for fiscal year 2022.

Of that amount, $1,746,000 is going to 77 institutions in Texas, with 22 Houston arts organizations receiving $632,000.

The overall funding spans every state, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. The types of grants awarded include Grants for Arts Projects, which represent 15 artistic disciplines; Challenge America grants, “for projects that extend the reach of the arts to populations that have limited access to the arts due to geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability”; Literature Fellowships in creative writing and translation; and Arts Research grants.

“These National Endowment for the Arts grants underscore the resilience of our nation’s artists and arts organizations, will support efforts to provide access to the arts, and rebuild the creative economy,” said Ann Eilers, NEA Acting Chair, in a press release.

“The supported projects demonstrate how the arts are a source of strength and well-being for communities and individuals, and can open doors to conversations that address complex issues of our time,” Eilers said.

Among local grantees, Young Audiences of Houston will receive $50,000 for its Neighborhoods, Identity, and Diversity Project, which aims to increase arts access and equity. By providing free programs across 10 communities, the project works to amplify youth voices, infuse local cultures and traditions into arts-based learning, and collaborate with teaching artists and schools.

“We look forward to sharing over the next year the progress of this exciting project, unique to Houston and the communities that create our region’s vibrancy,” said Mary Mettenbrink, Young Audiences of Houston’s Executive Director, in a statement. “This project will support Acres Homes, Alief-Westwood, Fort Bend Houston, Gulfton, Kashmere Gardens, Magnolia-Park Manchester, Near Northside, Second Ward, Sunnyside, and Third Ward.”

Houston’s Discovery Green Conservancy will receive a $15,000 NEA grant in support of its project, Tejas Got Soul: Celebrating Houston’s Tejano Roots Music Legacy.

Initiated by East End residents Pat Jasper, Nick Gaitan, Isaac Rodriguez, Robert Rodriguez, and Angel Quesada, the project includes 3 free concerts in fall 2022 that feature traditional music genres popular in the Chicano community, from orquesta to conjunto and Tejano to Brown-Eyed Soul. There will also be panel discussions about the history of the local Chicano music scene and a social media campaign to add historical and cultural context about the music, musicians, and the community.

“Part of Discovery Green Conservancy’s mission is to shine a light on the diversity of traditions that exist in Houston,” said Barry Mandel, Discovery Green Conservancy President, in a statement. “The Conservancy is very proud to work with talented Houstonians to present these concerts and is very grateful for the National Endowment of Arts support.”

A full state-by-state listing of grants is available here.

A full list of Houston grantees follows:

Alley Theatre
$20,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Theater

Arts Connect Houston
$100,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Arts Education

Aurora Picture Show (aka Aurora)
$15,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Media Arts

Da Camera Society of Texas (aka Da Camera chamber music & jazz)
$25,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Music

Discovery Green Conservancy (aka Discovery Green)
$15,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Folk & Traditional Arts

FotoFest, Inc.
$25,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Visual Arts

Guez, Julia
$10,000
Literature Fellowships: Translation Projects – Literary Arts

Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature & Fine Arts (aka Gulf Coast)
$15,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Literary Arts

Houston Architecture Foundation (aka Architecture Center Houston)
$12,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Design

Houston Arts Alliance (aka HAA)
$35,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Local Arts Agencies

Houston Cinema Arts Society
$20,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Media Arts

Houston Grand Opera Association, Inc.
$65,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Opera

Houston Symphony Society (aka Houston Symphony)
$15,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Music

Musiqa Inc.
$10,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Music

Nameless Sound
$20,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Music

Open Dance Project Inc.
$10,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Dance

Rothko Chapel
$35,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Presenting & Multidisciplinary Works

Society for the Performing Arts (aka SPA)
$35,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Presenting & Multidisciplinary Works

Theatre Under The Stars, Inc.
$10,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Musical Theater

University of Houston (on behalf of Arte Publico Press)
$60,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Literary Arts

University of Houston (on behalf of Blaffer Art Museum)
$30,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Museums

Young Audiences Inc of Houston (aka Houston Arts Partners)
$50,000
Grants for Arts Projects – Arts Education

Society for the Performing Arts announces new COVID safety protocol

Fran Lebowitz, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and Drum Tao 2022 are among the artists on Society for the Performing Arts’ February calendar.

Society for the Performing Arts has announced that it will expand its COVID-19 safety requirements from masks to proof of a negative COVID test or proof of vaccination for all patrons ages 5 and older, starting in February.

By doing so, SPA joins four other major arts organizations in Houston’s Theater District that currently have similar COVID safety protocol – including the Alley Theatre, Broadway at The Hobby Center, and Theatre Under The Stars (which require proof of negative results or vaccination for ages 12 and older), as well as Da Camera.

As “the largest nonprofit presenting organization of its kind in the Southwest,” SPA brings internationally acclaimed artists, musicians, dancers, actors, and speakers to Houston, and champions local artists through its Houston Artist Commissioning Project.

“With the amount of travel [SPA touring artists] are doing, more and more are requiring increased health and safety protocols,” the organization stated in its January newsletter as the impetus for the change.

Beginning next month, all audience members ages 5 and older will be required to show proof of a negative PCR or rapid antigen COVID-19 test, taken within 72 hours prior to the performance. SPA also requires that that the negative result be from a professionally administered test, not an at-home self-test.

Alternatively, patrons may choose to show proof of vaccination in the form of either 1) a CDC designated vaccine card that has two vaccine dates for the Pfizer/Moderna vaccine or one vaccine date for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with the date of the final dose at least 14 days prior to the performance, or 2) a photo or digital copy of the card.

Patrons also need to present ID that matches the name on the test or vaccination card. Children may be accompanied by an adult who can provide identification. 

Masks will continue to be required inside the theater for all attendees ages 3 and older.

According to SPA, current ticket holders who cannot or do not wish to participate in these guidelines may contact the box office or email info@spahouston.org by January 28 to exchange their tickets for credit, to donate tickets, or to request a full refund.

Here’s a look at current COVID safety protocol for 8 major arts organizations in downtown Houston’s Theater District, subject to change:

Alley Theatre

  • Proof of negative COVID-19 test result or vaccination for patrons ages 12 and older
  • Masks required for all ages
  • All staff, artists, creative teams, crews, and ushers required to be vaccinated

Broadway at The Hobby Center

  • Proof of negative COVID-19 test result or vaccination for guests ages 12 and older
  • Masks required for all ages

Da Camera

  • Proof of negative COVID-19 test result or vaccination for all patrons
  • Masks required for all patrons

Houston Ballet

  • Masks required for all patrons
  • All staff and ushers fully vaccinated and masked at all times

Houston Grand Opera

  • Masks required for all patrons
  • All guests attending HGO Special Event dinners required to show proof of negative COVID-19 test result or vaccination, with masks also required at these events

Houston Symphony

  • Masks required for all patrons
  • All staff, ushers, musicians vaccinated; all ushers and staff in Jones Hall masked
  • Mix of full capacity and socially distanced areas in Jones Hall

Society for the Performing Arts

  • Masks required for all patrons
  • Starting February 2022, proof of negative COVID-19 test result or vaccination for patrons ages 5 and older

Theatre Under The Stars

  • Proof of negative COVID-19 test result or vaccination for patrons ages 12 and older
  • Masks required for all ages
  • On-site COVID testing available

Local artist produces a docuseries on the African diaspora in Houston

Poet Ayokunle Falomo is featured in Loyce Gayo’s “By Way Of, Houston

2016 article by the Kinder Institute reported that roughly 61,000 African-born people were living in Greater Houston. That community made up about 4.5% of the city’s foreign-born population at the time, described as a “small” but “growing and increasingly visible group here and across the country.”

Indeed, according to the Migration Policy Institute, African immigrants had the highest growth rate (82%) among the city’s immigrant population between 2010 and 2017, and with more recent data suggesting closer to 90,000 individuals in the region.

Poet, educator, and filmmaker Loyce Gayo points out that behind these numbers are multitudes of stories and nuanced understandings of what it means to be an immigrant, to experience both estrangement and belonging, to find home – to shape, and be shaped by, Houston.

Gayo set out to explore and document stories of the African diaspora in Houston, with funding from a grant from the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs through the Houston Arts Alliance.

The resulting project is By Way Of, Houston, a docuseries that profiles five local African immigrants.

It will be shown in a free screening, followed by a conversation with the filmmaker, on Friday, December 17 at 6:30pm at the SAiD Institute. Gayo also plans to archive each episode online in the future.

Houston Arts Journal reached out to Loyce Gayo for the following interview.

Loyce Gayo / photo credit: Hakeem Adewumi

Can you tell me a little bit about the story behind this project? How did you come up with the idea and why did you want to do it?

I have been closely studying how African immigrants negotiate belonging in Houston ever since I moved here from Tanzania in 2007. From being able to easily source ingredients for a traditional Tanzanian dish to singing Swahili hymnals in church, Houston afforded me, and many like me, the material conditions to feel at home in a foreign place. I wanted to capture that magic in this project. 

Tell me about the Houstonians you profiled and why you chose them.

I profiled five incredible individuals, Ayokunle Falomo, a poet; Nneka Stefania Achapu, a political strategist; Chukwunonso Ofili, a painter and comedian; and Martins Amune and Anita Okpobiri.

I selected each person because of their unique perspectives on the African Diasporic experience: Ayo’s experience living in Southwest Houston largely informs his poetry. Nneka works closely in the Black immigrant justice movement in Texas and spoke about how local policies influence African immigrants. Martins and Anita spoke about how customs and tradition influence their dating life. And Ofili spoke about the City supporting his work as a visual artist through financial opportunities.

2016 article by the Kinder Institute shares the views of sociologist Anima Adjepong: “Even though Houston’s African immigrant community contains a variety of ethnicities and languages, argues Adjepong, once those immigrants arrive here, they form a common identity. ‘In spaces such as African grocery stores, strangers develop community as African, through shared experiences of estrangement from home, and their need for that space,’ Adjepong said.”

I just wanted to bring in that context to set up my asking you for your thoughts on “home” and “belonging.” What did you learn about those notions from your interviewees?

To a certain extent the sentiment of a common identity is true. There is often a far-reaching sense of kinship, especially in religious spaces, but what I gathered from my interviews was a desire to add nuance and complexity to the common Diasporic identity we know. 

Another thing that was emphasized in my conversations was how that commonality doesn’t translate to organizing towards collective political power.

Clip from Loyce Gayo’s “By Way Of, Houston”

As part of Ayokunle Falomo’s profile, he reads his poem “S.W.A.T, ALWAYS,” an ode to Southwest Alief Texas.

On social media, you wrote: “This poem beautifully captures what it is like living in Southwest Houston, the city’s international district, and where many African immigrants live!” Would you say more about how that poem resonates with you?

I can’t think of a single African immigrant who doesn’t have some relationship to Southwest Houston. When my mother first moved to Houston, we lived in Pasadena but traveled every week to the international church on Beechnut. We bought our sambusas at the halal store on Hillcroft. We bought our clothes and fragrances at the shops on Harwin. Southwest Houston is the backdrop to virtually all African diasporic experiences. 

Was there another moment, or story, in the docuseries that particularly moved – or surprised – you?

I was really moved by Nneka’s comment [in the video below] on the local ordinance affecting the Southwest stretch of Bissonnet. There are a lot of things to celebrate about this city and its ability to accommodate people of all walks of life, but if politicians don’t listen to and work to meet the needs of especially those on the margins of our community, Houston stands to lose the very magic that makes this city special! 

You’re an accomplished poet and performer – was this your first foray into filmmaking?  Did you experiment visually to add to the storytelling?

Yes, this was my first venture into filmmaking! It was both incredibly terrifying and exhilarating. The best part of the entire process was the conversation. I worked really hard to curate a space and thought-provoking questions that promoted deep reflection and vulnerability. I desperately hope the work honors each story shared.

I really wanted to try my hand at a different form of storytelling. The use of split-screen in non-fiction filmmaking is very popular, and that was an experiment.

Why is it important for you to tell, and share, these stories of the African diaspora in Houston?  Does this moment in history – in this time of a global pandemic, political divide, and social unrest – give it more urgency?

My recent Google search of “african immigrants houston” yielded results on travel bans due to the new COVID variant, and reports of “illegal immigration.” The ever-nuanced and complex lives of African immigrants in this city (and ultimately, even their unique needs) go unmentioned and unrepresented! There is an urgent need not to just tell these stories, but use these perspectives to galvanize and collectively organize. 

Clip from Loyce Gayo’s “By Way Of, Houston”


$62,500 in grants awarded to local artists show wide range of projects in Houston

The Little Girl in the Lion’s Den by Tierney Malone, part of The Sankofa Project at Lawndale Art Center / photo from LawndaleArtsCenter.org

The latest round of grants from the City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) has awarded a total of $62,500 to 12 artists and nonprofits.

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 Orange Show Media Project will document performances by Houston artists in front of live audiences at the Orange Show’s historic properties. / photo from OrangeShow.org

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.

“Symbiosis” by Cindee Travis Klement is a work of living land art that introduces local color, texture, and variation through a variety of native plants / photo from LawndaleArtCenter.org

 
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.