Houston poet Holly Lyn Walrath writes a poem for Ukraine

Photo by Max Andrey from Pexels

When poet Holly Lyn Walrath tweeted, “In the face of war, write love poems,Houston Arts Journal invited her to write a poem in response to the Russia-Ukraine war.

Walrath created an erasure poem, which she considers a “form of resistance.” The poem emerges from the words that remain on the page, after portions of a found text have been obscured.

“Literature for Ukraine” by Holly Lyn Walrath

Walrath started with text from the Encyclopedia Brittanica entry on Russian Literature.

“I drew flowers over the dictionary page and hand-painted over them, leaving the words of the poem to read,” she said. “The paint is acrylic, but I watered it down to achieve a stained-glass effect.”

Walrath also shared her thoughts on poetry and war in the following interview:

What inspired this poem?

I kept thinking about the video of the Ukrainian woman, who told Russian soldiers to put sunflower seeds in their pockets so when they die on Ukrainian soil, a flower will grow. “Put the sunflower seeds in your pockets, please. You will die down here with the seeds. You came to my land. Do you understand? You are occupiers. You are enemies.”

I think this woman struck me and many others as very brave. But the idea of sunflowers – the national flower of Ukraine – growing from the corpses of soldiers is a complex and heartbreaking image. War obliterates both sides, on a human level. 

Art by Kiki Neumann, a Houston folk artist. Made from recycled sign letters, metal sunflowers & paint / Photo courtesy of Kiki Neumann Creations

What is an erasure poem?

Erasure or blackout poetry is the act of erasing certain words on the page. The words that remain become the poem. It can be done in lots of different ways, but the most common form is to “black out” with a black marker the lines on the page.

This technique mirrors censorship in most government “censured” documents, which use tape or black marker to remove sensitive information. Other techniques include digital erasures, which use font/color to erase words, visual erasures using images or collage, and cut-out forms. 

What draws you to this form? What are you trying to achieve each time you create one?

In many ways, erasure is a form of resistance. By literally erasing someone’s words, you are removing the power of those words. For example, I recently did a series erasing Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s order on trans children. 

A friend commented that the erasure put into words what she had been struggling to say about the order. This kind of engagement helps me process world events.

You recently tweeted: “In the face of war, write love poems.” What do you mean by that? Do you consider this poem a love poem?

I think all poems are love poems, ha. All poetry is about love – whether it’s about grief or the body or nature. To write a poem about something is to love it, I think. Because something has to bury itself deep in your creative consciousness in order for you to want to write about it. I like to say, “write what you love, love what you write.” 

What are your thoughts on the purpose of art and poetry during times of war and crisis?

I am struck by the story that Ilya Kaminsky, a Ukrainian-American poet, told on Twitter. He said he reached out to Ukraine to a publisher to ask if they needed anything – how he could help. They told him to send poems.

At face value, Ilya is a popular and successful poet. So publishing his work would boost the publisher. But on a deeper level, I think people crave art in troubling times. We cling to things we love and that spark joy for us. We watch movies, TV, read books and comics to process the world. There is so much we don’t have control over. It’s terrifying. But in the end, I do believe poetry matters. I do think the Ukrainian poets who are writing during a war matter.

In a tweet following up with the publisher, the man said, “I need nothing. I feel I am a witness to a catastrophe, but I need to live through it like everyone – and together with everyone.” Poetry is a way of living through something.

Would you like to share any personal thoughts on how the war in Ukraine has affected you?

From a very young age, I declared myself to be a pacifist. I think any death is a catastrophe, and perhaps that makes me naive. Call me Pollyanna, I’d rather be full of hope than full of hate. While I am not directly impacted by the war right now, the entire world is and will be impacted by this situation for years to come. We don’t know still what is to come. Writers and artists need to be witnesses to this disaster, and we also need to balance that with activism to force our leaders to stand up for displaced people worldwide. 

Local art and artists show support, raise money for Ukraine

Digital art by Dominika Dancewicz / Courtesy of the artist

Dominika Dancewicz is known in Houston and beyond as an accomplished violinist with the Axiom Quartet and Duo Dramatique. But she says she’s also always been interested in visual art, designing posters and flyers for concerts and dabbling in digital art.

In the days following the February 24th Russian invasion of Ukraine, she got an idea.

“I could make different kinds of images using the same [software and apps] and start raising awareness and possibly raise money to help,” she said. “I started making digital designs, or digital art pieces, with activist images pertaining specifically to the situation in Ukraine.”

Dancewicz then opened an online store on Redbubble, a print-on-demand platform, and began creating digital collages and graphic statements, “using the colors of the Ukrainian flag, various symbols of defiance and peace, along with some other symbolism.”

Art by Dominika Dancewicz

When people purchase the designs – printed on everyday items, like T-shirts, mugs, mousepads, phone skins – Dancewicz says she makes about a 20% profit on each item sold, and she plans to contribute all profits to the Ukraine-based Hospitallers, a volunteer medical organization that treats and evacuates the wounded.

A native of Poland, Dancewicz said she first heard about Hospitallers through the prominent Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, which had listed it among organizations providing boots-on-the-ground aid in Ukraine. Hospitallers has also been mentioned by Newsweek and NPR.

Dancewicz’s Axiom Quartet also plans to collect donations for Ukraine at an outdoor concert on March 12:

Axiom Quartet Porch Concert
Saturday, March 12, 6pm
1816 W 14th Street in the Heights
Sponsored by the Clark Pines Civic Association of Houston Heights
Collecting donations and tips for Ukraine

In addition to accepting donations, she says the quartet will donate 100% of their tips from the concert to one or more of the charities listed on their Facebook event page, and they plan to maintain transparency of their donations on social media.

When asked how the war in Ukraine has personally affected her, Dancewicz shared with Houston Arts Journal:

“Even though I myself haven’t experienced the direct impact of war, everything in my accrued life experience – the literature I read, the movies I saw, the places I grew up around [in Poland], the monuments, the museums, the bullet holes in old buildings, the concentration camps, the memories of my own grandparents – all of that screams at me that the violence of war is very real. 

“Through the stories of World War II survivors, through the stories of my parents and grandparents … the trauma of war is embedded in me, and I guess it’s embedded in all of my fellow Poles. Seeing the images of abysmal destruction of the Ukrainian cities, buildings, apartments, and homes that look remarkably just like the one I grew up in, causes a very visceral reaction in me: this is just too close to home … I’m absolutely shaken, scared, and very concerned.”

Paintings by Rada Bukhman and Natalia Kachanova-Rhodes / Courtesy of Russian Cultural Center – Our Texas

Elsewhere in the Houston arts community, the Russian Cultural Center – Our Texas is holding a Charity Concert for Peace on Friday, March 11, 7pm and a Charity Art Auction for Ukraine on Sunday, March 13, 2pm.

Sophia Grinblat, the center’s founder and president, came to Houston in 1990 from Ukraine and “is devastated by Russia’s invasion of her home country,” as reported by ABC 13.

According to the organization’s website: “The Russian-speaking community in Houston supports the people of Ukraine, refugees, and would like to help providing them with the basic supplies.”

The concert will feature violinist Oleg Sulyga, clarinetist Alexander Potiomkin, and pianist Tali Morgulis.

Local artists Natalia Kachanova-Rhodes and Rada Bukhman are donating their paintings to be auctioned.

The center says it plans to donate all money from both charity events to Malteser International and Malteser Ukraine.

Art has also appeared on the streets of Houston in response to the war in Ukraine:

Photo by Catherine Lu

The mural #StandWithUkraine, located at 112 Travis Street downtown, was painted by local artist Shelbi Nicole. It was commissioned by Iryna Petrovska Marchiano, former president of the Ukrainian American Cultural Club of Houston, who also launched the website HTX4UKRAINE.

Photo by Catherine Lu

Houston’s iconic graffiti bridge on I-45 Southbound near I-10, which in the past has famously displayed “Be Someone,” was recently painted to read “No War Know Peace” in an anti-war sentiment by artist Chandrika Metivvier.

Houston’s only Spanish literary series complements other local efforts to showcase diverse Latinx writers

Colombian writer Margarita García Robayo will be featured on Inprint’s “Escritores en la casa” series on March 3 / Courtesy of Inprint

Close to 40% of Houston’s population is Spanish speaking, and the city is a geographic and cultural pathway to Latin America.

“We believe it’s important to present a literary series that reflects this,” said Krupa Parikh, Associate Director of Inprint – a literary nonprofit that has presented readings and programs in Houston for nearly four decades.

In 2018, Inprint founded Escritores en la casa, which remains the city’s only Spanish-language literary series. That distinction is based on Houston Arts Journal’s review of multiple local organizations and corroborated by sources in the writing community.

Conducted entirely in Spanish (besides a brief introduction in English at each event), the reading series –which is free – features acclaimed authors from Latin America, Spain, and the U.S. It is curated by literary experts with direct ties to the genre.

“We think it’s important to leave the curation of the series to those that have a deep and complex understanding of contemporary Spanish language literature and are publishing books in Spanish,” said Parikh, who forms Inprint’s leadership with Executive Director Rich Levy.

“Therefore, we are thrilled and grateful to be working with Bolivian novelist and Inprint Advisory Board Member Rodrigo Hasbún, as well as Cristina Rivera Garza,” she said. Rivera Garza is the Director of the University of Houston’s Spanish-language Creative Writing Ph.D. Program – the first of its kind in the U.S.

Similar to Inprint’s longtime Margaret Root Brown Reading Series, authors on the Escritores en la casa series read from their works and are interviewed by a local writer during each event. Spring 2022 readings include:

March 3: Colombian writer Margarita García Robayo, winner of the Casa de las Américas Prize and the English PEN Award, will be interviewed by Rose Mary Salum, founder and director of the bilingual magazine Literal, Latin American Voices and the publishing house Literal Publishing.

Alejandra Costamagna / Courtesy of Inprint

March 24: Chilean writer Alejandra Costamagna, winner of the Anna Seghers Prize for Literature in Germany and a finalist for the 2018 Herralde Prize, will be interviewed by Rodrigo Hasbún, novelist and Inprint Advisory Board Member.

Rodrigo Rey Rosa / Photo credit: sololiteatura.com

April 21: Guatemalan writer Rodrigo Rey Rosa, considered one of the most prominent writers on the Guatemalan literary scene, will be interviewed by Saúl Hernández-Vargas, an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Houston.

Readings start at 7pm CT and are virtual this season. Free reservations can be made online.

While Inprint’s Escritores en la casa is the only series of its kind in Houston, there have been numerous efforts over the years to showcase the diverse stories, identities, and activities within the local Latinx literary landscape.

Parikh points out that one-off readings and other events take place around Houston, adding: “Literal by Rose Mary Salum does amazing work championing Spanish authors, and there is a group called Escritores Cronopios that gathers local Spanish writers in a sort of open mic. There is also an annual [international literature] festival by Casa Cultural de las Americas.”

Tintero Projects supports Gulf Coast-based Latinx writers through workshops and poetry readings, and it recently co-organized the 5th Annual Sin Muros: A Borderless Teatro Festival.

Lupe Mendez, Tintero’s co-founder, says that his organization is working to bring back its open mic, which has been slow to revitalize during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mendez is also in the process of planning projects and initiatives for his term as 2022 Texas Poet Laureate, which officially begins in May.

Writer-activist Tony Diaz founded Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say in 1998.

“It is a literary movement that began as a reading series featuring nationally published writers and new writers from the community in English, Spanish, and Spanglish,” said Diaz. “We have expanded to include multi-platform broadcasts from radio to social media.”

Though his organization has “curtailed in person events due to COVID-19,” Diaz continues to present Latinx writers on his radio show, which airs Tuesdays at 11am on KPFT.

He also says that Nuestra Palabra places a community representative in every Houston City Council District, in order to organize events in that district. And he is anticipating more activities next year for Nuestra Palabra’s 25th Anniversary.

Parikh says she thinks Inprint’s Escritores en la casa series complements the “awesome” and “important” work of these local organizations – many of whom have collaborated with Inprint or become friends through their shared love of the Houston literary scene.

For Mendez, the admiration is mutual.

“With such a diverse literary landscape for Latinx writers and Latin American writers, it is remarkable to have such a variety of offerings … Inprint and Escritores en La Casa contain such a beautiful moment of literary oro – gold and light everytime they open their doors,” said Mendez.

ROCO brings awareness to human trafficking, climate change through World Premieres

ROCO in rehearsal with conductor Sarah Hicks / Courtesy of ROCO Facebook

When I asked Alecia Lawyer if she sees herself and her orchestra as activists, she was quick to tell me, “No, there is no agenda,” while pointing out that music has always expressed things that are difficult to say or discuss.

The one-woman Founder, Artistic Director, and Principal Oboe of ROCO prefers to think of herself as a quilt maker.

“Everyone has their own squares they develop, and I try to stitch them together in a way that makes a beautiful whole,” said Lawyer.

The squares are the music – in this case, namely three World Premieres on the concert Canvasing the Earth, conducted by Sarah Hicks, on Saturday, February 26 at the Church of St. John the Divine and live-streamed.

Neither men nor money validate my worth – by Leanna Primiani, an award-winning Los Angeles and New York-based orchestral, film, and television composer – centers the stories and experiences of human trafficking, an issue of particular concern locally and regionally.

Texas reports the second-highest number of human trafficking cases in the U.S. after California, based on 2015-2019 data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline. A recent analysis from the Polaris Project points to human trafficking as a growing problem during the pandemic, citing a more than 40% increase in national crisis situations.

Houston has also witnessed alarming increases in human trafficking, with awareness efforts by local artists in place.

Passionate about bringing the issue to light and honoring survivors, Primiani has written an eight-minute tone poem that “chronicles the life of someone who has been trafficked,” as described in an article by the Houston Chronicle.

In concert, the work will be accompanied by photographs by The New Abolitionists – a group of social justice advocates, artists, entertainers, faith-based leaders, business experts, and survivors – working to end human trafficking.

Earth, a World Premiere by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Aaron Jay Kernis, tackles a story of climate change:

“Reflecting upon the fundamental environmental crisis of our time, and created in collaboration with poet and agricultural researcher Kai Hoffman-Krull, the work tells the story of a farmer’s life through vignettes exploring the incremental changes of the seasons and how those who depend upon the land must adapt.”

ROCO on “Earth” by Aaron Jay Kernis

Houston is well familiar with ongoing climate impacts, from flooding and hurricanes to, more recently, extreme winter weather.

Earth will feature tenor Nicholas Phan singing the farmer’s lyrics. Phan was nominated for the 2020 Grammy Award for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album for his album Gods and Monsters. An alumnus of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, he has previously performed in Houston with Da Camera and HGO.

The third World Premiere on the concert – Score by Grammy-nominated composer Jonathan Leshnoff – is a fanfare, which Lawyer calls “a wonderful romp of a work.”

Lawyer, who is actively involved in the commissioning process, says that there is a thrill – and poignancy – in performing new music.

“I love discovering the Bachs and Beethovens of our time!” she said. “Being in dialogue with a composer who writes specifically for our ensemble makes it so very personal. And ROCO has always been based upon personal relationships.”

Lawyer says she thinks of ROCO’s concerts as the “soundtrack for Houston,” especially through its QR project, which has planted codes along trails, in hospitals, and in schools to give the public free access to their concert recordings all over the city – but it’s also an appropriate description, given the locally significant environmental and human trafficking issues at the forefront of its Feb. 26th program.

“A far as engaging with difficult topics, I think Houstonians are already fabulous at that, and if this concert inspires someone to get involved to make a difference, then that is a gift,” said Lawyer.

Nationally recognized artist-activist creates “Very Asian Feelings” mural at Asia Society Texas

Artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya at work on her “Very Asia Feelings” mural / Courtesy of Asia Society Texas Center

Brooklyn-based artist, educator, and activist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya is currently in the process of creating a site-responsive mural as part of her installation, Very Asian Feelings, inside the gallery of Asia Society Texas Center.

Painting began on Friday, February 18 and will continue through Saturday, February 26. The mural-in-progress is open to the public for in-person viewing, with COVID safety protocols in place. Remaining times to witness the artist at work include:

  • Thursday, February 24, 11am – 6pm
  • Thursday, February 24, 6 – 7:30pm at an Artist Reception
  • Friday, February 25, 11am – 6pm
  • Saturday, February 26, 10am – 6pm

Phingbodhipakkiya’s completed mural and installation will remain on view through July 3, 2022 as part of Making Home: Artists and Immigration – a group exhibition that also includes the paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures of artists Phung Huynh, Beili Liu, and Tuan Andrew Nguyen.

“Making Home centers the complexities of deeply personal histories of immigrants, as the artists consider topics of intergenerationality, the repercussions of colonial histories, dislocation, memory, otherness, belonging, and resilience.”

Asia Society Texas Center

In preparing to come to Houston for her mural project, Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya reflected on the recent murders of Christine Yuna Lee and Michelle Go.

“I will continue fighting and I know we all will, but I just want to wrap our community in light and care right now. I know we can find hope if we just look, in all the allies who stand with us,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “I hope to honor the lives of our AAPI sisters and elders by painting this mural at [Asia Society Texas].”

Phingbodhipakkiya is known for her highly visible public art installations, including We Are More, a series of portraits and stories that push back again Asian American stereotypes featured in New York’s Times Square and around Boston; and I Still Believe, a public art campaign in New York City to address the rise in anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her work was also notably featured on the cover of Time Magazine to accompany the March 29 – April 5 2021 issue, We Are Not Silent: Confronting America’s Legacy of Anti-Asian Violence.

Houston Grand Opera announces new Board Chair and changes to leadership structure

Claire Liu / Photo credit: Hierarchy Advertising

Houston Grand Opera recently announced the election of Claire Liu as the new Chairperson of its Board of Directors, effective August 1, 2022. Liu will serve a two-year term, succeeding Allyn Risley in the role.

Liu’s appointment dovetails with a new era of leadership at HGO under Khori Dastoor, who was appointed General Director and CEO in the summer of 2021.

“Claire has a deep love for opera’s past, present, and future, and a rich history serving and supporting this organization,” said Dastoor in a press release.

“She brings to the table invaluable expertise gained during an impressive career as a corporate finance executive with a staggering track record leading growth and positive transformation,” Dastoor said.

Liu led the corporate finance team at LyondellBasell until retiring in 2015, previously working for more than 20 years at Bank of America. She joined HGO’s Board of Directors in December 2015 and currently serves on the Finance Committee (as Chair), Executive Committee, and Management Development Subcommittee. Liu is also involved on various boards and committees of the Houston Zoo, SEARCH Homeless Services, and United Way of Greater Houston.

Khori Dastoor and Claire Liu / Photo credit: Hierarchy Advertising

“What an honor to be selected as new board chairperson for such a storied organization, at such a critical time in its history,” said Liu in a statement.

“From the years I’ve already spent in service to this board, I know that the world-class art on stage is matched by HGO’s world-class leadership and staff. I want to thank Allyn Risley for the remarkable job he has done guiding HGO through a difficult and transitional time,” Liu said.

Risley’s tenure as Board Chairperson spanned the COVID-19 pandemic, during which he has led the company in navigating unprecedented challenges, notably the creation of HGO’s first fully digital season.

The company had already begun experimenting with digital operas pre-pandemic by producing a series of mini opera films for YouTube. But COVID-19 lockdowns and safety concerns forced opera companies across Texas to commit to digital offerings, with HGO expanding its efforts into HGO Digital.

HGO is a leader in the opera world in commissioning new works (72 world premieres to date), including efforts to create works that reflect Houston’s diverse communities through its HGOco initiative.  The company has won a Tony, two Grammy awards, and three Emmy awards – the only opera company to win all three honors.

Concurrent to Liu’s election, Dastoor also announced changes to the organization’s leadership structure.

A new seven-member Executive Leadership Team will now be comprised of Dastoor, General Director and CEO; Patrick Summers, Artistic and Music Director; Greg Robertson, Chief Philanthropy Officer; Molly Dill, Chief Operating Officer; Richard Bado, Director of Artistic Planning and Chorus Master; Elizabeth Greer, Chief Financial Officer; and a new Chief Audience Officer, for whom a search is underway.

Meet Angela Carranza, Fresh Arts’ New Executive Director

Angela Carranza / Photo courtesy of Fresh Arts

Fresh Arts, a nonprofit that provides resources and support to local artists, recently announced Angela Carranza as its new Executive Director, effective February 1, 2022.

Carranza succeeds Marci Dallas in the position. Dallas had served as Executive Director since 2016 and is now embarking on a Ph.D. program.

With over a decade of experience within the organization, Carranza will lead Fresh Arts, which aims to help advance the careers of Houston-area artists and creative entrepreneurs of all disciplines. Its programs and resources cover marketing, finances, fundraising, legal issues, health and self-care for artists, and other issues. The organization also offers an artist residency and a podcast that tackles artists’ challenges.

In 2011, Carranza joined Fresh Arts, then called Spacetaker, as an intern and has since served as Administration + Operations Assistant, Programs + Artists Services Manager, and most recently Managing Director over the past year.

She holds a B.A. in Art History with a minor in Studio Arts from the University of Houston and has 18 years of experience in project management. Prior to her history with Fresh Arts, Carranza spent nearly a decade in the interior design industry as both a consultant and small business manager.

Angela Carranza / Photo courtesy of Fresh Arts

A lover of art adventures, hot dogs, and the Beatles, Carranza has also volunteered on committees for Barrio Dogs, Inc., United Way of Houston, and the Mayor’s Millennial Advisory Board for the City of Houston, according to her bio.

“In 2022, Fresh Arts is celebrating its 20th anniversary. This milestone is a time to reflect on Fresh Arts’ past impact while also dreaming about how the organization can continue championing Houston artists in the next 20 years,” said Carranza in a statement. “I look forward to leading Fresh Arts and continuing to serve Houston’s vibrant community of artists.” 

Houston Arts Journal reached out to Angela Carranza for the following interview.

What can you share about your vision for Fresh Arts as Executive Director?  Any specific plans or goals?

My vision for Fresh Arts isn’t singular – it’s very much a shared vision, which includes our team members and board. It’s a vision that’s informed by the artistic community through conversations and surveys.

Artists will remain at the very center of what we do. They are who we aim to support with each program and resource, and they are the ones who also support us in our times of need – volunteering their time at our events, participating in our fundraisers, sharing our resources, and valuing us as much as we value them.

My goal is to use Fresh Arts 20th Anniversary to pause and reflect on our accomplishments and impact over the past two decades – and hopefully celebrate it with a “throwback” birthday party if the pandemic cooperates. 🙂

We are also looking forward to reconnecting with the artist community and deepening those relationships after two years with very little in-person programming. We can’t wait to see artists face-to-face in programs like Artist INC Houston, an eight-week peer-to-peer focused seminar; and the Fresh Arts Summit, an annual artist conference taking place this summer. We’re also planning an Artist Town Hall as an outgrowth of our 2021 Houston-Region Artist Survey to continue community dialogue and address the changing needs of those we serve.

It is also my goal to use this year to better communicate Fresh Arts’ impact through the stories of the artists we serve and highlight the important work that happens through our little-known Fiscal Sponsorship program, which supports over 30 projects doing amazing things in our city.

Lady of the First Ward” mural by Colby Deal. The artist is pictured with Cleola Williams in Brock Park. Williams led the effort to rename the park for Richard Brock, a freed slave and First Ward resident. / Photo by Gisele Parra

How do you think the needs of local artists have changed during the pandemic?  What do you think their needs will be post-pandemic?

The pandemic highlighted the fact that artists need so much more than just business skills. Mid-America Arts Alliance issued a series of surveys during the pandemic that captured the struggles that we all shared: loss of revenue, economic uncertainty, and loneliness.

Building off this information, Fresh Arts partnered with over a dozen local arts organizations this past fall to conduct the 2021 Houston-Region Artist Survey. We saw this survey as a chance for artists to tell us what they need so that we, along with partner organizations, can be better advocates for artists and help spark positive change in the Houston-area arts sector.

In light of the changes in the arts community over the past two decades – and especially the past year and a half – we wanted to gather Houston-area artists to assess the evolving needs of their professional creative careers, as well as the socio-economic factors that affect their quality of life, such as access to housing and healthcare. 

The results of our 2021 Houston-Region Artist Survey showed that “affordable studio/rehearsal space” and “places to perform or exhibit my work” ranked second and fourth on the list of local artistic needs that are not being met or are very difficult to meet. [Editor’s note: “Funding for individual artists” ranked first, and “more self-employment/income-generating opportunities” ranked third. See results here.]

So, for this year, and the next 20 years, Fresh Arts will be focused on how the Houston arts sector can better support artists and ensure that our community is one in which artists and culture bearers not just survive, but thrive.

From “Monumental Moments” art installation series at Buffalo Bayou Park by Anthony Thompson Shumate / Photo by Gisele Parra

As an arts nonprofit, how has Fresh Arts been impacted by the pandemic? How will you keep it healthy so that it can continue to support artists?

Like all small arts organizations, Fresh Arts faced challenges with revenue. Most notably, we have had to postpone and then cancel two of our gala fundraisers due to the pandemic.

Our #1 priority has always been to support local artists, and as we navigated how to best serve the artist community, we remained focused and flexible and adjusted our programming to address those needs. We pivoted, got creative, and took a crash course into providing resources digitally, even though we had no clue how to do a livestream before March 2020. In doing so, we reached new audiences and found new ways to engage in community dialogue and highlight more local artists than ever before.

Fortunately, Fresh Arts’ donor base – including our gala underwriters, local foundations, individual supporters, and especially our board members – recognized those efforts and have continued to support us. We are immensely grateful for that support. As we look forward, we will use those lessons learned and continue to remain patient and adaptable and focused on our vision and mission. 

“Sin Muros” Festival continues to grow as a showcase for Latinx theater-makers

Gricelda Silva in “Cenicienta” at the Sin Muros Festival in 2020 / Photo by AxelB Photography

When the Sin Muros Teatro Festival began in 2018, actor and writer Jasminne Mendez called it “groundbreaking”– the first of its kind in Houston to center several days of performances on the stories and voices of Latinx playwrights and actors.

A festival co-founder, Mendez continues to serve on the task force of writers, performers, and scholars that organizes Sin Muros each year, along with her husband Lupe Mendez, 2022 Texas Poet Laureate and this year’s festival coordinator.

Now in its 5th year, Sin Muros has grown to encompass the largest number of Latinx theater-makers in its history – more than 30, including playwrights, directors, cast, crew, and stage managers from local colleges and universities.

Presented by Stages and co-organized by Tintero Projects, the 2022 Sin Muros: A Borderless Teatro Festival opened February 17 and will run through February 20 at Stages’ theater venue, The Gordy. All events are free to the public, with an option to purchase a weekend pass as a donation to the festival.

“On behalf of the Sin Muros Teatro Festival – we welcome you back to the magic making – al puro son del corazón! Come see what all the buzz is about, come see cutting edge work from every kind of thing that is Tejano.”

Lupe Mendez

This year’s festival includes four World Premiere play readings – three in person, one virtual – featuring new plays by Karen Alvarado, Alicia Margarita Olivo, Adrienne Dawes, and Josie Nericcio, all playwrights with Texas roots. In addition, there will be workshops, poetry readings, and an art market.

The festival also honors Ruby Rivera, Artistic Director for the Texas Salsa Congress and a leading female Salsa organizer on the national scene. Rivera will be presented with the 2022 Premio Puenta, an award bestowed by festival organizers on “an individual or organization who has demonstrated great skill, talent, drive, or care in serving the Latinx art community in the Houston area.”

  • The festival schedule, with play descriptions, can be found here.
  • The Tintero poets schedule can be found here.
  • The Inprint Poetry Buskers will write free poems on demand in English and Spanish on requested themes at the festival on Saturday, February 19.
  • COVID-19 safety protocol can be found here.

Houston Arts Journal reached out to Lupe Mendez for the following interview:

Why is this festival needed?

Though there are some really good spaces and people creating Latinx theater, we don’t have one space to call our own. From Gente de Teatro to Teatrx, there are no (to my knowledge) full-on theater spaces dedicated to Latinx theater.

It’s been a problem for a long time.  The spaces that should have it, that you would expect for it to exist in, can’t afford it. It’s part of the institutional racism legacy of major cities – we know who has the dollars to invest in the arts, and it is always the case that artists and theater-makers of color have to jockey for space and money. This festival is necessary because it provides a space to celebrate, to honor, to catch a spark of Latinx playwrights and build connections to hopefully one day see these amazing works in full productions. 

Any thoughts on how it reflects – or maybe even leads the way – in what is happening nationally in theater and efforts towards diversity?

Oh yes, I feel that when spaces like Stages are willing to open their doors and do so with care, with a “Hey look, we got this space and we got these resources, tell us what to do” attitude, you are literally inviting in a community to make a new home and it becomes a moment where everyone benefits. They listen. They ask questions. They trust, and I want other communities to find this kind of support. It is out there. You don’t have a space of your own? I am hoping you can find it in theater-making spaces who will trust you and open doors. 

What are the goals of the festival?

The goals of the festival are to highlight the work of Texas-rooted Latinx playwrights with play-readings still in the developmental process. We are now moving into the next phase of the festival – finding ways to ensure that one play moves on to be a part of Stages’ regular season, thus creating a pipeline and launching pad for Latinx playwrights. Can you imagine?  

How have you seen the festival impact the community and artists over the past four years? 

LEGACY. I am serious.  I had posted on Facebook that 20+ years ago, when I was a younger actor, I had a hard time getting cast in shows (we know why) and I gave up my acting dreams and focused on poetry. And now, as the Festival Coordinator for Sin Muros, I am in a different position to help provide space for some of the actors I used to work with. Some of the actors that have come to Sin Muros love it so much, they came back as Assistant Directors and now, Directors. 

We are helping build resumes and artistic CVs. Hell, we are creating work worthy of archival acknowledgment. I told that to the artists who are a part of this year’s Sin Muros: “Be aware that you are making history. You are a part of a larger plan, a larger momentum. Stages holds its archives at Rice University and this whole program goes there.” 

We make history every day we move forward. We are worthy of being spoken about, of being researched because this work is vital, it is necessary, it is grand. So yeah, study us, you future academics looking into what makes up Latinx theater. This is a part of your knowledge base. See how we build dreams. 

The Houston Art Car Parade returns to the streets after a 2-year hiatus

Houston Art Car Parade / Photo credit: Morris Malakoff, courtesy of the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art

One of the city’s largest free public events, Houston’s annual Art Car Parade returns to its traditional format this year for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, as COVID first hit the U.S., the Houston Art Car Parade went virtual by broadcasting and streaming footage of past parades and interviews with artists. In 2021, the parade was reimagined as a self-guided tour of art cars on the grounds of The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, which produces the event.

Now it its 35th edition, the 2022 parade is back to its processional format and will take place alongside a four-day weekend of in-person events, April 7 – 10. The additional events include both free and ticketed festivities, such as “The Legendary Art Car Ball,” mini-art car parades at schools and community centers, The Kids Zone at Sam Houston Park, and the Art Car Parade Awards Ceremony.

The signature parade will roll down Allen Parkway and Downtown Houston on Saturday, April 9 with roughly 250 art cars – featuring “slab cars born out of Houston’s unique contribution to American car culture” and “more than 100 new and never-before-seen Art Cars from around the country,” according to a press release.

Houston Art Car Parade / Photo credit: Morris Malakoff, courtesy of the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art

This year’s parade weekend is dedicated to Ann Harithas – a local artist, curator, art collector, and patron, who passed away on December 23, 2021 at the age of 80.

Harithas is “credited with organizing one of the first public exhibitions of Art Cars in Houston in the early 1980s, resulting in a wave of Art Cars being seen on Houston streets,” said parade organizers in a statement. Starting this year, the parade’s grand prize will also be permanently named the Ann Harithas Legacy Award.

Organizers say that the event will continue its tradition of giving students opportunities to design and build art cars through a partnership between The Orange Show and Houston Independent School District.

A complete schedule of events is available on the Houston Art Car Parade’s website.

The parade weekend is sponsored by local auto retailer Team Gillman.

New galleries for Islamic Art at MFAH slated to open in 2023

Dish. Iran, second half of the 15th century. Stonepaste; painted in blue under transparent glaze / The Hossein Afshar Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston has announced plans to open new, expanded galleries for Art of the Islamic Worlds in early 2023 – a culmination of a 15-year initiative at the museum to research, collect, and present Islamic art.

The $3.5 million project will create a nearly 6,000-square-foot space in the museum’s Caroline Wiess Law Building, reconfigured from existing space that has housed the museum’s library.

The overall budget “encompasses moving the library out of the current space and into a new space, and outfitting it for that new location, plus, renovating and installing the galleries’ newly occupied space,” said the MFAH in an email to Houston Arts Journal.

The end result will more than double the size of the museum’s current gallery for Islamic art, which will remain in place near the new galleries.

Qur’an Manuscript in Maghribi Script. Morocco, end of Rabi’ al-Awwal, AH 718 / 1318 CE. Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on parchment / The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Museum purchase funded by the Honorable and Mrs. Hushang Ansary, the Brown Foundation Accessions Endowment Fund, and the Alice Pratt Brown Museum Fund

The new galleries will display hundreds of additional works, including paintings, manuscripts, ceramics, carpets, and metalwork spanning more than 1,000 years. It aims to reflect the breadth of historic Islamic lands: present-day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Spain, and Morocco.

The MFAH says it also plans to build an outdoor space with an adjoining garden and fountain.

“We are proud to be one of the largest permanent displays in the United States for art of the Islamic worlds,” said Aimée Froom, MFAH’s curator of Art of the Islamic Worlds, in a press release.

“The galleries are as diverse as Houston itself, and our goal is to continue to expand our presentation of the rich multiplicity of cultures and traditions as reflected in the extraordinary art from Islamic lands,” said Froom.

The MFAH founded its curatorial department for Islamic art in 2007 with a collection of 72 objects. Since then, the collection has expanded to 168 objects, which the museum says has been developed with an “emphasis on quality and rarity” and “acquired primarily with funds raised with support from the Friends of the Art of the Islamic Worlds patron group, and with gifts.”

Ewer. Iran, AH 1016 / 1607-1608 CE. Brass; cast, engraved, and inlaid with black compound / The Hossein Afshar Collection at the Museum of Fine
Arts, Houston

The museum’s permanent collection is supplemented by two significant private collections on extended loan: The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait, which has shared with the MFAH nearly 300 pieces from its collection numbering in the tens of thousands, including manuscripts, jewelry, metalwork, ceramics, carpets, architectural fragments, and scientific instruments; and more than 1,000 pieces of Persian art from The Hossein Afshar Collection.

“These new and expanded permanent galleries devoted to Art of the Islamic Worlds are made possible by a new partnership with Hossein Afshar, creator of perhaps the most extensive collection of Iranian art in private hands,” said Gary Tinterow, MFAH’s Director, in a statement.

“We are immensely grateful to Mr. Afshar, who has endowed a gallery for the Arts of Iran and placed his collection on long-term loan in Houston so that we may enhance our effort to reflect the city whose many communities we serve,” Tinterow said.

When the new galleries open in 2023, the MFAH is also scheduled to host the international biennial symposium, “Historians of Islamic Art and Architecture,” March 2-4, 2023, led by curator Aimée Froom and Farshid Emami, Assistant Professor of Art History at Rice University.