MFAH’s Glassell School of Art has a new director – Paul Coffey, Chicago arts educator and leader

The Glassell School of Art / Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston has appointed Paul Coffey, a longtime educator and administrator at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, as the new director of its Glassell School of Art.

Coffey begins his role on July 18, 2022. He succeeds Joseph Havel, who retires on June 30 to return full-time to his studio practice, after serving as director for 30 years. During that time, Havel is credited with expanding Glassell’s curriculum, increasing student enrollment, and raising the profile and reach of its Core Residency Program.

“I know that [Paul Coffey] will bring thoughtful leadership to the Glassell School, which is so essential to the Museum’s educational and artistic mission and which, under Joe Havel’s direction, became a center of creativity,” said Gary Tinterow, MFAH Director, in a press release.

“Paul Coffey brings to the Glassell School of Art and to Houston an extraordinary commitment to art, education and community, one that he has demonstrated over two decades in leadership roles at the renowned School of the Art Institute of Chicago,” Tinterow said.

Since 2011, Coffey has served as Vice Provost and Dean of Community Engagement at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the historic and highly ranked training ground for artists, designers, and scholars at the graduate, post-baccalaureate, and undergraduate levels.

He has created and led community engagement programs in Chicago, such as: SAIC at Homan Square, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s campus in the underserved local neighborhood of North Lawndale; summer intensives for military veterans with PTSD, now in its seventh year as a collaboration with CreatiVets; and the College Arts Access Program in Continuing Studies, a free 3-year college-bridge program for Chicago Public Schools students with artistic talent and financial need.

Paul Coffey, incoming director, Glassell School of Art / Photo by Cosmo Coffey

Coffey’s relationship with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago goes back to earning his own BFA there in 1989.  He also holds an MFA in art and design from the University of Chicago (1992), and he completed the Institute for Management and Leadership in Education at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education in 2018.

As he begins his new chapter in Houston, Coffey says he brings with him a connection that he has long felt to the Bayou City through its acclaimed art institutions, like the Rothko Chapel, the Menil Collection, and the MFAH – and through the connection that other artists, like Cy Twombly, also felt to the city – according to reporting by the Houston Chronicle.

As head of the Glassell School of Art, Coffey will oversee the nation’s only museum-affiliated art school serving pre-K through post-graduate students.

Founded in 1979, the Glassell School opened a new 93,000 square-foot building in 2018. Its programs include a Studio School for adults, a Junior School for children and teens, and the Core residency program for artists and writers. According to the MFAH, it serves more than 5,000 adults and children each year.

Ernie Barnes’ iconic painting ‘The Sugar Shack’ goes on view at MFAH ahead of Juneteenth

Ernie Barnes, The Sugar Shack, 1976, acrylic on canvas, Collection of William O. Perkins III and Lara
Perkins. © Ernie Barnes Family Trust

A 1976 painting by American artist Ernie Barnes – widely recognized for its use on the cover of Marvin Gaye’s album I Want You and in the credits of the groundbreaking 1970s sitcom Good Times – will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, thanks to a loan by Houston collector Bill Perkins.

Last month, Perkins purchased Barnes’ painting The Sugar Shack – a work that Perkins called formative in his own artistic consciousness, in an interview with the New York Times – for a record-setting $15.275 million from Christie’s auction house.

The MFAH will display the painting in the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building in time for Juneteenth celebrations, from June 15 through December 31, 2022.

“Lara and I are thrilled to be able to share this phenomenal painting with all of Houston,” said Perkins in a statement.

“As I’ve said many times, acquiring The Sugar Shack was for me the realization of a childhood dream. I know that Ernie Barnes’ masterwork will be as inspirational for all those who will see it as it has been for us,” he said.

Ernest Eugene Barnes, Jr. (1938-2009) was born in Durham, North Carolina, at the height of Jim Crow. His family lived in what was then called “The Bottom,” a community near the Hayti District of the city. His father worked as a shipping clerk for Liggett Myers Tobacco Company in Durham. His mother oversaw the household staff for a prominent Durham attorney and Board of Education member, who encouraged Barnes to read art books and listen to classical music. By the time Barnes entered the first grade, he was familiar with the work of Toulouse-Lautrec, Delacroix, Rubens, and Michelangelo. Although initially not athletic, by his senior year in high school, Barnes became the captain of the football team.

Barnes enrolled at the all-Black North Carolina College at Durham (formerly North Carolina College for Negroes, now North Carolina Central University) majoring in art on a full athletic scholarship. After college, he played professional football into the mid-1960s, before devoting himself fulltime to his painting, in Los Angeles.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

A cultural landmark of a painting, Barnes’ The Sugar Shack depicts joyful dancers in a crowded Black music hall in segregated mid-century North Carolina.

The MFAH says that Barnes recalled being inspired by a childhood memory of sneaking into a local dance hall called the Armory.

“The vivid image, with its dynamic, elongated figures dominating the packed space of a dance floor and illuminated by a cone of light from a single bulb, reflects what became known as the Black Romantic tradition,” described the MFAH in a press release.

The artist painted two versions of The Sugar Shack – the first in 1971, and this second version in 1976.

New ‘Longevity’ mural is a sign of growing interest in public art in Asiatown

Artist Thomas Tran stands in front of his mural, “Longevity” / VCSA Facebook

Artist Thomas Tran’s new mural has an auspicious name – Longevity.

It references the blessing of long life that holds significance in many Asian cultures. The title is also a nod to the themes of community health and wellness contained in its images, which Tran conceived and developed with input from a public survey conducted earlier this spring.

Completed on May 22, Longevity is the latest mural in Houston’s Asiatown – a massively colorful 2-story painting located in Sterling Plaza at 9798 Bellaire Boulevard. 

Full view of Thomas Tran’s mural “Longevity” with artist standing in front / VCSA Facebook

It was commissioned by the nonprofit VCSA (Vietnamese Culture and Science Association) and funded with part of a grant from Houston in Action’s “Safer Together” Vaccine Equity Campaign.

“This mural … reflects the tradition of intergenerational care that is prevalent in Asian families,” said Teresa Trinh, President of VCSA.

“You will see an interaction between an elderly grandmother and a grandchild, in addition to the interaction between a parent and child. The mural also contains other traditional elements of the Asian culture including a tiger, dragon, and phoenix,” she said.

Even when the mural was still in its planning stages, there was one image that Tran knew he wanted to include – that of a loving Asian father hugging his son. 

“The theme is about community health, so I’d definitely want to include mental health,” said Tran.

That father-son hug is now a major focal point in the mural – the artist’s way to destigmatize the topic of mental health, which has faced barriers in the AAPI community. Recent studies indicate that Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health treatment than other racial groups.

The mural’s official public unveiling will be on Saturday, June 4 from 10 – 11am with refreshments, speakers, and a lion dance.

It marks the culmination of hard work behind a project that took 2 days to outline with a projector, 5 days of painting, 1 day of touch-up work by the artist, and roughly 205 volunteers working together in the days leading up to its completion.

“Personally, it was grueling but rewarding work,” said Tran. “People seem to like it.”

One of those people is Matt Manalo, founder of Filipinx Artists of Houston and Alief Art House, who calls Tran’s mural “delightful,” “engaging,” and “thoughtful.”

“The new mural brings in the conversation of inclusivity in Asiatown, which breaks all the stereotypes of what or how Asians should be or look like, which I am truly excited about,” said Manalo.

The faces, clothing, and personalities captured in the mural aim to reflect the multiethnic nature of Greater Houston’s AAPI community – which include Vietnamese, South Asians, Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Japanese, Cambodians, and Asians from Myanmar, Indonesia, and Thailand, and numerous other ethnic groups.

Thomas Tran’s Alief Community Mural 2019 / Courtesy of Thomas Tran

Tran’s Longevity mural comes at a time when public art has been brewing in Asiatown and in neighboring Alief in recent years.

In 2019, Tran painted an Alief Community Mural located behind Thien Phu Wedding Restaurant at 11360 Bellaire Blvd, Suite 100.

Also in 2019, Manalo founded the Alief Art House – a shipping container set up in Alief SPARK Park and Nature Center to house free art exhibits and events for the neighborhood, and to support Alief artists.

In 2019, the International Management District, which is just west of Asiatown, gave a public art makeover to 22 concrete globes along Bellaire Boulevard. Local artist Armando Castelan was hired to paint the large spheres in the esplanades into mini murals depicting the district’s diversity.

Mini mural by artist Armando Castelan, located on Bellaire Boulevard / Courtesy of International Management District

In 2020, Tran painted the temporary mural “Crocodile Garden” for Alief Art House, which recently added a second shipping container to set up offices and workshops.

Other existing public art in Asiatown include the Vietnam War Memorial at Universal Shopping Plaza at 11360 Bellaire Boulevard, and various sculptures in public spaces, such as a small fish sculpture at the northwest corner of Bellaire and Ranchester.

Still – Tran, Manalo, and Trinh all agree that there is not enough public art in Asiatown.

“Hopefully, with the completion of this [Longevity] mural, it will spur other organizations to host murals throughout the area,” Trinh said.

Manalo believes that the impact of public art is not only economic but also educational, barrier-breaking, and personal.

“The mural … will not only draw more people to support Asian-owned businesses, but it will also draw attention to the stories and culture of folks who live and work in the area,” said Manalo.

“The mural and public art in Asiatown are so important because it also shows that Asians can also be creative,” he said. “It brings me back to the conversation I had with my parents about switching to pursuing art as my career. I believe that it is a discussion that needs to happen more.”

Father hugging son in Thomas Tran’s “Longevity” mural / Photo by Thomas Tran

The Southwest Management District, which worked with VCSA to find a location for the Longevity mural, considers public art a “key part of the beautification of the business corridors within its boundaries,” according to its Executive Director Alice Lee.

Lee says that for years her district, which encompasses Asiatown, has funded the removal of graffiti and litter, and has maintained landscaping of medians.

Now, she says, they are considering funding public art projects – and art is ever-present, if you look for it:

“From the lion sculptures in front of the Hope Clinic on Bellaire Boulevard to the bright pink edifice of the Reiwatakiya cosmetics store just down the street, businesses and institutions continue to provide visually attractive features that almost make the District a constantly changing piece of art itself,” said Lee.

Local museums offer free admission to military families this summer

Austin Street, Jefferson, 2018, oil on canvas, by Lee Jamison. “Ode to East Texas,” paintings by Lee Jamison, is on view through May 28, 2022 at the Sam Houston Memorial Museum / Folz Fine Art

Around 2,000 museums nationwide, including 10 in Greater Houston, will provide free admission to active-duty U.S. military personnel and their families through the Blue Star Museums program.

An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, and the Department of Defense, the program runs through the summer – this year, from Saturday, May 21 (Armed Forces Day) through Monday, September 5 (Labor Day).

Blue Star Museums is an effort to improve the quality of life for active-duty military families, especially focusing on the approximately two million children who have had at least one parent deployed since 2001.

Blue Star Museums was created to show support for military families who have faced multiple deployments and the challenges of reintegration. This program offers these families a chance to visit museums this summer when many will have limited resources and limited time to be together.

National Endowment for the Arts

Free admission is available to those currently serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Reserve, National Guard, U.S. Public Health Commissioned Corps, NOAA Commissioned Corps – and up to five family members. Qualified members must show a Geneva Convention common access card (CAC), DD Form 1173 ID card (dependent ID), or a DD Form 1173-1 ID card. The active-duty member does not have to be present for family members to receive free admission.

Local Blue Star Museums include:


Bryan Museum

Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum and Education Center


Buffalo Soldiers National Museum

Holocaust Museum Houston

Dunham Bible Museum, Houston Baptist University

Houston Maritime Education Center and Museum

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Health Museum


Sam Houston Memorial Museum


San Jacinto Museum of History

Several of these museums also offer discounts for military personnel throughout the year.

Outside the Blue Star Museums program, the MFAH provides free admission to military individuals plus one family member year-round – as does the Houston Maritime Center, which is currently available by appointment only.

HBU’s Dunham Bible Museum is always free to the public, but its director Diana Severance said that its participation in the program aids in outreach.

“Though the Bible Museum is already free, being a member of the Blue Star Museums is a way of letting the military personnel know of the existence of our museum,” said Severance. “Several areas of our exhibits also focus on the Bible in American history and Bibles in the military.”

A complete list of 2022 Blue Star Museums is available here.

A free performance series encourages COVID-19 vaccine awareness through the arts

L-R: Donald Rabin (“Come Together Houston” project manager), Dr. Courntey Crappell (Director of the Moores School of Music, University of Houston), and artist GONZO247 at the Lyons Avenue Festival, April 9, 2022 / Photo by Donald Rabin

At the height of the omicron variant surge in January, the CDC Foundation awarded $2.5 million in funding to 30 organizations across the U.S. to create arts and culture-based approaches to promote vaccine education and acceptance.

Among the grant recipients was Dr. Courtney Crappell, Director of the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston. 

The arts and culture can be crucial tools in public health communication. Because local artists have long served as trusted messengers and translators of vital information in their communities, they can support vaccine education and acceptance in ways that cut through cultural barriers, skepticism and misinformation.

CDC Foundation

Dr. Crappell and colleagues at the UH McGovern College of the Arts, in collaboration with Houston Methodist Hospital, used the grant to develop Come Together Houston: A Community Arts and Health Partnership – a series of free performances this spring/summer that also brings free vaccinations to underserved and immunization-hesitant communities.

Neighborhoods include Third Ward, where the percentage of vaccinated individuals is lower in comparison to other parts of Houston, said Donald Rabin, the series’ project manager.

Outspoken Bean / Photo by Donald Rabin

Performances will feature four Houston artists: GONZO247, a graffiti muralist; Mariachi Pumas, the UH Mariachi ensemble; Outspoken Bean, Houston Poet Laureate; and Urban Souls, a contemporary dance company.

The first event took place at Lyons Avenue Festival on April 9, and the series continues May through July:

  • May 6, 5:30 – 8pm, Outspoken Bean at MECA Dow Campus (Multicultural Education & Counseling through the Arts) 1900 Kane St, Houston, 77007
  • May 21, 12 – 2pm, Outspoken Bean at Trinity Houston United Methodist Church, 2600 Holman St., Houston, 77004
  • May 27, 5:30 – 8pm, Mariachi Pumas at MECA Dow Campus (Multicultural Education & Counseling through the Arts) 1900 Kane St, Houston, 77007 
  • July 23, 4 – 7pm, GONZO247, Mariachi Pumas, Urban Souls & Outspoken Bean at Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney St., Houston, 77010

During the events, a team from the Moores School of Music will record stories from audience members, reflecting on their COVID experience. Individuals who wish to participate will answer prompts, such as “How did COVID affect you using one word?” and “What did you learn from COVID so far?”

Organizers say the answers will be used to inspire the performances, in an effort to raise awareness of the benefit of vaccines. Digital stories may also be featured on the Come Together Houston website and shared with the CDC Foundation.

Most of the events will have access to free vaccinations, and brochures with information on vaccines and vaccine hesitancy will also be distributed.

Currently, the percentage of fully vaccinated individuals (ages 5 and older) in Harris County is 67%, compared to the national rate of 70%.

Organizers say the series uses the arts not only to encourage vaccination but also to bring the community back together from the pandemic.

Mariachi Pumas at the Lyons Avenue Festival / Photo by Dr. Courtney Crappell

A new public mural is coming to Houston’s Asiatown

Proposed location of a new mural at 9798 Bellaire Blvd. / Courtesy of Thomas Tran

A new community mural will be painted and unveiled in Houston’s Asiatown in May for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.

Houston artist Thomas Tran is working with VCSA (Vietnamese Culture and Science Association) to create the mural in Sterling Plaza at 9798 Bellaire Boulevard, on a proposed wall in the rear of the building facing H Mart.

Tran has been collecting public input through a Google form, in an effort to create a design that is “as varied and inclusive as the area is.”

“The goal is to promote wellness and community together-ness, and also be a cool mural,” he said in a statement.

Tran says that people may continue to use the form to provide comments, which he’ll reference heavily in coming weeks as he finalizes the design.

“Everything about the design is still in the air, but I currently have the image of an Asian father lovingly hugging his son, and the son is surprised as a major focal point in the mural,” Tran told Houston Arts Journal in an email.

“The theme is about community health, so I’d definitely want to include mental health,” he said.

The current mural schedule is:

  • May 16 – 18: Prep for wall
  • May 19 –22: Painting with volunteers. Open to the public.
  • May 22: Unveiling day
Alief Community Mural 2019 by Thomas Tran, located behind Thien Phu Wedding Restaurant
(11360 Bellaire Blvd Suite 100)
/ Courtesy of Thomas Tran

A graduate of Columbus College of Art and Design, Tran grew up in the Southwest Houston neighborhood of Alief, adjacent to Asiatown. He specializes in illustrations, comics, and murals. In 2019, he was awarded a grant from the City of Houston for a project to create murals in the Alief-Houston area. His past murals include the “New Alief Community Mural 2019” at Universal Plaza in Asiatown, and “Crocodile Garden,” a temporary mural created for Alief Art House in 2020.

Crocodile Garden by Thomas Tran, 2020, Alief Art House, located at Alief SPARK Park & Nature Center / Courtesy of Thomas Tran

Music icon Bun B is ‘so proud and honored’ to be the 2022 Houston Art Car Parade Grand Marshal

Bun B at the Houston Art Car Parade Kickoff Party / Photo by Alex Montoya

Though Houston Art Car Parade festivities were reimagined in other formats during the pandemic, it’s been two years since hundreds of art cars rolled through downtown streets in what is traditionally one of the city’s largest free public events.

But the parade – in its 35th annual edition – is back on Saturday, April 9 at 2pm. And leading the procession will be Grammy-nominated, hometown hip-hop artist Bun B as Grand Marshal.

“We haven’t had a lot of opportunities in Houston to really have a great event where everyone and their family could come out and enjoy it,” said Bun B at the event’s Kickoff Party at The Ion on March 24.

“But the Art Car Parade is going to provide us that, and I’m so proud and honored to be the 2022 Grand Marshal,” he said.

The Houston Art Car Parade is the latest citywide event to bounce back from COVID-19, along with the recently held Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo as well as the Houston Marathon in January.

For its pandemic comeback, this year’s parade will feature around 250 art cars.

Spectators will see “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 like Riders, bike and skater groups, wheeled contraptions, bejeweled roadsters, and custom-crafted classics, along with the fur-covered, metal-modified, fire-breathing varieties,” said organizers in a statement.

The Houston Art Car Parade Kickoff Party at The Ion / Photo by Alex Montoya

Produced by the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, the parade on April 9 is part of a four-day Art Car Parade “Weekend” from April 7 – 10, featuring both free and ticketed festivities. A complete schedule of events can be found here.

As Grand Marshal, Bun B follows a long line of artists, celebrities, entertainers, and leaders who have held the title – including Cheech Marin, Dan Aykroyd, J.J. Watt, The Art Guys, Annise Parker, Kinky Friedman, Lynn Wyatt, and George Clinton.

A native of Port Arthur, Texas, Bernard Freeman, aka “Bun B,” is a pioneer of the Southern rap movement in the late 1980s, as a founding member of the duo UGK (Underground Kingz) alongside fellow emcee Pimp C.

With an affinity for car culture, Bun B is also a car enthusiast and has participated many times in the car rally Gumball 3000. As a philanthropist and activist, he was at the forefront of Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts and has helped organize major rallies to honor the legacy of George Floyd. Bun B is a Distinguished Lecturer at Rice University, where he has taught courses on Hip-Hop and Religion and led discussions about racism.

MFAH purchases a $4 million rediscovered Diego Rivera painting

Diego Rivera, “La Bordadora,” 1928, oil on canvas / Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited

The 1928 painting La bordadora (or The Embroiderer) by Mexican master Diego Rivera, which has never been on view publicly, will now enter the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s permanent collection, following a $4.14 million acquisition at a Christie’s auction on March 11.

As a pre-condition of the sale, the painting travels first to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for the exhibition Diego Rivera’s America in July 2022, and it is also scheduled to travel to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas in March 2023.

The MFAH says the painting will be displayed in the museum’s Kinder Building once it arrives in Houston in coming months.

According to the MFAH in a press release:

“Rivera had gone to the region of Tehuantepec, near Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1923, and there discovered the vibrant, Indigenous culture of Mexico, with its traditions passed down by women through generations. He created drawings as well as a few paintings of weavers and artisans.

La Bordadora depicts two women in an abstracted interior at a table, with the woman in the foreground working on an embroidery panel.”

This becomes the ninth work by Diego Rivera in the MFAH’s collection.

La Bordadora relates thematically and stylistically to a beautiful Rivera cartoon already in the MFAH collection, from his iconic mural cycle at the Ministry of Education in Mexico City,” said Gary Tinterow, Director of the MFAH, in a statement.

Diego Rivera, Cartoon for “The Liberation of the Peon,” C. 1931, charcoal and graphite on paper, mounted on canvas. Museum purchase funded by Charles W. Tate in honor of Charles T. Newton, Jr. at “One Great Night in November, 1997” / Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

“Both La Bordadora and the ministry murals herald a fundamental theme of Rivera’s life’s work, to capture the dignity of the everyday,” Tinterow said.

Previously, the painting had been held in the private collection of the Feibleman family of New Orleans, dating back to its acquisition nearly a century ago by James Kern Feibleman – a businessman, philosopher, poet, and English professor at Tulane University.

Only a photograph of the painting from 1930 was known to exist, until the painting’s location was recently discovered, according to the MFAH.

Its $4.14 million price makes it one of the highest achieved by a work of Rivera at auction – the record being $9.7 million for Rivera’s The Rivals in 2018, sold to a private collector.

“The MFAH has been building our collection of 20th-century art from Latin America for the last 20 years,” Tinterow said. “With this acquisition, we will be able to build on the foundations of our extraordinary holdings of 20th-century Latin American art, making the work of the early modernists available to the public.”

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.

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.