‘Tremendous showing’ at Houston’s first Día de Los Muertos festival

Artist Ruth Sosa Bailey’s art car, “Imagine,” was featured in the Houston Día de los Muertos Parade / courtesy of Elizabeth Sosa Bailey

Houston’s neighborhoods have been home to rich, and growing, local traditions of celebrating Día de los Muertos – from MECA’s annual event, which has taken place for over two decades, to events at the longtime Casa Ramirez Folkart Gallery, at the East End’s Magnolia Park, and at Karbach Brewing.

But this year marked the City of Houston’s first official Día de los Muertos celebration, bringing wider attention and a larger public stage to the traditional Mexican holiday (November 1 and 2), which is a time to remember and honor deceased loved ones.

The city’s inaugural festival and parade took place this past Saturday, November 6, at downtown’s Sam Houston Park.

City Councilmember Robert Gallegos, who initiated the idea and guided the creation of the festival, called the turnout “tremendous.”

Gallegos served as Honorary Chair and Grand Marshal of the Parade. The event was produced by Mauricio Navarro, a former Houstonian and President of the Navarro Group, which also founded a successful Día de los Muertos festival in Dallas.

The Houston Chronicle reported that the City of Houston expected the festival to draw more than 40,000 people. Houston Arts Journal reached out the Mayor’s Office of Special Events for a crowd estimate, but has not received a number.

Elizabeth Sosa Bailey was in attendance and said she saw “thousands of people” there. She and her mother, artist Ruth Sosa Bailey, participated in the parade – riding in Ruth’s award-winning art car, “Imagine.”

“Imagine,” an art car by Mexican American artist Ruth Sosa Bailey, at the Houston Día de Los Muertos Parade / courtesy of Elizabeth Sosa Bailey

“In one car, we represented a lot,” said Ruth Sosa Bailey.

According to Elizabeth Sosa Bailey, “we had the three generations with my abuelita, Gertrudis de Sosa [in the front seat]; my mother, the artist at the helm; and myself in the back seat with our friend April Lucero and her toddler son, Uriel.”

April Lucero, Lucero’s son, and Elizabeth Sosa Bailey / courtesy of Elizabeth Sosa Bailey

“It’s so exciting to see Houston embracing this aspect of our Latin culture, beyond Latiné families,” said Elizabeth Sosa Bailey.

Michelle Ferrell, a designer and illustrator, made her own costume inspired by a Frida Kahlo painting, she said in a tweet. Ferrell attended the festival with her Tia, Lenora Sorola-Pohlman, co-chair of the Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Board.

Michelle Ferrell and Lenora Sorola-Pohlman / courtesy of Michelle Ferrell

The festival provided time to reflect on the losses of the pandemic, as well as the fresh losses of the previous night – during which eight people died at the Astroworld Festival, shocking Houstonians and the rest of the country.

“I certainly want to us to remember those individuals who died, you know, last night at the NRG Stadium at the Travis Scott concert,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner in an interview with ABC 13 at the parade. “So we want to remember them, and then we want to uplift their families.”

Mayor Turner also noted that about 3500 families in the City of Houston have lost loved ones to COVID.

“This is one of those moments where we stop, we reflect, we remember, we honor them, and the same time, we celebrate their lives,” he said.

Officials said that this was the first of more Día de los Muertos festivals to come.

“It will simply get bigger and bigger and bigger,” said Mayor Turner. “You know, we say that we are the most diverse city in the country. Well, this parade will help us give even added meaning to that.”

You can watch a video of the parade here (via ABC13).

What happened at the tragic Astroworld Festival?

Courtesy of Astroworld Festival

Local and national headlines are covering the tragic events at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival at NRG Park on Friday, November 5.

Eight people, including a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old, died and dozens were hospitalized.

According to reporting by the Houston Chronicle, “Stunning accounts of people gasping for air and being trampled in a raucous crowd of 50,000 surfaced Saturday as Houston’s first major music festival since the pandemic turned into one of the deadliest concerts in U.S. history.”

Much is unknown at this time, and the Houston Police Department’s homicide and narcotics divisions are conducting a criminal investigation. City officials and concert organizers encourage anyone, who attended the concert and has any information about the crowd surge, to contact police.

To help you understand and follow what has happened in the past 48 hours, I’ve rounded up the following articles:

Overall understanding of the tragedy (via Houston Public Media): 8 dead, more than a dozen injured at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival

Closer look at the timeline of events (via Houston Chronicle): For 37 minutes after officials declared a ‘mass casualty’ at Astroworld, Travis Scott played on

Reaction from Travis Scott (via Houston Chronicle): In emotional Instagram video, Travis Scott says he could ‘never imagine anything like this happening’

Explanation of strategies for crowd control during large festivals (via Variety): How Travis Scott’s $5 Million Solo Stage, Set Time May Have Contributed to Astroworld Festival Deaths

Personal account and reflections from Joey Guerra, Music Critic (via Houston Chronicle): How the Astroworld tragedy changed one writer’s view of the live-music experience

Perspective of concertgoers (via Houston Chronicle): ‘It could have been me’: How the tragedy at Astroworld Festival unfolded

Historical context, citing concerts going back to 1969 (via NPR): Astroworld Festival joins a list of historical concert tragedies

Flowers rest outside of the canceled Astroworld festival at NRG Park in Houston on Saturday. Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images/via NPR

Anita Bateman named Associate Curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Anita Bateman / courtesy of MFAH

Anita Bateman joined the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in October and is the museum’s newly appointed Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

Her role will encompass exhibitions, collections, and programming at the MFAH.

In conjunction with Alison de Lima Greene, The Isabel Brown Wilson Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Dr. Bateman will work on exhibitions, acquisitions, and the display of the permanent collection, with a special focus on work by African American artists. She will also contribute to defining and expanding long-term collection goals.

Dr. Bateman earned a B.A. cum laude in art history from Williams College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in art history and visual culture from Duke University.

Her curatorial projects, teaching, and writing have focused on modern and contemporary African art and art of the African diaspora. Most recently, she curated Black Flyyy and Defying the Shadow, two exhibitions at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum in Providence, and Roots & Roads, an exhibition of contemporary art centering Black hair culture, at Franklin Street Works in Stamford.

“I am delighted to welcome Anita Bateman to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston,” said Gary Tinterow, director of the MFAH, in a statement. “Dr. Bateman’s groundbreaking work on East African photography; strong background with African-American art and artists; and teaching experience in the museum environment will all enhance the Museum’s efforts to further our longstanding commitment to the work of African American artists and artists of the African diaspora.”

Frame Dance has kept dance films alive and well, before and during the pandemic – and now, as we come out of it

SPACE LEFT BLANK by Travis Clausen-Knight / courtesy of Frame x Frame Film Fest

While dance-on-film is a decades old genre, dance films saw an increase and became mainstream offerings during the pandemic.

“Every organization and individual dance artist had to embrace the concept of sharing dance digitally to keep it alive to share with those who enjoy and support the art form,” according to Dance/USA in a recent article that examined the impact of COVID-19 on the dance field.

Some artists saw the pandemic as an opportunity to launch full-fledged digital projects. In August 2020, choreographer and former Houstonian Trey McIntyre founded FLTPK (pronounced “flatpack”), a platform for streaming and crowd-funding dance films created around the world.

Locally, companies like Houston Ballet produced a series of digital dances for social media, in order to overcome the initial lockdowns and later the social distancing required for COVID safety – which made in-person dance, an art form that requires close contact, impossible.

But long before the pandemic made virtual dance performances a necessity, Frame Dance Productions had already been creating, supporting, and presenting dance films in Houston.

Founded in 2010 by Lydia Hance, the contemporary dance company also choreographs site-specific performances, collaborates with community partners, and offers classes.

Its annual Frame x Frame Film Fest was established in 2018 to showcase the best international dance works created for film. With an on-screen format seemingly perfect for quarantine, last year’s festival proceeded in the midst of COVID – held outdoors at the makeshift Houston Ballet Drive-In.

The 2021 Frame x Frame Film Fest will take place November 4 – 13 at the newly opened Frame Dance Studio, 2426 Bartlett St, Suite D in Houston.

With different programs curated for various nights, this year’s festival will include 40 screen dances from Australia, France, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States – including several by Houston choreographers.

The short films range from 28 seconds to 15 minutes, with dances imagined in the water, in the womb, in libraries and galleries, in drainpipes, and in suspended animation.

With the “widespread popularity of video and performance arts, and the recent dance and dance film acquisitions made by venerable arts institutions,” organizers said in a press release that they believe that dance for film will continue to see growth and significance.

And however artists and companies continue to embrace or evolve the use of digital dance works post-pandemic, dance films have had an unprecedented moment to give many people, who might not otherwise have attended a live performance, access to the art form.

New mural will honor Macario Garcia, local Latino war hero

Rendering of mural by artist Mez Deta / courtesy of UP Art Studio

After three years of planning and community advocacy, painting begins today on a mural in tribute to Staff Sergeant Macario Garcia – to share with new generations the story of the first Mexican immigrant to receive the Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military award.

Born in Villa de Castaños, Mexico, Garcia immigrated with his family to Texas in 1923. Settling in Sugar Land, he and his parents worked as cotton farmers.

When World War II broke out, Garcia joined the US Army in 1942. His acts of bravery during the Allied invasion of Normandy and during combat against German troops as an acting squad leader in his platoon led to his receiving the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, as well as the medal of Mérito Militar (the Mexican equivalent to the Medal of Honor). President Harry S. Truman awarded Garcia the Medal of Honor at the White House in 1945.

Artist Mez Data, known for his realistic portraits with aerosol paint, will create the mural on the exterior of Houston Fire Department Station #20 in East End’s Magnolia Park (6902 Navigation Blvd. at Macario Garcia Dr.). Luis C. Gonzales, a local veteran of the neighborhood, will assist the artist.

A project of UP Art Studio, known for its Mini Murals and other public art projects, the Macario Garcia mural will be unveiled in a ceremony on Veteran’s Day, November 11, 3 – 4:30pm.

The mural is a proposed gift to the City of Houston and will become part of its Civic Art Collection, upon official acceptance by Houston City Council.

Yue Bao named Houston Symphony Assistant Conductor

Yue Bao, Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Foundation Assistant Conductor / courtesy of Houston Symphony

The Houston Symphony has appointed Yue Bao as the orchestra’s new Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Foundation Assistant Conductor – promoted from her previous position as Conducting Fellow, which she had served since fall 2019.

During the pandemic, whose lockdowns and travel complications forced Vienna-based Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada to be absent from Houston for a year and half, Bao played a prominent role on the orchestra’s podium. She conducted several concerts, including livestream performances, subscription series concerts, and notably the 2020-21 season Opening Night Concert.

“We’re grateful that she was here in Houston to help us make the 2020–2021 Season happen when few American orchestras were able to do so, and we’re so happy and pleased to have an Assistant Conductor whose career is so clearly on the rise,” said John Mangum, Houston Symphony Executive Director and CEO, in a press release.

This past summer, Bao made her Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut at the Ravinia Festival, and she will guest conduct the Detroit Symphony and the San Antonio Symphony in 2022.

Her new role with the Houston Symphony will include education concerts at Jones Hall, performances at Miller Outdoor Theatre, and continued support with Classical Series concerts, according to a statement from the orchestra.

Bao was also featured in a recent New York Times article, which examined the hiring of assistant conductors among top American orchestras in recent years, and found them to be a far more diverse group than reigning music directors – indicating their potential to change the landscape of classical music leadership in coming years.

Poetic reflections on the Astros

Photo by Tim Gouw from Pexels

Y’all it’s Game 3 of the WORLD SERIES tonight! Local writers and performers have been inspired by the Astros – and moved by the memories, cultural significance, and energy of the game.

Read this beautiful essay: “What it Means to See Myself Reflected in the Astros” by Houston poet, playwright and storyteller Jasminne Mendez. It was published this week in Houstonia Magazine.

And watch this! Jackie Robinson’s nine values, performed at Minute Maid Park by the 2021 Meta-Four Houston Youth Slam Poetry Team:

The Nov. 2 Election and Arts Education

Photo by Vanessa Loring from Pexels

What do the candidates running for Houston Independent School District’s Board of Education think about the role of arts education?

Arts Connect Houston, whose mission is to ensure that students have access to equitable arts education, invited each candidate to share their views in order to help inform voters.

Below are the unedited responses, shared with permission by Arts Connect Houston:

A total of nine trustees, who serve staggered four-year terms, make up the School Board – the official policy-making body of HISD.

On Nov. 2, five trustee seats are up for election from Districts I, V, VI, VII and IX.

*More on HISD’s School Board election and candidates here.
*More on Election Day voting, polling locations and ballots here.

Houston’s first Barbara Jordan sculpture is coming in 2022

Artists’ rendering courtesy of the City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs

About two years ago, in August 2019, the Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs began soliciting proposals from artists to create the city’s first permanent public art installation honoring the late, pioneering Texas politician Barbara Jordan – a native Houstonian, who became the first African American woman elected to the Texas Senate since 1883 and the first Southern African American woman elected to Congress.

This week, that project reached its next step: the announcement of a commission.

Houston artists Jamal Cyrus and Charisse Weston have been selected as the collaborative team to create the work, Meditative Space in Reflection of the Life and Work of the late Barbara Jordan.

Their concept features a sculpture of free-standing glass panels that will utilize photographic and text-based collages to highlight Congresswoman Jordan’s life as a politician, lawyer and professor – and also to celebrate her compassion, conviction and connection to family and community.

Artists’ rendering courtesy of the City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs

Visitors can enter the space to reflect on the Congresswoman’s dedication to public service and racial justice. The design is informed by the Adinkra symbol sepow, which represents justice and authority.

Set to debut in the summer of 2022, the artwork will be installed at the historic African American Library at the Gregory School, a branch of Houston Public Library, at 1300 Victor Street in Freedmen’s Town.

It will be only the second outdoor sculpture or monument honoring a woman in the city’s Civic Art Collection – the other is “Peggy,” a statue by John Gutzon Borglum, in tribute to Elizabeth Stevens MacGregor in MacGregor Park – and the first honoring an African American woman.

“This commission marks a pivotal moment in the timeline of our Civic Art Program,” said Necole Irvin, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, in a press release.

“Commissioned at the special request of our Mayor [Sylvester Turner], this artwork firmly demonstrates the City’s commitment to broadening those perspectives represented by the artworks in our collection and our commitment to recognizing the diversity of heroes Houston enjoys,” she said.

Statues of Barbara Jordan have also been installed in Texas at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (2002) and at the University of Texas at Austin (2009), where Jordan taught.

Welcome to Houston Arts Journal

Have you ever wished there were a site to help you keep up with arts news and developments in Houston?

I’ve created this independent arts blog, “Houston Arts Journal,” for you:)

My goal is to keep a journal of arts news, trends, announcements, and opportunities across art forms and genres, along with occasional interviews and musings.

I hope this blog will illustrate the activity, possibility, and diversity that exists in Houston arts!

— Catherine Lu