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PROJECT FREEWAY: SITE VISITS FALL 2022

FEBRUARY 16, 2023 by Eva Martinez

By Sarah Ramirez and Amari Lavergne, Fall 2022 Interns

We are excited to be working with the DiverseWorks Project Freeway Fellows for 2022-23: Stacey Allen and the husband and wife duo of Laura Moreno and Azel Agustin. Their new community-focused projects will address the people and places where they work and live. Allen’s project, Aesthetic Inheritances, explores black material culture, community building and self-determination at Barrett Station and unincorporated East Harris County, while Moreno and Agustin’s project The Kitchen Table Interviews, features a documentary of testimonies and reflections on living in Westview Terrace. The DiverseWorks team traveled to each of these locations in order to get more familiar with the areas that these artists are inspired by.

Last September, the DW team visited with Stacey Allen for a tour of Harris County Cultural Arts Center (HCCAC) and Barrett Station. Stacey currently resides in Missouri City, but she has a particular affinity for Barrett Station and the unincorporated East Harris County community serviced by HCCAC, where she serves as Director of Artistic Programming. Stacey’s inspiration from her past work made her interested in Barrett Station, also simply known as Barrett, a settlement founded by a formerly enslaved person named Harrison Barrett. One of the significant facts of the settlement’s history is that Harrison Barrett’s original homestead has undergone two reconstructions, each of which has preserved all of its period-appropriate elements. DW got to meet one of the descendants of the family, Ray Barrett, who has a museum dedicated to the Barrett legacy in his home. The team got to see the art with tributes and artifacts of the Barrett family from both past and present.

As residents of cozy Westview Terrace, an area known for being the first housing development established in Spring Branch, Laura Moreno and Azel Agustin are no strangers to changes happening in their community. Last October, DW staff accompanied the couple on their regularly scheduled neighborhood walk to hear more about the changes within their neighborhood, and their plans for Project Freeway. Laura and Azel understand that where there are people, there are stories to be shared, and they hope to highlight the voices of people in their community as a way to document and preserve the history of their home.

Check back to DiverseWorks.org to stay updated on the progress of the Fellows as they present their work to the community this spring!

MORE THAN A MURAL

AUGUST 5, 2021 by admin

By Maya White

Visiting the most densely populated neighborhood in Houston, within which about 80 languages spanning from 40 countries co-exist, leaves you feeling one thing — inspired.  There are worlds within the Gulfton community, and it’s weathered many a test to survive, and now, there seems to be more hope than ever before. Between local neighborhood entities such as the Southwest Multi-Service Center, Legacy Health, The Alliance, and Baker Ripley, to organizations like Culture of Health – Advancing Together (C.H.A.T) and Connect Community (among many, many more) — Gulfton seems to be on its way to an infrastructurally sound and artist-centered future. But can this artistic future expand beyond the many murals that are being produced in and for the Gulfton community?

This art-filled future was jump started by the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs Complete Communities initiative, and organizations like C.H.A.T quickly followed suit when the Gulfton Story Trail was launched. This project includes 12 murals in the Gulfton area and completes one main benefit of public art, cultural awareness.

DiverseWorks’ Project Freeway Fieldwork team was able to meet up with two large names in the Houston mural scene who have been a part of Gulfton’s transforming story in relation to the arts. The first was Anat Ronen, whose story is as magnificent and inspiring as the Gulfton area. An immigrant and self-taught artist, Anat received the O-1 nonimmigrant visa and created murals as a means to survive. With little to no support, Anat has built a name for herself by creating astonishing, and oftentimes space-bending, murals. Anat, who participated in the Story Trail and has graciously donated a mural to SHAPE Center, has been very involved in bringing the spirit and stories of our communities to life. She warns though that not every artist can be a muralist, it takes time and can be difficult to work on such a large scale — which begs the question, how else can we support neighborhoods through public art other than mural projects, which seem to be the primary public art go-to? 

Our meeting with Amy Malkan, who has a vast portfolio of mural work in the city as well, shed light on the power a mural can have on a community when it’s built by and for the community. Amy recently worked with youth of C.H.A.T to create a mural to be displayed in their apartment complex— a mural that not only speaks to their life story, but features them. “ They were so excited to work on this project” Amy explains, “… and that it deals with their reality. For example this panel has a boy playing cricket. You don’t hear about cricket here in the States, but in their hometowns, it’s a huge part of everyday life!” 

We witnessed the power of murals, but our conversation with artist Eepi Chad, who is also the director of Community Engagement at Art League Houston, brings us back to the question — what more can be produced under the sphere of public art? Eepi, who grew up in the Gulfton / Sharpstown area during the fundamental years of her life, worked with residents to create a fiber installation on the Baker Ripley Gulfton campus that houses their stories. As a part of this project,  she first engaged in important dialogue with Gulfton residents of all ages about their desires for themselves, their community, and their history. Eepi advises, “…we need public art that pushes beyond murals…it could be temporary projection work that is used to highlight physical spaces, or utilizing esplanade because Gulfton is a pedestrian community — people ride bikes and use public transit.”

A neighbor of Gulfton and an art teacher for 20 years at Neff Elementary in Sharpstown , artist Gerardo Rosales agrees with Eepi’s statement. When we spoke to him about his experiences within the area, and his opinion about the existence of public art, he mentioned he’s had a hand in the murals created on the Neff campus, but how a large sculpture in the area would be of great benefit.

Neighborhoods shift, and there seems to be a positive one occurring in the Gulfton area where the voices of residents are being sought out and heard. With 80 different languages, one is beginning to resound — the language of art. Here’s to hoping Gulfton / Sharpstown artists continue to emerge and see how their unique practices will add to the transformation happening in their neighborhood.


Photo by Perata Bradley

MEETING EMMANUEL ENRIQUEZ AND MARGARET SMITHERS-CRUMP

AUGUST 5, 2021 by dwintern

By Gianna Ligotino

Two of the foundational principles of DiverseWorks’ Project Freeway are to: 1)  develop new conversations and creative projects in spaces that are outside of a gallery space, such as neighborhood community centers and other non-art venues; and 2)  develop new community partnerships that will provide not only for future artists who receive the Project Freeway fellowship, but also to provide for those in the community who are in need. 

Through personal experience working as an intern on Project Freeway, I have found these two principles at the core of the project’s mission: fostering community and giving back to those who are often neglected. DiverseWorks as a team is in and of itself a wonderfully giving and empathic community that values the plights of others. That being said, it is because of their commitment to others that leaders like Emmanuel Enriquez at the Southwest Multi-Service Center seem more than willing to be their partner. 

Emmanuel Enriquez: Understanding the Gulfton Community

Emmanuel himself is a strong advocate for the community and provided ample insight into both his work with the Gulfton area and the larger communities needs. One of eleven  Multi-Service centers around the city, the Gulfton center, founded in 2007, is the busiest as the community is in desperate need of programming. Emmanuel and his team provide all numbers of services for the community that include, but are not limited to, financial assistance, food stamps, access to healthcare, daycare/summer camp programs, COVID vaccinations and testing, general insurance set up and more. The multi-service center is first and foremost a community center with programming for elders, a community garden that is maintained and harvested by the community, and the library that is open to the public. Arts and crafts programming, in non-COVID times, is led by elders in the community who volunteer their time to share and teach their skill to others; for instance, past programming has included jewelry making and knitting classes that are free for the whole community to partake in.

Learning about the services and the community from Emmanuel was very informative, but more importantly, inspiring as his passion for his work and his eagerness to share in his passion was simply refreshing. He shared his community’s passion for art as well and the immense benefit he could see in partnering with DiverseWorks to bring art directly to the people in his community, through utilizing shared space, like the multi-service center, and an artist with a Gulfton background. It is in discussion with Emmanuel and others like him that one can see the power and necessity of building a community of partners that share in the same mission to give unapologetically and with the best of intentions. 

An Unexpected Gem: Margaret Smithers-Crump

The same day as our meeting with Emmanuel, we were fortunate enough to have had the chance to meet local Gulfton artist, Margaret Smithers-Crump, who has been in the Gulfton area since 1998. Though she is fairly isolated in her studio, she is an example of the number of immigrants who live and work in the Gulfton area. Originally from Canada, Smithers-Crump’s work focuses on nature and the concept of nature as primary. In her work, she interacts with the idea of nature being both paternal and maternal, thus as a parent, but at the same time being our brother and sister. In this, she aims to highlight the detachment of man from nature in our current state, as we see nature as a lesser object rather than our equal. For Smithers-Crump, humans are of the land, but other elements of the earth or in nature are spiritual, and thus they deserve a certain respect that is not being granted. 

The medium of Smithers-Crump’s work is colored or painted Polycarbonate that she manipulates into natural, organic, sculptural forms. In the same way that Emmanuel is passionate for his immediate community, Smithers-Crump is passionate about the community of the earth and the implications of even the smallest malfeasance or lack of respect towards nature has on every individual and thus every community, whether it be local, national, international, or worldwide. Conclusively, one can say that through discussion with both Emmanuel and Margaret Smithers-Crump, it is most apparent the power of Project Freeway as it seeks to find those who cherish the chance to enact change and give back on every scale.


All Photos by Perata Bradley

INTERN EXPERIENCE WITH DIVERSEWORKS

AUGUST 5, 2021 by dwintern

By Perata Bradley

As a summer intern with DiverseWorks, the goal for me is to gain valuable experience and confidence as an artist and future director of my own art organization and facility.  My assignments consist of fieldwork in the Gulfton community with activities including researching artists, businesses and galleries that are a part of the community or have contributed to the Gulfton area.  I like that Gulfton is a diverse community of different backgrounds and cultures and through discovery, I’ve learned the area is widely an apartment-based community that is exploring different ways of transforming space for art. 

Arts in Gulfton 

In my research, I was privileged to come across a few interesting and emerging art facilities and programs and even more thrilled to know that I have personal connections with a few. In particular, I discovered a newly created art organization on a mission to enhance the region by elevating opportunities for a variety of performances and visual artists and architects. Alta Arts, located at 5412 Ashbrook Drive, is nestled in between the Gulfton and Sharpstown residential areas. It is modern, built by design, clean-cut with a museum district ambiance. Most distinctive was the layout of the location which has a long driveway that has sculpture pieces that outline the pathway to the building.

Alta Arts is focused on spotlighting emerging artists of all backgrounds and has recently ushered in its opening exhibition STRATUM 2021 (on view July 10-August 29), which highlights three Houston artists who focus on the built landscape.   My love for construction and interest in expanding as a multi-disciplinary artist led me to take a trip to Alta Arts in hopes of meeting the artist, but unfortunately, I didn’t make the opening reception. The mediums include paintings by Charis Ammon, watercolors of the downtown Houston landscape by Bill Willis, and sculptures by Jacob Villalobos. I was truly impressed with the art selection, especially the paintings, and could recall a few of the locations used. I appreciate most importantly the subject matter of exploring the built and constructed landscape and those artists who strive to bring awareness to the subject.  I questioned the available personnel and learned that the Director of Programs happens to be Alexander Squier, who also was my print relief instructor at the University of Houston. What started off as curiosity turned into a golden nugget as a personal win for me.  Not only did I learn of another art facility with an amazing mission spotlighting emerging artists; most rewardingly  I made a valuable connection for DiverseWorks as an intern and also for myself. 

Connecting with Gulfton Residents

Another component of the DiverseWorks Project Freeway fieldwork involves meetings with artists in the Gulfton/Sharpstown area in which we were lucky to chat with multi-disciplinary artist Renata Lucia who invited us to lunch at a Persian restaurant. Due to the dense population of residents living in apartment complexes, there was talk about bringing art to residents’ doorsteps so that residents can be exposed to art outside of their homes in their respective communities.  Renata also introduced a grassroots artists’ market that will be a hub for artists in the community to provide art services that engage the people and also to promote art. 

On another occasion, we met up with muralist Amy Malkan who works with the community-based organization CHAT Academy students. CHAT is a nonprofit organization that fosters the health of Houston’s immigrant and refugee communities through advocacy and education. What’s interesting about CHAT and artist Amy, is that they have set up shop in two of the apartment units located in Ashford Crescent Oaks Apartments.  We met Amy at one of the units used to paint; there Amy works with the community youth and adults to create art and workshops for residents alike. We watched as she painted and talked about the people and her role in the community and how art is being used to help those residents.

Being able to meet with Amy and walking the grounds of the apartments gave me a feel of the culture and a glimpse of the residents. I saw kids playing something known as crickets which is an international sport in immigrant communities. I saw their style of dress which resonated with their religion and culture even the fenced patios of the dense number of units gave character to their culture. There you could feel a sense of togetherness and oneness; peace to be exact, even though I had only been there for approximately 10 mins.

On July 22,  a six-panel mural reveal took place on the basketball courts in which city officials and others came out in support and celebration of the kids in the community.  The mural was painted and created by the youth of Ashford Crescent Oaks apartment. The reveal was filled with performances by the youth involving acting reenactment and a musical interlude in which they harmonized different instruments creating sounding patterns that led you into a trance.


All photos by Perata Bradley

NEW VIDEO: DIVERSE DISCOURSE WITH CANDICE HOPKINS

APRIL 3, 2020 by Jenn

On April 1, 2020, DiverseWorks presented a Diverse Discourse lecture, live and online for the first time. Candice Hopkins, independent curator and writer, and Senior Curator of the Toronto Biennial of Art, presented The Golden Potlatch and the Gilded Gaze: Capitalism, Infection, and Early Colonialism. We are excited to be able to share the recorded talk, and links to reference material:

Candice Hopkins, “The Golden Potlatch: Study in Memesis and Capitalist Desire,” Fillip 13, Spring 2011.

Candice Hopkins, “Outlawed Social Life,” Documenta 14 #2.
(PDF of Outlawed Social Life with images included).