The Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA), which supports the Houston creative community through policymaking and runs the city’s Civic Art Program, has announced a distribution of grants totaling $62,500 to twelve individuals and nonprofit organizations for its Let Creativity Happen! Digital and its City Initiative grant programs. Funds for both grant programs are generated via a portion of the city’s 7% hotel occupancy tax. The Houston Arts Alliance administers the grants.
The Let Creativity Happen! grant program was initiated in 2018 to fund projects that may not find more traditional forms of support. Last year, in response to the pandemic, it shifted to a digital format. As Christopher Blay reported for Glasstire last April, “city funding… will support the use of technology to connect people to the arts beyond physical boundaries.” This year, seven Let Creativity Happen! Digital grants of $2,500 each were awarded. What follows is a brief rundown of the selected projects. Unless otherwise stated, all quoted material is from a press release issued by MOCA.
Mack Performing Arts Collective (MPAC), a nonprofit organization focused on performing arts education and empowerment, received a grant for a project titled George Floyd Childhood in the Cuney Homes (the Cuney Homes are a public housing complex in Houston’s historically Black Third Ward neighborhood). In this project:
Children and residents of Cuney Homes will share stories of growing up in a low-income housing development where many deal with hard times and social injustice. They will explore the life and childhood of George Floyd and use him as inspiration. MPAC members along with the participants will be using texts, lighting, costumes, make-up, and scenery to bring their stories to life.
The C. G. Jung Educational Center of Houston, Texas, a non-profit psychology and arts organization, was granted funding for online classes using art to support mental health:
Unique in the United States, The Jung Center offers year-round, live-streamed and online classes that employ the arts in supporting the mental health of the community. Two-thirds of their programming is open to the public, while the other third is designed specifically to bring healing arts to support the mental health of social service providers, frontline workers, teachers, nonprofit employees, healthcare workers, and others. Their public-facing programming is taught by psychotherapists, book and film group facilitators, improv actors, musicians, a children’s art therapist, and others.
The third recipient is artist and curator Mariela Dominguez. An exhibit curated by Dominguez, called Fantasma, was recently featured in a Five-Minute Tour by Glasstire. Her Let Creativity Happen! Digital project is titled Be-Longing. For the project, she will:
choose an object to be the trigger for a story of a journey that evokes uprooting and regeneration. A set of four videos presents the stories between two speakers, one, the issue of a mother tongue as the other represents the mediator who personifies a new local generation that articulates the dominant English language. This material object evokes cultural ties that are seemingly enigmatic to everyone except those who retain their mother tongue. The development of a set of four videos with English subtitles is projected and additionally, various audiovisual resources will be included.
The Indo-American Association (IAA), a 501 (C)(3) organization that promotes Indian performing arts in Houston, received funding for SUKOON: Tranquility Thru Music:
Sukoon is an Urdu/Hindi word which translates to calm, peace, relief, serenity, tranquility, and wholeness. Through this project, IAA will endeavor to bring great sukoon and tranquility to digital audiences. Patrons have come to deeply value IAA’s digital concerts at a time of tremendous isolation and loneliness. The Sukoon project will give an opportunity to emerging artists to showcase their ability to connect digital audiences to a meditative space where tranquility can be found at the individual level, even for a few minutes. This will be presented through IAA’s social media platforms.
Lawndale Art and Performing Center’s outgoing Executive Director Stephanie Mitchell secured a grant for The Sankofa Project and its Virtual Dialogues. According to Lawndale, “the Sankofa Project is a multi-year curatorial project examining the historical events leading up to our current moment of social unrest and racial reckoning.” With its Let Creativity Happen! Digital funding, the project aims to:
[bring] light to the events that have been censored or ignored in historical narratives and reinforced the racial oppression of Black Americans. A free Zoom conversation between the artist and collaborating scholar or historian will be held and deepen the conversation on race and inequality and educate the community. These dialogues will be available post-event via Lawndale’s website and social media along with exhibition documentation and materials for public accessibility.
Filmmaker Nathan Edwards was awarded for a live performance piece called Mindful In This Moment:
On a clear morning in February 2022, Nathan Edwards will film a live installation around the theme of meditation. 50 black men and women dressed in monochromatic pastel colors will meet at a Houston park for a staged, live, one-hour installation/meditation that will be filmed, edited, and shared online.
Finally, the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, the self-taught and outsider arts organization which recently announced plans for a major expansion, will use their grant to enrich their Media Project collaboration with the Southwest Alternative Media Project (SWAMP):
The Orange Show Media Project is a partnership with SWAMP and its young filmmakers to document five intimate performances by visionary Houston artists in front of live audiences at the Orange Show’s historic properties. These will be live streamed weekly starting July 4, 2022.
Meanwhile, the City Initiative Grant is on its third round of distributions for the year. Awardees were chosen in the categories of Neighborhood Cultural Destinations, Conference Tourism, and Resilience Awareness. Four awards of $10,000 and one of $5,000 were given this round.
Author/director/producer Norma Thomas received funding for a holiday project in the historically Black Acres Homes neighborhood of northwest Houston:
Christmas in the 44: An Urban Christmas Tale (UCT) brings theatre to Acres Homes community in more ways than one. UCT is “takin’ it to the streets!” Staged outside local businesses along the 4 major Acres Homes throughfares, festive tableau style scenarios, much like department store holiday window displays and the live nativity scenes of old, will delight passers-by, create community celebration, and foster holiday spirit.
Performance artist and musician Andrew Davis, AKA Tame, The Aspiring Me, remarked on his City Initiative award on Instagram, saying, “God is good… November about to be litty. We are on the ground floor for @x_marks_the_scott but pace will pick up fairly soon. Be sure to follow to be in the loop.” According to MOCA:
Scott @ X proposes a new way of engaging communities with performance art. Throughout November 2021, weekly Sunday performances will occur along Metro Rail stops in Third Ward; with the opening performance at the Leeland/Third Ward stop and closing performance at MacGregor Park/Martin Luther King, Jr. stop. The audience will be able to engage with the performance on site as well as virtually through Twitch using QR codes posted at the Metro Rail stops.
Lens-based artist Britt Thomas received funding for her project 2 Post Cinema, a collaboration with her husband Prince Varughese Thomas. 2 Post Cinema is:
a neighborhood outdoor cinema set to open in November 2021. It will showcase contemporary film and video art created by underrepresented artists and filmmakers. Utilizing the non-obstructed view, they have of T.C. Jester Park’s parking lot from their property, Britt and Prince Thomas will erect a large, retractable rear-projected film screen in their backyard while relaying sound via radio transmission to viewers’ car stereos. 2 Post Cinema is a free, publicly accessible catalyst for bringing together our diverse community via the arts in a safe, socially distanced manner.
Lawndale Art and Performance Center received additional funding for a project by Cindee Travis Klement titled Symbiosis. El Paso native Klement’s recent work, according to her bio, “addresses conservation issues, looking specifically at wind erosion, native bees, and recovery from Hurricane Harvey.” Her City Initiative project:
is a work of living land art in Mary E. Bawden Sculpture Garden at Lawndale Art and Performance Center, which introduces a variety of native plants to immerse the community in and educate them on the possibility of a more regenerative, sustainable future.
Lastly, Houston-based independent rap label Swishahouse, which has released records from noteworthy artists like Paul Wall, Chamillionare, and Mike Jones, received funding for Swisha House: Rollin’ & Burnin’ Since ’97:
With millions of records sold, several Grammy nominated artists and the first record label/music genre to be archived in Rice University’s Fondren Library, Swishahouse has been a staple in the Houston hip hop scene since the mid-90’s. This event, held in East Downtown Houston at 8th Wonder Brewery, will exhibit items from the Rice archive, CD & mixtape covers and never-seen-before photos. The exhibit will simultaneously highlight the impact Swishahouse has made on the hip hop genre while introducing to many, and reinforcing to others, the significance of Swishahouse on the Southern hip-hop movement.
For more information about these projects and others, please go here.