Artcamp Recap Posted in Arts

On a blustery day in Houston on the last day of February members of the Houston Arts Community met for an open discussion about the state of the Houston Arts Community. We met earlier than most usually get up on a Saturday morning but aided by bagels provided by Sarah Gabbart of Sew Crafty we had the energy to tackle issues and challenges surrounding the Arts in Houston. People came and people left, we ate lunch donated by Les Givrals and before we knew it the end of the day had arrived. In the end we covered a range of topics surrounding promotion, resources, challenges and steps to look forward.

The Barcamp model provided a simple and manageable framework to run a community based discussion and forum for social change. Similar to Bandcamp, we shed the formal educational sessions in lieu of a community driven conversation. This ensured that all opinions and topics were covered and dealt with all topics in a comfortable and collegial atmosphere. Several issues continued to come up and while facets of these issues were discussed, we are clearly only at the beginning of this process:

There seems to be a need to share available resources in the arts community at all levels, from staging an independent show to running a successful gallery. As an independent artist new to Houston, Jen Mathis mentioned that it is daunting to know where to start to stage a show or which organization to contact. Nancy Zastudil of the Mitchell Center for the Arts pointed out that Skydive studio, one of the newest in Houston, is a great model for an artist run gallery and has begun to run weekly classes on Saturdays entitled Saturday Free School of the Arts (SFSA).

Bringing Awareness about the Houston Arts Community
Addressing what seems to be a systemic identity issue, the fertility of Houston Arts is known outside of Houston but internally greater awareness is needed. In the afternoon session, Rainey Knudson of Glasstire discussed the formation of the online magazine and her attempts to bring awareness of the Houston arts community internally and nationally. It seems that, while engagement exists, on the whole, awareness and education is lacking.

Dichotomy between Underground and Overground
Sean Morrissey Carroll provided perspective on some of his favorite shows over the past 10 years, all underground. Many were staged as guerrilla shows among friends, held at alternate venues an included such ridiculousness as pyramids of jello shots. He commented on the difference between the underground and the overground in terms of methods of promotion, inclusion of artists and desired attendance for success.

It seems that the guerrilla shows are staged to cut through the noise but also as a way to show art without pretense or rigid guidelines. There is a cycle that exists where the people staging these shows put on so many successful shows that they eventually gain the respect of the establishment, who then adopts them into the fold. Without the need to be innovative in staging and promotion, these people become the establishment and a new breed of guerrilla artists stage shows and the cycle repeats. The group agreed that it would make sense to harness the power of this arts cycle, bringing the underground and the overground together for resource sharing and documenting our rich arts community.

The best ideas that came out of the day are the following:

  • Houston arts wiki to share best practices and provide a living document
  • City-wide art fair
  • Aggregated list of events and city map

Houston Arts Wiki
David Herrold of the Houston Chronicle, joining us on UstreamTV put forth the idea for a Houston Arts Wiki (not myself, as incorrectly stated by Sean Morrissey Carroll in his recap). This wiki could serve as a community curated list of resources, artists and history of the Houston Arts Community. It could function as a living document of the city’s arts scene and will be a valuable resource for people to use for learning or what already exists or what could exist.  Already showing success in providing a living document of a community, the Houston Scene Wiki off of now defunct Skyline Network has provided valuable information for the Houston Music Community. We are looking for a site that is unafilliated to host this wiki and have thought of purchasing houstonartswiki.com

City-Wide Art Fair
Grace Rodriguez had an idea for a city-wide art fair. Nancy Zastudil chimed in that Chicago has such a fair every year. The idea was to get every arts organization and gallery into a large open space, give them tables and showcase everything that Houston has to offer in the arts community.  While this is a large undertaking we feel that this could be one way to showcase the arts in Houston.

Aggregated List and map of Venues and Events
Elliot Cole of Caroline Collective mentioned that his mother runs an aggregated blog of events happening in Austin. While the process that she uses is labor intensive it would be great to create something that would allow all events to be pulled in and seen by Houston members. As Marc Nathan said “You want to build the castle and then hand the keys to the community.”

Closing and What’s Next
The best recap of the day was provided by Houston’s contrarian art representative: Sean Morrissey Carroll.
Grace Rodriguez recorded the entire day, thanks to UstreamTV. Morning Session is here and Afternon Session is here.
You can check the #artcamph twitter stream for a running commentary of the day.

Going into the event one of our goals was to work towards developing a sustainable system for improving the arts in Houston. This meeting was a huge step but only the first towards open lines of communication along the vertical hierarchy. Regular events of this type that will allow the community as a whole to arrive at a fully informed picture of the challenges and unique situations that we face in the Houston Arts Community.

Looking forward, we covered some challenges and came up with some solutions but this was only the beginning of the discussion. While two great ideas came out of Artcamp’s session, there are many more that this community could develop. It is our job as leaders in the community to discuss and listen to the community’s needs and direction for the Houston arts community for the goal of raising awareness for the Houston arts community, as well as making people in Houston proud of the art that they have in their city.

What do you think are the unique challenges that exist in Houston Arts?

What do you think some solutions are?

One Comment

  1. I commend the passion of those attending Art Camp to get the ball rolling on these discussions. (I wish I had been able to make it.)

    That said, while I love the enthusiasm and hope it continues, I think there needs to be careful planning in taking steps forward to avoid false starts and duplication of efforts. I would like to see more of these talks, involving more people from across the spectrum of arts activities. I think there needs to be a way to both structure these conversations, as well as allow for enough freedom of speech and trajectory to avoid the pitfall of a mediated pep rally. I think structure and organization is key.

    A lot of this work as far as aggregating event data and organizational and artist databases is being done already- by a host of people and organizations. The problem is that the information is fractured, repetitive, and incomplete. In a perfect world, there would be more communication, cooperation, and coordination between all to avoid these issues.

    I think Sean the Contrarian hit the nail on the head when he addressed the disparity between the needs of the individual artist versus the arts organization. They are two different animals, but instead of being exclusionary, the relationship should be symbiotic. While the individual artist should be at the center of things, arts organizations, in their administrative capacity, have the reach, resources, and tools to further the individual artist and their work. I think it’s important for there to be open dialogue so that arts administrators can better understand the individual artist’s situation and vice versa. The question from either should not be “what’s in it for me?” but rather, “how can we work together to meet our needs and/or mission while cooperatively cultivating our local art community?”

    In a city like Houston, it is only short-sighted to be territorial. We live in a city of opportunity and have a long way to go. Art fairs, inspired ideas, and discussions such as this one are an excellent first step.

    Posted March 4, 2009 at 11:34 am | Permalink

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