FotoFest, Houston’s sprawling annual six-week art-crawl, features artistic efforts from photographers and curators from all over the world. In addition to FotoFest’s main exhibitions, held at the new Silos at Sawyer Yards, there are over 100 independently organized art installations stretching from Galveston to Fayetteville (population: 262) that are also part of the 2016 Biennial. One of those Main Street Projects is in Midtown’s reinvented Mid-Main district, which hosts a special portion of FotoFest featuring 61 photographers in an outdoor photographic exhibit.
The theme for the Main Street Project in Midtown, A Hope, Prayer, and a Dream, addresses the social injustices and uncertainty engulfing our world today. Houston-area artists Laura Burlton and Marti Corn curated A Hope to showcase the works of some 61 photographers who belong to Shootapalooza, a group of photographers who span the globe.
Corn's social work as a documentary photographer took her to Kenya, where she taught a photo workshop to a group of young girls from the refugee outpost Camp Kakuma. The camp helps those who have fled Somalia under the country's harsh militaristic regimes. On returning home, she found the theme of hope kept presenting itself over this past year. “These refugees that have resettled [in Houston] do not want to talk about their past,” she says. “They recognize how incredibly fortunate they are to be given a chance to live here, so it’s all about hope and all about moving forward and what they’re going to do with this incredible gift that’s been given to them.”
The installation consumes an entire city block featuring two walls, including one being 84-feet-long, presenting 131 wheat-pasted images, as well as storefront windows filled with prayer flags and different imagery presented by Burlton and Corn. Though their artistic styles are divergent, with Corn being a realist and Burlton a conceptualist, they’ve managed to combine their opposing styles to reflect the titles theme.
Burlton is an artist both photographically and as a painter. She creates interesting prints, using black paper and charcoal with different kinds of pastels and chalk to construct scenes and then photographs a person placed in front of them. This brings home the sort of dreamlike aspect of the exhibit as well. “I suppose it’s an escape from reality,” Burlton says. “I try to tell a story within one image instead of it being a photo essay. I want each image to tell its own narrative.”
Not only is the installation a special edition throughout FotoFest, it also brings pedestrian traffic to the once bedraggled Mid-Main area. If you’ve happened to recently stumble upon Main Street, just north of Alabama, you’ve probably noticed some changes. The once unkempt area has been revitalized, with new apartments, art venues and more galleries. Through the reactivation, one thing remains the same about the 3500-3700 blocks of Main Street: It still preserves its funkiness as being the only area in town that supports the locally owned and operated business model.
“There’s no other part of town that exists like this one,” says artist Theresa Escobedo founder and organizer of Main Street Projects. “I do think that it’s because of careful effort to maintain this vibe. Building owners Bob and Lane Shultz and Pete Gordon in particular, really support wacky events here. There’s a block party initiated every first Thursday... It’s a great tool for bringing people here and attracting patrons, by really activating the streets.”
The curators decided that to best reach the largest possible audience, their exhibit needed to be inclusive, considering everyone from a street person to a wealthy collector.
“It truly is art for the people,” says Burlton. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to do a wheat-pasting wall outdoors, because a lot of people won’t ever go into a gallery. Maybe this will encourage them to seek out art and seek out photography specifically that they wouldn’t have done otherwise... Maybe they’ll see photography as an art form, not just something you do with your cell phone.”
March 3–April 30. Main Street Projects, 3617 Main Street. mainstreetprojects.org