Art News

Art on the Rise

Washington Avenue Arts District readies for a $100 million expansion.

By Nick Esquer August 18, 2015

Screen shot 2015 08 17 at 3.43.08 pm g10dcr

Image: Gary Watson

Amid a dusty patch of dry land, between some old train tracks and thistles, stands a chockablock art commune as unique as the city it’s in. Winter Street Studios and Spring Street Studios, which straddle the line between Houston’s industrial Sixth and First Wards, have been beacons for local artists and art-lovers alike. Now, that characteristically shabby patch of land is set to get another facelift with a full-scale addition known as The Silos at Sawyer Yards, set for a November opening.

The 36-acre “creative campus,” optioned by developer Jon Deal and other partners, is an oasis both in art and aesthetics. The industrial-chic plight adds 80 studios to the two art compounds, along with retail, restaurants, common areas and brand spanking new apartments. There’s even going to be a farmer’s market on the weekends, making this a true community destination.

“We envision this creative campus with multiple uses. The common component is to have art being the nature of all of it,” says Deal, who purchased the land the iconic Mahatma Rice silos sit on last July. Deal has been working on the project with fellow developers Steven Gibson, Paul Hobby and Frank Liu. “I don’t think you’ll see offices full of doctors and accountants. We’re going to stick to graphic designers, architects, et cetera—creative minds doing creative things. We’ve witnessed how well they congregate and collaborate at our other studios.”

The $100,000 million project will include a paving over of bits of debris and dirt paths on a strip between the two studios. This section, known as Artist Alley, will continue with a repurposed industrial-chic look the studios are known for and feature a brand new micro-brewery. The brand new art Mecca will also include a breezeway that leads to the Mahatma Rice silos towering over abandoned Union Pacific railroad spurs.

It’s inside those 34 haunting, empty silos where the SITE exhibition will take place this November. Currently accepting proposals from artists thru September 1, the exhibition will force each artist to work within the space of a silo. Contemporary sculpture, installation, street art, murals and interdisciplinary media will fill the silos, creating a site-specific and conceptual art arena.

“I think this space lends itself to exploration, just by design. When you add art into it, it feels pretty amazing,” says Washington Avenue Arts District Director Susannah Mitchell.

“Houston hasn’t seen anything like this before. I’m not sure anyone has.”

Walking through the industrial space, it’s easy to see and hear the creative possibilities for working artists. The high-reaching silos, which have a faint odor of rice from the days of being in operation, retain sound in each area, keeping the artistic experience within unique from one project to the next.

Even though the expansion project as a whole hasn’t been a walk in the park for Deal and Co., including lengthy conversations with Union Pacific and going through the motions of getting titles squared away, the fruits of their labor are finally showing.

“It’s easy to build something new,” says Deal. “I can’t think of another project that’s had so many hurdles. But, you know, repurposing buildings and lots is a rewarding challenge.”

SITE. Nov 6–Jan 30. Silos at Sawyer Yards, 2101 Winter St.