What would the world be like if women were completely in charge? Houston might have an answer for that. From expanding the permanent collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to encouraging experimentation amongst a growing crop of Southern artists, women literally run the (art) world.
Executive Director, FreshArts
From her humble days as an intern to her recent appointment as executive director, Angela Carranza has seen FreshArts through it all. The organization was founded in 2002 to support the artists in Houston’s creative ecosystem. FreshArts’ yearly summit, artist opportunity board, workshops, and surveys allow Carranza and her team to keep apprised of the needs of local artists. And the economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic shifted them and many others into high gear, looking to find ways to rebuild.
“There’s still a lack of opportunities for artists,” says Carranza, who has been with FreshArts for the past 11 years. “We’ve spent some time this year and last reevaluating what we do as an organization and how we can be better advocates and champions for local artists.”
For Carranza, this period has included an emphasis on the community and a reworking of FreshArts’ mission statement to have a more expansive definition of “success” for artists, not one defined solely by commercial standards or work output. As a result, 2022 has welcomed the revival of in-person programs and events, including celebrating the organization’s own 20th anniversary.
Associate Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
On the heels of her monumental curatorial debut with The Obama Portraits Tour exhibition this past spring, Anita Bateman is hard at work. As the MFAH’s new associate curator with an emphasis on art of the African diaspora, she’s working to fill in the gaps in the museum’s collection and continuing to engage the city’s underserved communities through exhibitions and related programming.
“There are a lot of people who I feel have a changed attitude toward the museum because of the exhibition and Sunday Best,” she says, reflecting on Obama Portraits and its opening-day festival. “For a long while, it seemed like there was a certain perspective that the museum wasn’t relevant to a Black public. So I hope when people see me or come into the galleries, they see themselves, feel welcome, and feel like art is relevant to them.”
Bateman is responsible for bringing Ernie Barnes’s iconic Sugar Shack painting to the museum (see p. 33), along with a host of new acquisitions from contemporary artists including Genevieve Gaignard, Derek Fordjour, rising star Qualeasha Wood, and Houston’s own Charisse Pearlina Weston. “I’m really rediscovering my love of research and objects, and it’s parlaying into the acquisitions I’m proposing and have completed in this fiscal year,” she says. There’s a lot on the horizon for Bateman and the museum’s public, including a traveling exhibition (not yet announced) for 2024 and her first original curated exhibition, which will open in 2025. This fall, she’s also working to introduce a new artist conversations series and is leading the institution’s African American Art Advisory Association (5A).
Executive Director, Lawndale Art Center
“Houston has always been a space to say ‘yes’ to projects and be open to ideas from folks within the community,” says Anna Walker, the recently appointed executive director of Lawndale Art Center. She was formerly the assistant curator of decorative arts, craft, and design at the MFAH and has a deep background in arts administration. Lawndale’s artist-founded origins have solidified its legacy as a place where the issues of today are explored with experimentation and openness. Walker and her small team are working to deepen the institution’s commitment to hyperlocality and strengthen its long-term engagement with the Gulf Coast region and the greater South.
“We’re a space that’s really good at working with artists to realize what their exhibitions can be in the space and foster their dreams,” Walker says. “We’re helping them create new exhibitions within their practice and working with them at critical points in their careers.” This fall features an exciting exhibition roster that centers on community storytelling, archives, and generational narratives, including two group shows on both floors and a new commission by Houston’s Lovie Olivia in the Main Street window.
Director, Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs
With the help of Civic Art Program manager Theresa Escobedo, Necole Irvin has helped advance grant and public-art opportunities for artists in Houston. The Louisiana native, who considers herself a “child of the South,” sits at the helm of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA) after spending four years redesigning the city’s artistic grant program. In both roles, she has helped strengthen the city’s civic art program, connected artists with communities, and built structures to better support Houston’s music community.
“I think we’ve achieved all of the things we set out to do and created a system that will continue to self-reflect,” says Irvin, “and hopefully in a way that more people see themselves having access to city funds.” With 16 months left in Mayor Turner’s term, Irvin is not letting up. This fall, MOCA has plans to unveil 18 new public artworks across the greater Houston area, adding to its current tally of 880. “In our first equity review of the city’s collection, we made some initial and long-term changes to ensure we’re continuing to commission works that reflect what we look like as a city,” Irvin explains. “We’re starting to see some of those results.” The next equity review is scheduled for this fall, and “it’s the first time that we see a significant impact on some of the changes that we committed to in year one,” she adds. “We’re really excited to be able to tell that story.”
Danielle Burns Wilson
Curator & Art Director, Project Row Houses
Art and community have been the core of the Project Row Houses (PRH) mission since its founding in 1993. Nestled in Houston’s Third Ward, the organization has maintained its presence through the neighborhood’s quickly changing demographic landscape by paying attention to its needs, be they affordable housing or other resources.
“There’s always been this call and response at Project Row Houses; we’re constantly growing,” says curator Danielle Burns Wilson. Wilson has been with PRH for a solid year, and her inaugural exhibition, Round 53: The Curious Case of Critical Race…Theory? is among the strongest and most timely in the institution’s history. She’s a Southwest Houston native who studied and traveled across the nation before returning to Houston in 2009 during a golden age for the city’s art community. Upon her return, she worked as the chief curator and director of the African American Library at the Gregory School.
“I thought I had to move away, but after moving back, I realized what an amazing art scene we have: the diversity in people and the amount of talent,” Wilson says. This fall, much of the talent will culminate in PRH’s inaugural Southern Survey Biennial. Guest curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver, the invitational exhibition will feature artists from around the US South and is slated to open this October ahead of the organization’s 30th-anniversary celebration in 2023.