With a whack of a champagne bottle that burst into a billow of confetti, Mayor Annise Parker christened a large float-cum-art sculpture by Sharon Engelstein as a gesture that launched a three-month-long series of events that celebrates, as Parker describes it, the Ellis Island of the Greater Houston Area.
Transported + Renewed, led by Houston Arts Alliance's Folklife and Traditional Arts department, in collaboration with some 40 artists, arts organizations and city partners, brings into focus the importance of Houston's East End as an area that both tells the history of the Bayou City and predicts its future.
The initiative, funded in part thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that supports creative place-making, includes performances, pop up art installations, parades, concerts and community events that reintroduce Houstonians to this re-energized sector.
"There's more history in the East End than the city of Houston itself."
"One hundred years ago Houston was a pretty happening place," Parker says. "We are celebrating the centennial of Hermann Park and the centennial of the Ship Channel and the Port of Houston — Houston was just taking off. A lot of that activity was happening in the East End."
Parker says that Transported + Renewed is a perfect title for that conversation as it dubs Houston as a city of neighborhoods with distinct personalities and different voices, as a city with history that's also relatively new.
"There's more history in the East End than the city of Houston itself," Parker adds. "Today we celebrate the East End because it's a place of vibrancy, where artists and arts organization are taking off, where restaurants and new homes are filling in that already vibrant community fabric. As new cultural communities continue to take hold and make the East End theirs, that future is going to change."
To qualify for NEA's Our Town grant, the mayor had to select only one project to submit to the funding institution. Houston Arts Alliance's Transported + Renewed, which allows city officials to focus on what the East End was 100 years ago, what it is today and what it could be 100 years from now, is one of 59 projects and one of two that received funding at the highest level available nationally.
"Transported + Renewed celebrates our city's affinity, if not obsession, with movement, transformation and reinvention, just as METRO prepares to open the new East End light rail and the Houston Ship Channel celebrates its centennial year," Jonathon Glus, Houston Arts Alliance president and CEO, says. "The project infuses a culturally rich neighborhood with new ways to experience itself, celebrates its important legacy and launches our next century of restless reinvention."
"The project infuses a culturally rich neighborhood with new ways to experience itself, celebrates its important legacy and launches our next century of restless reinvention."
Transported + Renewed is broken down into triads, Houston Arts Alliance Folklife and Traditional Arts director Pat Jasper explains. These incudes a Latino Music Series, three parades and three site-specific activations at the Buffalo Buffalo Silos.
"Working in a community means being in a community," Jasper says.
The Latino Music Series begins on Sunday at Tony Marron Park with Panamanian musician Osvaldo Ayala (which links this venture with the Panama Canal's centennial), and continues on Oct. 25 with David Lee Garza and the Tejano band Los Musicales and on Nov. 9 with Mexican accordionist and Grammy nominee Celso Piña and his group.
Three parades include Afloat on Sept. 13, a water procession with the help of Buffalo Bayou Partnership that features dragon boats, kayaks and other vessels, starting at Allen's Landing. On Oct. 25, Afoot is a marching band spectacle, co-presented by the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, choreographed by Allison Orr and Dance Houston. Around on Nov. 15 is an expanded art car parade that welcomes anything on wheels.
Buffalo Bayou Partnership's gravel silos will host art installations, multimedia installations and performances by Pablo Gimenez-Zapiola, Carlos Pozo, FrenetiCore Dance, Cirque la Vie, Allison Hunter and Danza Azteca Taxcayolotl.
In addition, the East End Ramble on Sept. 27 offers an opportunity for bicyclists to experience the various temporary art projects, including East End Bicycle Opera by Nameless Sound and Kaffe Matthews. The first Buffalo Bayou Shrimp Festival on Oct. 4 will feature a working shrimp boat that will be transformed into a floating sculpture.
"This is really going to be about having fun."
Sharon Engelstein's Whatever Floats, an inflatable cartoon-inspired tug boat, was commissioned to capture the sense of adventure and wit with which the Houston Arts Alliance approached the entire project. The piece will appear in different areas of the East End as the festival progresses.
"This is really going to be about having fun — how can you look at that and not smile?" Parker says while pointing to the whimsical float by Engelstein.
"As the sculpture moves around the East End, I want everyone to take a picture with it in its new location."