Idaho has the potato. Maine has lobster. Louisiana has crawfish.
The fruits of the landscape have inspired each of these regions to develop an individual identity — inciting economic growth, development and discussion — in addition to serving as a catalyst for artistic work. In many ways, these natural resources determined the cultural products the regions offer.
The new Shrimp Boat Projects — co-created by scholar Zach Moser and architect Eric Leshinsky — hopes to understand the cultural macrocosm of Houston through a single activity: Shrimping. This multi-year residency, supported by the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, aims to explore Houston's regional culture through the study of Galveston Bay. It will bring artists, designers, musicians, writers and students onto the boats to do actual shrimping, with the idea being that this experience will inspire future works.
Moser believes that culture evolves from people's relationship with the land.
"As a native Houstonian, I was looking for ways to define and celebrate a regional identity for our city that we can all be proud of," Moser says. "I wanted to understand the area and in turn, make it a better place."
The residency is in its beginning stage. As Moser and Leshinsky develop their hypothesis, they will be working as shrimpers to further understand values that intersect issues of ecology, economy and culture, followed by inspiring derivative work to further explain their findings to a wider audience through diverse disciplines.
"The boat itself is something of a platform or vehicle for creating new work and for introducing people to a place that they may live close to but don't really know," Leshinsky says. "Houston comes out of Galveston Bay, owes a lot to Galveston Bay and yet that area is somewhat removed from the city itself. We are trying to connect these two."
Teaming with the University of Houston Creative Writing Program, School of Art and the Interdisciplinary Art program, the Shrimp Boat Projects will also offer classes that explore how artists writers, historians, geographers and scientists are affected by regional cultures.
"The Shrimp Boat Projects encompasses curriculum, public programming and research, establishing a dialogue with our students who are able to engage with our local industry and region through this artistic lens," Nicole Laurent, Mitchell Center for the Arts communications and special projects director, explains. Established in 2003 in Cynthia Woods Mitchell's memory, the center fosters interdisciplinary learning, making the arts relevant in contemporary life.
"The people we bring on our boat to help us work Galveston Bay as shrimpers, whether students, visiting artists, designers, writers, musicians, we want those people to then be inspired to create new work that may be a response to a place that they, in theory, know a little more about," Leshinsky says.
The bay contributes roughly 30 percent of the commercial fishing income in Texas, 95 percent of that being attributed to shrimp, crabs and oysters.
And for most shrimpers, the profession borders on a lifestyle.
CultureMap's Art and About correspondent Joel Luks interviews Zach Moser, Eric Leshinsky and Nicole Laurent.