Changing Houston

Historic arts space is closing: With its signature trees condo endangered, the magic is gone

Historic arts space is closing: With its trees endangered, magic gone

1 The Artery Media Project exterior
With its iconic canopy of trees destroyed by drought, the Artery is closing it doors after a quarter century of performances. ArteryHouston.org
6 The Artery Media Project house at night
The venue has prided itself on supporting non-traditional artists, poets, dancers and musicians. ArteryHouston.org
4 The Artery Media Project art wall
Indoor gallery space ArteryHouston.org
5 The Artery Media Project film screening
Film screening ArteryHouston.org
1 The Artery Media Project exterior
6 The Artery Media Project house at night
4 The Artery Media Project art wall
5 The Artery Media Project film screening
The Artery Houston concert
3 The Artery Media Project exterior
2 The Artery Media Project exterior
7 The Artery Media Project exhibit with people

Nestled along Jackson Street in the Museum District, the Artery performance space has been a haven for non-traditional artists and performers for more than a quarter century.

But thanks to a perfect storm of record droughts and real estate development, one of Houston's most cherished venues — and one of the most under-the-radar — will be closing its doors by the end of November.

With its understated lighting and high-end sound system, the Artery's 140-person outdoor amphitheater has proven an ideal platform for artists seeking a more intimate connection with their audience. Since the late 1980s, the space has hosted everything from Uzbek percussionists and slam poetry to fundraising events for former mayor Bill White.

"Sadly, t he most precious thing about this place is its Achilles' heel."

"Since the early days, we've always tried to do things by word of mouth," Artery founder Mark Larsen tells CultureMap. "This is a small place, so we have to make sure the crowds never overwhelm it."

Larsen notes that the allure of the venue's unique atmosphere rests in its lovingly-maintained trees, most of which he planted himself following Hurricane Alicia in 1983.

In recent years, however, the region's lack of rainfall has devastated much of the canopy. And with new condo development expected to destroy additional trees on an adjacent property, Larsen is unwilling to watch the Artery's magic whither away.

"Sadly, the most precious thing about this place is its Achilles' heel," he says. "But every forest has a lifespan and it makes sense for us to move forward."

In the coming months, the Artery will relocate operations — as well as its popular life drawing classes — to a new space in or near Winter Street Studios. Its website, meanwhile, will be redesigned as an archive chronicling decades of recorded concert performances, including those from the Artery's brief TV series on KUHF Ch. 8 in 2007.