Midtown's Art Landscape

Could the proposed Independent Arts Collaborative inhibit independent arts collaborations?

Could the proposed Independent Arts Collaborative inhibit independent arts collaborations?

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In the past, Horse Head Theatre Co. has performed at bars. Photo by Anthony Rathbun
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Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex
News_Nancy Wozny_Art in a Bar_Horse Head Theatre_FaultLines
News_Barnevelder Movement_Arts Complex_seating

Plans for the Independent Arts Collaborative in Midtown has Houston's creative community celebrating a future art nexus to house such organizations as DiverseWorks, FotoFest, Main Street Theatre and Suchu Dance.

But could the reshuffle impact fringe, artist-driven groups that currently use these organizations' leased spaces?

Consider EaDo's Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex, a 7,200-square-foot space with three fully-equipped dance studios and an 120-seat theatrical performance venue. Since its founding, the complex has been HQ to Suchu Dance, as well as host to myriad classes, rehearsals and performances by outsider dance and theater groups. With Suchu's move to the IAC, Barnevelder's lease risks a clean break, potentially leaving its former guest art groups out in the cold.

"It's a little up in the air," Barnevelder's Louie Saletan tells CultureMap regarding whether he will keep the space open once the IAC is erected. "It depends on how much rehearsal space we'll be able to carve out. Ideally, it will close," he says before clarifying, "We definitely wouldn't do anything that would hurt the arts community or make it cost-probitive. It's extremely important that we maintain opportunities for all levels of art groups."

 Suddenly, the line between "independent" and "elite" art spaces has blurred. 

With projected rental costs similar to that of the Hobby Center's Zilkha Hall, the IAC would indeed be out of reach for theater companies that have performed at Barnevelder, such as Mildred's Umbrella, Stark Naked, Mosaic and Horse Head. Suddenly, the line between "independent" and "elite" art spaces has blurred.

"If the cost is similar to the Hobby Center, then none of the smaller companies will ever be able to afford renting a theater in that space," says Kevin Holden of Horse Head. "Other than the Alley and Stages, everyone will be really hard-pressed to afford something on the scale of the Hobby Center. Losing Barnevelder would be a setback."

Discussions on the IAC began six years ago. By the time the new collaborative opens its doors, it could face brisk competition for lease tenants from another fresh-faced arts complex being planned by University of St. Thomas that features a large theater, black box theater and multi-functional conference center designed by Studio Red Architects. As the IAC negotiates reshuffling venues, could its original mission have already been eclipsed by other initiatives like UST's Performing Arts and Conference Center and the nascent Spring Street Studios?

Still, the looming IAC hardly represents a dark era for small arts groups. "Perhaps there's opportunities for the small theater companies to be involved in the progression of the new space, doing work as a partial resident," says Holden. "It's such a very big project, and it seems too early to either get your hopes up or get irritated. Regardless of whether we'll be welcome there, the community's always at a shortage of quality spaces to perform at."
 
Leave it to the inventive, nomadic arts organizations to summon the creativity to find the new infrastructure and venues that enable their continued contribution to the local arts community.