Fab Collab – Queens Museum of Art and Project Row Houses: An On-Site Insight Experience

Project Row Houses has been showing visitors for years how art can impact a neighborhood in a positive way.  And on Sunday, May 22, 50 AAM attendees got a double dose when they had the opportunity to visit and see the work that PRH has been doing for the last 17 years plus hear firsthand about the impressive strides that the Queens Museum of Art (QMA) have made in connecting with their surrounding diverse community. 

The tour began at PRH’s office building where new faces crowded into the cool air-conditioning as Rick Lowe (PRH Founding Director), Tamika Evans (Row House CDC Property Manager), Tom Finkelpearl (QMA Executive Director) and Prerana Reddy (QMA Event Director) welcomed everyone to Project Row Houses.  Rick told the story of PRH, his conversations in 1992 with six other African American artists and how they were working toward using their art to create a positive change within the Third Ward Community.  During a tour of Houston’s worst neighborhoods they discovered the 22 boarded up shotgun houses (c.1933), and inspired by Joseph Beuys’ idea of Social Sculpture and the work of Dr. John Biggers, transformed the houses and created Project Row Houses as we know it today.Everyone stepped out in the Houston sunshine and began walking down the historic oyster-shelled sidewalk along Holman Street, where they meandered in and out of the seven historic shotgun houses which now serve as Artist Project Spaces, currently displaying Round 34: Matter of FOODA few attendees were delighted to see GreenHouse Collective’s aquaponic garden and the chickens located in the back courtyard. 

We turned the corner onto St. Charles, walking by the Young Mothers Residential Program and gazed upon the development of 12 Duplexes where the Row House CDC provides affordable rental units, designed by Rice Building Workshop.  We wandered into the old Delia’s Lounge, which now serves as affordable studio rentals and visited with artists Robert Pruitt, Rabe’a Ballin and Gregory Michael Carter.  As we made our way across Dowling Street, Rick pointed out Flower Man’s House and the Rice Building Workhop’s ZeRow House. The tour ended at the historic Eldorado Ballroom.  Everyone had the opportunity to rest their tired legs and refill on water as Tamika Evans spoke in more depth about the residents living in the Row Houses CDC Duplexes, how they are selected, the interest of a mixed income neighborhood and the expectations for community interaction.The focus shifted as Prerana and Tom presented a PowerPoint of the Queens Museum of Art.    Maps are shown illustrating the melting pot community that surrounds QMA.  We learn through historic images that QMA is located inside the New York City building created to house the New York City Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair and that from 1946 to 1950 it housed the General Assembly of the newly formed United Nations.  As the context is set of where QMA is located, Tom and Prerana speak about the various programs their museum has developed and share images depicting the creative ways in which they have successfully connected with their surrounding community.  We learn they have community organizers and art therapists on staff, offering workshops and working out in the neighborhood engaging the diverse residents.  We see the The Panorama of the City of New York, the largest architectural model, built by Robert Moses for the 1964 World’s Fair and how Damon Rich activated the panorama by displaying housing foreclosures as part of his project Red Lines Housing Crisis Learning Center.  Additionally, we learned about some of the innovative projects being developed through their programs The Heart of Corona Initiative, Queens Teens and New New Yorkers.   

The presentation ended with PRH’s Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud talking about her project labotanica and then a Q&A followed.  Everyone emerged back into the May warmth making their way, with satisfied expressions upon their face, back onto the bus.  Feedback assures me that, for many, this was an inspiring first day of the conference. 

–Ashley Clemmer Hoffman, Project Row Houses; AAM 2011 On-Site Insight Co-Coordinator


A Wake-Up Call in Two Parts – Monday General Session

 You were warned on this blog earlier – you did not want to miss the entertainment before Monday’s General Session. The Dominic Walsh troop took the stage first, with prime-time dance moves that were beautiful to watch. After being mesmerized by them, the growing crowd was jolted awake by the music and dance of the four-man group HIStory, joined by fellow West Side High School products Inertia Dance Company. Those of you following #aam2011 on Twitter saw the crowd response repeated in cyberspace – they were fabulous.  Very helpful to those of us who had not yet had enough caffeine – you could not watch this and sit still.

Alas, there was business to conduct, so we said good bye to the talented Houstonians and their fabulous moves.  Ford Bell set the stage for the session by stating that museums are not luxuries, they are essential. He then introduced AAM Board Chair Doug Myers, whose duties included thanking those who serve on the board of AAM, and recognizing those concluding this service.

Conference Chair Gwen Goffe came to the podium to introduce Houston’s Mayor, Annise Parker, to give the welcome address. Mayor Parker reflected on her own involvement in arts and culture in Houston, and suggested to the audience that the best way to ensure that political leaders support the arts and culture is to work to elect those that ‘get it’, that way there is no need to lobby them, only to remind them. She then worked a little magic and declared that May 23, 24 and 25, 2011 are officially American Association of Museums day in Houston, a gesture for which she was well-rewarded with enthusiastic applause.

The session then moved to the second wake-up call of the morning, a town-hall style discussion entitled “Tough Economy, Tough Choices”.  Session moderator Carol A. Lewis, PhD, opened the session and introduced the other panelists. Joining Dr. Lewis were Minnette Boesel, Director of Cultural Affairs in the Mayor’s Office; Gwen Goffe, Interim Director of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston; Terry Grier, Ed. D., Superintendent of Houston Independent School District; and United States Senator Jack Reed, who joined by satellite.  The conversation focused on the challenges posed by the economy, and the recurring theme of the remarks made by the panelists was the importance of museum’s to advocate. Dr. Grier talked about the budget challenges affecting the ability of schools to make the field trips that have been a big part of student engagement with museums. He encouraged museums to continue to engage the schools, and to look for new ways to collaborate with their education partners.

The big thought for the day? Museum Advocacy! Moderator Dr. Carol Lewis closed the session and urged everyone to choose to do something to advocate in the next 60 to 90 days, and that sounds like great advice. But I confess – I am still stuck trying to figure out how that young man spun around on his head.

-Jon Iszard, President & CEO, The Health Museum
Co-chair, Public Relations and Marketing Subcommittee
Member, Local Host Committee

Want to come back to Houston, yet?

As many of you may have noticed, Houston is a vibrant, exciting and imaginative place to live and visit. We promise that the weather is really nice October – April. For those who don’t mind the heat and wrinkle reducing humidity, the rest of the year is great, too.

The Houston Local Host Committee was charged with making sure you all learned about all of the wonderful things to see, do and eat in Houston. I think we may have gone overboard. Many of you have commented that you can’t squeeze in all of the things that you want to do and attend the conference.

Want to come back yet? Maybe even you might want to extend your stay? What? Don’t have Memorial Day Weekend plans, yet?

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need help editing through all the awesomeness. I am huge fan of lists. Lists created because someone else has done all the fancy footwork for me!

To help you plan your visit, either now or later, there are a ton of great websites listed on right side of the aamhouston.org site hosted by the Greater Houston CVB!  The GHCVB site has tons of maps and features list after list of great ideas of what to do, eat, drink or buy in Houston. Speaking of maps and lists, CultureMap.com covers that and more with interactive mapping that talks to your smart gadgets.  You might also check into 29-95.com, Artshound.com, Do713, Houston Museum District, Fresh Arts Coalition and Spacetaker.org.

One of my favorite sites, because I am the Executive Director of one of the best contemporary arts spaces in Houston, Lawndale Art Center, is Glasstire: Texas Visual Arts Online. This site is a great way to learn about what is on view in galleries and museums in Houston and all around the state, plus features reviews, video interviews and blogs about all things cotemporary visual art in Texas. 

They have been creating some really fun top ten lists lately. And this week they ran one that contains some of my all time favorite things to experience in Houston. Carrie Schneider highlights locals who demonstrate creative reuse “to the max” in The Ten List: Houston Gleaners. Another all-time favorite that they ran was Grover’s Guide to Houston: Part I created by Andrea Grover, the fabulous founder of the Aurora Picture Show.

Take a look. Have fun. And come on back now, y’all hear?

–Christine West, Executive Director of Lawndale Art Center;
Co-chair of the AAM 2011 Hospitality Committee;
member of AAM 2011 Local Host Committee

New to the Hospitality Lounge!

We’re super excited to see you’ve been enjoying the super comfy furnishings from Motif Modern Living and the free WiFi!

Some things you may have missed:

Check out the bookshelves for a super awesome handout of Houston Area Museums that are offering free admission to AAMers (with badge) complete with their hours of Operation. Many of these museums are graciously offering special hours just for you!

Also on the shelves is a handout with a list of some of Houston’s amazing art galleries for those of you who want to visit our diverse gallery communities.

Talk to Audrey from the Greater Houston CVB who is working in the Hospitality Lounge to get a coupon for a free drink at Lucky’s Pub or to make a reservation at one of Houston’s wonderful restaurants.

And….for those of you who might have tweeted about the lack of power outlets in the Lounge…..we counted 13! 

Enjoy the touch screen kiosk provided by our friends at CultureMap. Check out the City Guide, which will give you suggestions for nearby restaurants, arts and entertainment, drinks and nightlife and more. There are also some fabulous Culture Lists covering a wide array of subjects and “top” lists, from arts & entertainment, city life, fashion & style, food and drink, social scene and more.
This is THE place to sign up for Dine & Dialogues.

Our volunteers are there to help, so let us know if you have questions or need suggestions. And, if I am around (I bounce between there and the Discovery Cart Zone), be sure to say HI!  I am loving all the new friends I am making here at my very first AAM Annual Meeting!

See you in the lounge! 

–Albert Sanchez, AAM 2011 Houston Intern

The Future of Arts Media

The Future of Arts Media is a subject that has been on the minds of many museum and arts executives for quite some time now.  How does technology affect coverage? How can small museums get better recognized by national media? How do arts writers receive their information, and how do they work best with museums?

I moderated a panel with the crème de la crème of arts writers in the U.S.—Mario Mercado, arts editor of Travel + Leisure, Richard Lacayo, art and architecture critic for Time magazine and Stephen Wallis, formerly the arts editor for Departures magazine and now a national freelancer.  In addition, Mary Haus, director of communications for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston provided perspective from the PR side, in addition to her previous experience as an arts writer.

What I found most interesting is that, most likely, the arts writers will have your museum on their radar before you reach out to them.  Since museums have their calendars set so far in advance, all arts writers—particularly those with long leads—will be researching museums’ websites long before the PR departments are preparing press releases for the exhibitions.

Images are key and can make or break a decision about whether to cover an exhibition.  Pre-exhibition access—even before the rest of the media—is also key. 

The panel did discuss the challenge for small museums—it’s tough for a small museum to get national coverage.  However, all three publications will only cover the first stop of a traveling exhibition in order to focus on the institution that produces it.  So, if a traveling show begins in Indianapolis before traveling to New York, they prefer to cover the show in Indianapolis and not wait until it arrives in New York. 

A publication like Departures will give preference to edgy contemporary art rather than the classics and vary rarely would cover a natural history museum.  The same goes for Travel + Leisure, although Travel + Leisure Family does frequently cover natural history and children’s museums.  It’s all about finding the right outlet for your museum.

On that note, understand the publication before you pitch.  How do they typically cover exhibitions? Travel + Leisure typically covers an exhibition that’s travel-worthy, whereas the editors at Time don’t expect you to travel to see the exhibition they’re reviewing and must adequately represent it through words and images. 

–Lindsey Brown, Greater Houston CVB; AAM 2011 Public Relations & Marketing Subcommittee member

Party Animals Invade African Wilderness

Howler monkeys. It’s one of my favorite memories of working in the Astronomy and Physics department at the Houston Museum of Natural Science during the late 1990’s. We were in the top story of the Museum, in the only department with windows and my desk was next to the sliding glass doors that opened onto the deck perched on the Museum’s roof.  I’d come into work in the mornings, drop my bag, then walk outside to listen to the rollicking serenade of the barrel chested Howlers in the Houston Zoo across Hermann Park.

That’s the beauty of the Houston Museum District. A cache of world-class institutions, all nestled together with easy access. (Great for party planning, as well, incidentally!)

Those of you who attended last night’s party at the Houston Zoo got to explore the new African Forest and see some other parts of the transformation the Zoo has been undergoing these last few years. Populated by a plethora of wonderful animals, such as my adored Howlers, new environments are popping up everywhere. I arrived early to last night’s party to catch some of the exhibits and got a sneak peak at the new elephant enclosure which will include a huge swimming pool.

It’s been a while since I’d been to the Zoo and when I arrived, I made a bee-line for my favorite section: The Reptile House. There are some experiences in life that can take a person back to another age. (Like I said in an earlier post, Skyrocket playing the BeeGees had that effect.) The snakes do it every time: Fascination, terror, curiosity, an urge like vertigo to reach out and trace out the scales with my fingertips – the innocent-looking king cobra, the sleek black mamba, the short and fat Gaboon Viper. I leaned forward and looked in the eyes of each snake and was nine years old again. I had the whole Reptile House to myself and delighted in looking closely at every animal in the collection.

And then there were the baby elephants playing like a pair of puppies! The bigger one lay down in a dirt pile and the baby decided that was his opportunity to sit on his friend’s head. From there, they went rolling around in the dirt together, pushing each other over, sometimes all eight legs in the air, dust flurrying around them in a big brown happy cloud.

Hunger called and I made my way to the party area and promptly found myself amongst friends and good food! Roast oysters on the half shell, two kinds of tamales, a nacho bar, guacamole and roasted salsa… I even talked the servers into letting me have a roasted ear of corn and a roasted poblano half from the garnish. (mmmmm… roasted corn!) There were two kinds of pie for dessert – most of us at our table indulged in the wonderful pecan pie, accompanied by a dollop of Blue Bell Ice Cream (for those of you who aren’t from around here, it is THE best ice cream in the country.)

African dancers worked around the crowd, masked as animals from the African Forest – stilted giraffes, a chimp and rhino. The giraffe dancers were the show-offs of the bunch, repeatedly dancing up and down the stairs leading to the buffet. At least, that’s what my table mates told me – it scared the heck out of me to watch!

Tonight, I’m headed to the HMNS party! I wonder if I’ll be able to hear the Howlers echoing across the trees, waiting for me to answer…

–Cecelia Ottenweller, AAM 2011 Public Relations & Marketing Subcommittee member

Getting Happy at the House of Blues!

“Well, it’s certainly a different crowd than OTC!”

This was my husband’s opening comment when we strolled into the third floor performance hall at Houston’s House of Blues for the AAM opening night party. (For those of you who aren’t from around these parts, OTC is the annual offshore technology conference held each year here….**Quite** a different crowd.)

 Charles hangs out with engineers. I, for my part, was delighted at what I saw: My people, museum people, the people who submerge themselves in the deliciousness of life and celebrate it in all its expressions — the odd, the curious, the beautiful, the terrifying… You were finally here, in my hometown, “boogying” to classic 70’s disco belted out in near-perfection by Skyrocket, the amazing cover band from Austin. You were having fun. I was happy.

 I’m a member of the PR and Marketing Subcommittee and I can tell you a lot of work was done to make sure last night’s party was a proper launch for the conference. Skyrocket did not disappoint! I walked in during a Paul Simon tune and I had to look closely to see if it really were Mr. Simon on stage. Then there was “Shadow Dancing” by Andy Gibb… No, can’t be him, I know he’s no longer with us, but geez, I coulda sworn that was him… “Night Fever” sounded like all the BeeGees were on stage; I’d not heard a band cover so many hits and sound so much like the originals! They even channeled Michael Jackson beautifully, tho had to admittedly give the high notes to the female singer. Didn’t matter – they knew their business. And it was the fun stuff, the “get your groove on” sounds that wear well and it kept the feet tapping (and propelled me back into my teen-age years!)

Two desserts ruined the triathlon training diet I’ve been working on these past few weeks… In the main hall they served a scoop of New York cheesecake in a martini glass and we had our choice of luscious sauces and toppings and sprinkles to dress it with. I chose the dark chocolate and raspberry sauces, of course, for their antioxidant properties, as any newbie endurance athlete would.

I also couldn’t resist the bananas foster we discovered in the Foundation Room later in the evening. Bananas are rich in potassium, I reasoned… Can’t skimp on potassium, plus who can resist a dessert that comes with such drama, being set on fire before being served??

For those of you who didn’t make your way to the Foundation Room, I am so sorry… It’s wonderful. Fabric covered walls and ceilings, Hindu gods, carved stone trim, lush silk and velvet pillows… There are many wonderful, little-known nooks and crannies in Houston, but the Foundation Room is my favorite. It invites relaxation and loosening the limbs. Don’t miss it next time!

I hope you’re having a wonderful conference and are enjoying the wonderful sights and sounds Houston has to offer. We have more in store for you, so stay tuned!

— Cecelia Ottenweller, HexaGroup Creative,
member AAM 2011 PR & Marketing Subcommittee