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Interview: Grace Rodriguez

Submitted by Editor on November 14, 2024 – 9:31 amNo Comment

Questions by Brigitte Zabak

Photos by Marc Brubaker

Every city needs a handful, or two or ten, of people who are dedicated and excited about making cool things come to life. Houston is fortunate enough to say that we’ve got a good number of these folks on deck and we’re introducing to one of them to you this month. Say hello to Grace Rodriguez…

Can you tell our readers at FPH a little bit about yourself and the work that you’ve been doing for the creative community in Houston?

I’m your almost-average American: Child of immigrants (Filipino), born in New York City, grew up in Houston, Manhattan, Chicago and Austin. I’m my own melting pot, living the dream. I live to experience as much of it from as many different perspectives as possible, from volunteering at social advocacy organizations to working in restaurants, to community liaising at City Hall, to helping startups through Culture Pilot (creative agency) and DFJ Mercury (venture capital fund). As much as I love books, I prefer to learn through experiment and experience. There are so many things you can only learn by doing, by observing real life in-the-works, and by interacting with real people, from all walks. I’m a big fan of the “Why/why not?” I’m the cat curiosity hasn’t killed. Yet.

Of all of the cities I’ve visited and lived in, though, I honestly believe Houston has the most potential to be a creative mecca, if for no other reasons than it has so many assets and it constantly evolves. Houston perpetually reinvents itself. That alone requires creativity and innovation. So the question is: Where does its creativity spring from? What force is shaping its ever-evolving identity and culture? The answer lies in Houston’s ethnic, socioeconomic, artistic, entrepreneurial, political, industrial and even geographic diversity. Our diversity drives the groundswell of creativity and innovation behind our cultural progress. And it’s a “groundswell” precisely because it’s forming underground, at the grassroots level, and bubbling up. My personal goal is to help that groundswell achieve a critical mass, so we can dispel the stereotype of Houston comprising only cowboys and oil, and awaken more Houstonians and Americans to all of the incredible people, ideas, activities and innovations that are sprouting here. This is why I work on projects like TEDx Houston and Houston@SXSW. It’s why I volunteer for and support organizations like Fresh Arts, Aurora Picture Show, SWAMP, Diverseworks, Writers in the Schools, Houston PBS, Neighborhood Centers, and so on. It’s why I joined the Board of Directors of Spacetaker. And achieving this creative critical mass is exactly why I co-founded C2 Creative.

What is C2 Creative and how do you see it helping Houston in the coming year?

C2 Creative is a non-profit organization (501c3) that Ned Dodington (Caroline Collective, Animal Architecture) and I founded to foster creative entrepreneurship, support innovative programs and projects, and help grow our local economy. Around the Caroline kitchen table, we’d discuss how it was great to provide a space that people could drop by and collectively work at; but to be truly effective at supporting the creative community, we also needed to provide people with the education, guidance and resources they need to succeed.

In 2024, we incubated our first project: Jacob Shiach’s Open Science Fund and “The Brain as Art” exhibit. This year, Pastor Chris Seay and his wonderful team have provided us with the opportunity to develop the Ecclesia/Taft Street Coffee space into a creative hub and resource for the entire community. We’re raising the funds and capacity right now to make it happen. I hope more people – especially everyone reading this – will join us as members and supporters, as well as apply to the C2 Creative Incubator Program (http://www.c2creative.cc/incubator/), so we can not only make it happen, but also make it sustainable. If we can achieve that, I can see it joining Winter Street, Spacetaker, Diverseworks, Houston Technology Center, and so many other great resources in Houston providing a creative space for people to build relationships, learn “what’s next,” cross-pollinate ideas, incubate innovative projects, perform and exhibit ground-breaking work, solve problems, cowork, coplay, collaborate and co-create. I want every Houstonian and every guest to our city to feel like it’s a creative home-away-from-home.

At any given moment, there might be a discussion going about the state of creativity in Houston and whether it is thriving or a hopeless cause. To some, it might seem like leaving our city is the only way to progress in their chosen creative medium. What is your philosophy on Houston’s creative future? Do we have one?

(Please see my answer to #1, too.) Creativity in Houston is thriving; it’s just under the radar. If we could create one of those Alien detectors that beeps whenever creative work is close by, it would be going off constantly. Unfortunately, we don’t. Yet. (Maybe TX/RX Labs will create one?) This could be why some people leave: They find it difficult to discover and engage with Houston’s diverse creative groups. Houston sprawl exacerbates the problem. It’s easy to fall into the pit of “there’s nothing happening in Houston” when everything that *is* happening doesn’t smack you in the face when you walk down the street. (IF you walk down a street.)

Eliminate any doubts you may have: Houston has a creative future. We have a plethora of creative people, and creative people can never be denied, just delayed. If Houstonians can collectively begin to build greater density (by moving closer together) and/or begin electing officials who’ll invest in better public transportation and cultural resources, though, the day of the unavoidable culture smack will arrive sooner than later.

My favorite space for inspiration has been the Menil Collection. Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve turned to that museum as a place for comfort and creative energy. What local space(s) fuels your creative passion and why?

I can’t pinpoint one particular space: I find inspiration everywhere. Nothing sparks my enthusiasm for all things creative more than enjoying other people’s creative work, whether that be in a theater, in an exhibit, on the street, or as a scientific breakthrough or new app. Anything innovative fuels my creative passion. I like my mind being blown.

Do you have a particular project or collaboration that you’re most proud/fond of? If so, what is it?

GR: That’s difficult to say – it’s like trying to pick your favorite child. Right now, though, I’m most proud of C2 Creative, for all that it aims to be and do for Houston. We haven’t officially launched it yet, and it has already received a tremendous amount of enthusiastic support from everyone who’s heard about it.

Living a creative life is no easy feat. Many of us struggle with how to make it our life’s work and still live a balanced life. Any insight or suggestions for individuals wanting to follow a dream but who are uncertain about how to make that happen?

GR: As Maya Angelou said: “Ain’t nothin’ to it, but to do it.” Whatever passion is consuming your soul in an unquenchable blaze, give it a go. It’s the only way to exorcise the demons. I’m a big believer in learning through experience; so, to me, the only way to follow a dream is to start following it. Walk in its steps. Along the way, you learn what to keep and what to toss, where to turn and when to power through it. Likewise, the only way to learn balance is by balancing. If something pulls you on an uneven keel, right it. And if your dream knocks you down five times, get up six…but prepare to be knocked down again. There is no spoon to it. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is truly possible. You just have to say “I’m in charge” like you mean it, then charge forward. And if you need some inspiration, watch “Hustle & Flow.” (Or “Rudy,” if you have a more Disney sensibility.)

Grace Rodriguez’s Houston (well, some of it)
Favorite song written by a local musician?

“Blue Parade” by Runaway Sun. But I may be biased. J

What event(s) around town do you most look forward to each year?

GR: TEDx Houston. The Orange Show Art Car Parade. And, of course, Free Press Summer Fest!

Name a local spot that you love to go to when you need a dose of comfort food. What do you get when you go?

Home for my dad’s sinigang or paksiw. Or, Banana Leaf on Bellaire, in the “International District” (aka, New Chinatown). Their Singapore laksa and roti bring me back to Penang. In NYC. (See what I mean about my own melting pot?)

Your favorite piece of street art, existing or defunct?

Existing: The mosaic heart by Culture Pilot.

Defunct: The Lorem Ipsum wheatpaste piece that was removed within hours after I twitpic’ed it. (For that reason, I will never twitpic another piece I like again. I want to keep those pieces up!)

What one thing would you do, given there were no obstacles in your way, to improve the arts in Houston?

There are so many things I would like to do to improve the arts in Houston. However, if you could narrow down many of the challenges to the arts to one major problem, it would be funding. Yes, you can create art without funding – street artists are the perfect example of that – but money makes it easier for creative work to happen on a large scale. And I want art to happen on a large scale. Everywhere, all the time.

So, if I could do just one thing to improve the arts, it would be to develop a sustainable funding source for creative spaces, artisanship and artistry. The Houston Arts Alliance currently administers the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds and distributes those funds to artists and arts organizations; but those funds are limited by the source. If Houston’s hotel occupancy rates drop off, so do its funds.

We also have a large community of music makers and dreamers of dreams who want to represent their cultures, share their voices, communicate ideas, make their mark or simply make the world a nicer place to live in. They’re all vying for the same pool of resources. So even a small bit of funding, well-allocated and managed, would help grow the pool. I believe we can develop a crowdsourced, crowdfunded  solution that engages the community to recognize the value of the arts and empowers them to actively support it. I guess that’s one of the things that I’m trying to achieve through Spacetaker and C2 Creative.

And let’s get real: There are no obstacles in my way. For me, or anyone else. Ain’t nothin’ to it, but to do it. By Any Means. You Free Pressers know what I’m talking about.

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