This special installment of Visual Vernacular will be coming in the first person, something I rarely do in my writing — it’s just not my literary style. Why start now? The reason is that as a musician, writer, and creative here in Houston, I’ve been affected by Hurricane Harvey. Thankfully, my immediate family and our home was ok, although my husband, Felipe Lopez, lost a career-span of work and supplies as a visual artist in his storage. However, in the midst of so many loosing so much, our generally positive outcome outweighs the negative. But for many of us that make music, paint canvases, write novels, choreograph dances, direct plays, and more, we’re hurting. We’re hurting even if we didn’t loose material things because so many of us feel displaced in our art making — perhaps our performance halls are storm ravaged, or our rehearsal spaces host floors that are desperate need of repair. For how long? Some of us still don’t know. Not to mention, our audience is rightfully distracted elsewhere. 

A piece of art created by a displaced Houstonian at the GRB.

Noticing that our creative souls were stirring with swirls of emotion, both good and bad, I decided to help harness the good. What is something that we could do to help those hurting outside our circle? How could we band together to offer our talents in a different voice for now? As for me personally, I’m expecting and will be delivering a child into the world soon. That makes physical labor — the backbone of our recovery efforts — out of the question for me right now. As all of the terrible events were unfolding, I was moved as I watched friends and colleagues responsible for much of the cultural life here such as Mark C. Austin, Monica Danna, Dutch Small, Aimee Woodall, Jonathan Beitler, Jennifer McQuade, Adam Brakeman, and so many others jump into action to help clothe, feed, provide support and deliver. Then there are the Houston juggernauts such as J.J. Watt and Mattress Mac (Jim McIngvale) that have moved relief mountains. The love, the life, and the light that was beaming from social media every time you checked in was overwhelming.

Volunteers and displaced Houstonians pose for a photo at the GRB.

What are many creatives good at? Clearly organizing and dispersing talent. That’s something I’ve thrived off of for a long time. What are many of the shelters in desperate need of? There’s the need for food, shelter, resources and action. But there’s also a need for spiritual nourishment, a source for hope, and a fresh response to the after effects they are going through mentally. Within these thoughts, paired with conversations on how to engage with children and families and really anyone who has been through the vast realm of loss, came about a volunteer project: Houston Creatives Helping Kids Post Harvey. Add music mastermind Andrew Karnavas to our mix, along with support from Michelle Ferrell, and we had a winning team. In a matter of 48 hours we have over 60 volunteers from the backgrounds of music, dance, yoga, art, writing and more wishing to give freely of their time in shelters and beyond to help jumpstart the healing process.

One day later, we had an ensemble of 10-plus orchestral instruments performing Bach, Mozart, and more in GRB as people flocked to take a sigh of brief relief while the bars sang out in the bustling hall. A few days later, we placed over a week’s worth of musicians in every genre from classical to folk to rock at NRG. The momentum was building and art was serving the call. Thankfully, people like musician Jeff Paxton and Jane Bavineau from Baker Ripley understood the force that lies in the arts, the subtle movement that changes the mood of the often overwhelming shelter atmosphere. They, along with others, helped us carry out the mission to place art amongst the displaced.

A pop-up orchestra performing musical numbers for displaced Houstonians at the GRB.

As our project began to spread with the help of social media, Dennis Nance of Galveston Art Center put me in touch with Julie McKevitt, Executive Director of Paint Love from Atlanta, Georgia. The spirit, kindness, and call to action from McKevitt has infused our project with the tools and momentum to keep this going. 

Here is what McKevitt had to say about it all:

“After seeing there were so many families living in shelters and dealing with such difficulty, I think naturally our community’s and our country’s response was ‘How can I help?’ Paint Love brings transformational art experiences to children and teens facing poverty and trauma, and I knew the programming and services of Paint Love could be our team’s way of helping. I put an ask out to the Paint Love community of ‘Who wants to be involved?’ and we got such a supportive response.  

After debating the best way to bring what we do to Houston, I wanted to follow our own model in Atlanta of connecting artists with nonprofits and see if there were any artists and volunteers in Houston that were interested in service but needed logistical and resource support. Through email exchanges with the Houston Arts Alliance, Galveston Arts Center and other great arts organizations on the ground, we were connected to Meghan Hendley-Lopez and her husband, Felipe, who were working to organize artists — mostly musicians at the time — to serve at the NRG center. From there we started talking about project needs and came up with a plan.

I decided to take two of our favorite projects from Atlanta that work well with groups of people and foster a sense of community to Houston. The first was a portrait partner project created by Joe Dreher. We did the project Wednesday night at NRG and it was such a great success! Five volunteers from Houston came out to support the project, including Rebecca Braziel, Sarah Gish, Kristen Kuhl, Rashida Alisha Hagakore and Felipe Lopez. We had a steady flow of children and families throughout the evening. We heard some stories that broke our hearts and were able to hopefully encourage and bring some joy during a difficult time. It was a fun night filled with smiles and great community.

Our second project, which we brought to the Children’s Museum of Houston Thursday and Friday, was a collaborative mural project we first did with artist Morgan Corbett. With suggestions from Meghan, I created a #Houstonstrong skyline design. We invited 192 children and families to join us in painting the piece together! Some of the mural was also completed at MECA, which was a special connection for Felipe Lopez. This organization helped him develop skills as an artist and set him on his visual art path. We are excited for such a wonderful partnership and for the opportunity to work side by side with community members and artists.”

A volunteer creating a work of art with someone at GRB displaced by the flooding.

Side by side is certainly the ties that bind in our city of late. It was side by side at NRG where art was being created with colorful hues as Mozart rang out from string instruments of Third Floor Strings. As the volunteers noted, you expected to have visual art and classical music present, but what you weren’t expecting were the waves of smiles from the children or the emotional tears in front of the string ensemble. This is what the arts in Houston can do now and forever. It’s with the influx of healing and vision from inside our city and outside our state that will allow us to keep the cultural wheels turning in these months to come as well all remember why Houston is indeed strong.

To volunteer with future projects of Houston Creatives Helping Kids Post Harvey, email [email protected]