October 23, 2005

Getting Creative in Houston

This weekend my mom and sister are visiting from the East Coast and I’ve been exploring Houston with them. Yesterday was a day that changed my sister’s mind about Houston. She, like me, has been surprised and delighted by what Houston has to offer, despite our preconceived notions of Texas-ness.

The day began with a trip to the farmers’ market for a Sur La Table cooking class taught by chef Domenica http://www.domenicasway.com/ Inspired by the offerings of the market Domenica purchased various fruits and vegetables and together, with seven other attendees, we returned to Sur La Table to cook up a harvest meal. Figs, stuffed with blue cheese, drizzled with balsamic vinegar, broiled and then finished with a fresh basil leaves, were one of the many courses. We learned to creatively use fresh herbs and be daring enough to incorporate them into desserts.

To close out the day we ventured out to Project Row Houses for a site-specific performance piece produced by my favorite DiverseWorks. Project Row Houses is a neighborhood based art and cultural organization located in Houston's Third Ward. PRH was established in 1993 on a site of 22 abandoned shotgun houses (c. 1930) to connect the work of artists with the revitalization of the community. Now on their 21st cycle of artists, the row houses provide a template for the creation of dynamic environments that comment on the condition of inner city living and the state of the community.

The performance What You've Done was presented in one of these tiny homes. The audience, our group was six people but they could accommodate ten, sat in the living room and were addressed by the actors about their intermingled relationships, personal economics and the condition of being black, white and young in Houston. The most fascinating feature of the performance was that we were allowed an intimate peak into these people’s lives, even being encouraged to head into the kitchen to help ourselves to drinks from the fridge.

My mother and sister left feeling incomplete, like they wanted to talk with the characters about their situation once the performance was abruptly concluded. Stephen and I didn’t seem to have the same connection. I’m wondering if it was because we sat on a mushy couch on the side of the room, reclining like we were watching TV. My sister and mom sat in stiff back chairs and viewed the actors head-on. It was interesting the difference in our responses.

Once again, Houston arts and culture continues to surprise me. Arts organizations, community groups, corporations and artists (culinary, performing and visual in these cases) work collaboratively with a vision of making Houston, and the people who live here, more engaged in a progressive lifestyle. In the San Francisco Bay Area this was always a goal but just never felt successful and natural.