Arts / Galleries

Houston Artists Band Together to Recover from Hurricane Harvey

Vulnerable Community Shares Harrowing Stories, Hope for the Future

BY // 12.05.17

A new nonprofit that’s sprung out of Hurricane Harvey is trying paint a new picture for artists recovering from a disaster. Harvey Arts Recovery held a Knowledge Share in Winter Street Studios, the creative hub in The Heights, over the weekend. The event’s mission was simple: educate affected artists about available resources, and share artists’ insights in the aftermath of the storm.

The new organization is working to get individual artists — visual artists, dancers, filmmakers, musicians, writers and more — as well as the staff of arts, culture, preservation, and historical organizations back on their feet. Its planned reach is ambitious and widespread, with intentions of addressing disaster recovery needs across the 10-county Greater Houston area.

Taking a long-term approach, the nonprofit gathers data from affected artists to request support from national art funds, and advocates for more favorable disaster recovery laws.

“Next time — and there will be a next time — we’ll be ready,” says Xandra Eden, director and chief curator of DiverseWorks. She notes that the arts is one of the most “vulnerable, but resilient communities affected by disasters.”

It is among the most fragile groups in terms of economics. Not to mention, she adds, artists are eager to tackle problems all on their own.

The Knowledge Share showed artists that they are capable, but they are not alone. Marci Dallas, executive director of Fresh Arts, highlights the importance of helping artists find solid ground in the chaos.

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“When you look for recovery information, there’s a lot out there. We’re trying to personalize it,” Dallas tells PaperCity.

Artists in the Storm

The “Artists Respond” panel put that personal spin on the impressions and aftershocks of the historic storm. Texas artists responded to Harvey in a variety of ways through their craft, from coping through their own art to sharing art with others to help them process their trauma. A Houston-based artist and author, a Galveston jewelry artist, and a vocalist and writer from Richmond are sharing their stories.

Lacy Johnson watched from her window as the army corps of engineers intentionally flooded her neighborhood in West Houston. Water slid over the sidewalks and up to her stairs, but never seeped in. Although relieved, she felt the sting of “dry privilege.” A nonfiction writer, she believes firmly in the power of storytelling to both reveal the truth and resolve conflict.

Throughout Harvey, Johnson used her art, writing detailed accounts of what was happening throughout Houston and posting them on Facebook. Within a few days, they received thousands of comments.

She’s since dedicated herself to collecting and anthologizing the stories of so many Texans affected by the natural disaster. The stories won’t concern recovery so much as discovery. Johnson deems recovery impossible, and complete normalcy unobtainable. But after the storm, it’s always possible “to discover brand new shores.”

Hurricane Ike inundated Diane Falkenhagen’s West Galveston island studio with five feet of seawater. On top of the typical damage, the rough winds and waters flung neighbors’ kayaks and refrigerators into the building and sent her own belongings soaring. With the support from her community and a CERF+ Emergency Grant and CRF+ Emergency Recovery Loan, she slowly but surely got back to business.

The jewelry artist learned from the devastating blow and made sure to prepare for future disasters. She’s grateful that her studio space was spared this time around, and still so glad she had planned for the worst. “You can never predict what will happen,” she says.

Taking a series of small steps in advance — in her case, shielding equipment, stripping the bottom floor bare, and compartmentalizing small fine tools-— makes for an easier recovery, should disaster hit home. That’s key not just for practical purposes, but for protecting your psyche.

“When you’re worried by your loss and in that rebuilding frame of mind, it’s hard to get the creative juices flowing,” Falenhagen says.

Justin M. Jones spent his days post-Harvey in the George R. Brown Convention Center, playing musical instruments with children, many of them homeless from before or from the flood itself. He helped found Nameless Sound in 2cute 001, a  music group that uses improvisation to help children heal.

Jones was initially hesitant about the trip to the convention center, worried that the group’s presence would get in the way. But upon arrival, he found it was a perfect place for what he had to offer. Playing music opened up new avenues for the children to escape their shock and deal with their trauma.

The arts in Houston may be in a state of disarray, but they’re on their way back up.

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